Superfolk | Marie Varley’s Design Column

Irish artist Marie Varley searches the country for the very best in Irish design to bring to you here on HeadStuff. This week she spoke with the designer duo Superfolk.

Happy New Year all! To begin my HeadStuff design features for 2017, I bring you Superfolk, a design and make studio led by partners Gearoid Muldowney and Jo Anne Butler. Gearoid is a designer and craft-maker and Jo Anne is an architect. Together they design and make homewares ‘for people who love the wild outdoors’. Having recently re-located their home and studio to the beautiful west coast of Ireland they are establishing Superfolk as a brand and studio recognised internationally for simple, beautiful, material-led design and homewares. I caught up with Jo Anne to discuss their work.
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Superfolk aka Gearoid Muldowney and Jo Anne Butler. Portrait by Henrietta Williams

Can you tell us about  your working relationship and how Superfolk was born?

We met while studying at the National College of Art and Design. The first design project we undertook together was a seating design for an arts festival. Later we expanded that seating into a full range (stools, benches and table) which we launched at the Stockholm Furniture Fair. The range was very popular and we received a number of high profile commissions including Somerset House in London where it is still in use today. I finished my Masters in Architecture in 2013, we moved to Mayo and now we both work full-time designing and making as Superfolk.

Where does the name Superfolk come from?

It describes two ideas held simultaneously; firstly a braveness or hope for the our planet’s future, combined with a huge respect for the ingenuity and intelligence of folk cultures. 

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Having recently moved from Dublin to Mayo, has this influenced how you both approach your work?

Yes of course, our surroundings will always influence how we live and how we work, whether we choose to recognise it or not. Design begins with observation.

Many titles of your work include Irish place names such as Connemara, Burren and Aran. You both seem to have a real love for your natural surroundings and Irish materials. How important is the local environment for you when coming up with new ideas?

Big wild wide-open landscapes almost taunt and tease you, they invite you to respond. Where we live it is impossible to ignore our landscape, the colours of the seasons, the changing moods of the tides. Our environment is everything. What would we be without it?   

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What is next for Superfolk?

At the end of the month we are launching new products including a new bench, a new range of washi prints and most excitingly a new publishing venture. In February we will be going to the Artic to research design focused businesses situated in ‘fringe’ geographical regions. We are also working on a small scale interior project and print designs. Above all right now what really motivates us is investigating how it is that our work can give back to our environment. On this we are working on a number of ideas that we hope to see come to fruition by the end of the year.

Do you miss the design scene in Dublin?

Living in the west of Ireland we are surrounded by really inspiring people working in creative entrepreneurship, food, design, eco-tourism and environmental advocacy. We miss our family and friends (many who are artists and designers) who are still in Dublin. We visit Dublin a lot and luckily they like to visit us too. Also we try to travel to other cities and countries to design exhibitions, trade fairs and meeting with our retailers.

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What advice would you give to aspiring Irish designers?

Get a big dog who forces you to get outside every day into big open spaces. Travel. Take time to live, work and study in other countries and other cities, other cultures.

You can find out more about Superfolk from their socials here:
Instagram: @superfolk
Twitter: @Superfolk