The Irish interior design brands shining brightly in the USA

Irish interior brands such as Mullan Lighting and Orior are winning over Americans with sophisticated styles and quality materials

But although many Irish brands have tried to cross the Atlantic, success stories are few and far between. Of the current generation, two stand out: Mullan Lighting, based in Mullan Village, County Monaghan; and Orior Furniture in Newry.

Interior by Emilie Fournet Interiors with Mullan Lighting

Mullan Lighting was launched in 2009 in what director Edel Treanor describes as “a damp disused section of the old boot factory in Mullan”. By the time I visited in 2019, the factory had been refurbished into a streamlined production facility with around 90 employees, all busy making lights.

There are many stages to the process and almost all of these are done on site. Some, like powder-coating metal or creating different finishes in bronze, involve specialist craftsmanship and the factory had then just opened a ceramic workshop to make lamps and shades.

Interior design by Isobel Waine Interiors with Mullan Lighting

Mullan Lighting began to explore the American market in 2016. It was a steep learning curve. The technical specifications for lighting are different in America and the brand had to adapt. It was a lesson well learned. In the aftermath of Covid, the US side of the business took off. “Americans didn’t want to be ordering from China and supply chains were slow world-wide. Because we can do almost everything in-house, we became the supplier of choice.”

Now a quarter of Mullan Lighting’s overall sales, and almost 40 pc of their online sales, come from America. This January, they appointed a US-based sales manager. “We’re in the planning phase of doubling our production facility, largely to supply the orders flooding in from the US,” Treanor says.

Interior by Isabel Waine Interiors with Mullan Lighting

Irish-made homeware tends to be pricey because of the cost of making things in Ireland but Mullan Lighting has a broad price range with plenty of lights around €200. The Eden, a large clear open glass globe pendant light (30 cm) costs €295 and a smaller (20 cm) version is €197. Larger and more elaborate lights cost more. But, when they came to sell to America, their prices were a stumbling block.

“Initially, some of our American customers complained that our lights were too cheap,” Treanor says. “They loved the aesthetic but wanted a more expensive product. They were concerned that they might be made in China, because of the price! They couldn’t believe they were made in Ireland. We explained that we just have a very lean manufacturing process. Our system is agile and efficient. Every piece goes into production within minutes of someone ordering online.”

Ciaran McGuigan’s home in Omeath. Photo: Simon Watson

Although Mullan’s basic design vocabulary is consistent through all their lights, Treanor finds Americans are particularly drawn to antiqued brass finishes: “Way more than in the EU. And they love the picture lights. Those are one of our top sellers in the US, but not so popular elsewhere.”

American customers are almost universally concerned with sustainability. “They go looking for the sustainable element within every purchase.” One of Mullan Lighting’s key materials is brass. “It’s actually an infinite material as it can be melted down and made into something else but other materials — like our rattan and ceramic lights — are more obviously sustainable.”

Ciaran McGuigan’s NYC loft with furniture by Orior

There were breakthroughs along the way. When the high-profile Californian interior designer Amber Lewis discovered Mullan Lighting and posted about it online, many others followed suit. Their lights were also featured in the Dream Home Makeover Netflix series by Studio McGee.

“I still get a thrill when I wander into a random restaurant or bar in the US and see our lights,” Treanor says. “They’re in private homes too, but we don’t get to see them.” She remembers wandering into The Venetian in Las Vegas and seeing the lobby hung with contemporary chandeliers from Mullan Lighting: “That was quite a moment!”

Just 50 kilometres down the road, Orior Furniture in Newry is shipping containers of handmade Irish furniture to New Jersey. Orior was founded in 1979 by Brian and Rosemary McGuigan. When I visited in 2013, Orior was making high-end made-to-measure furniture, mainly sofas and chairs, for clients in Ireland and the UK.

Ciaran McGuigan’s NYC loft with furniture by Orior

Their workshop was like a Northern Irish version of an Italian atelier; each piece of furniture passed from one artisan to another until it was done. At the time Ciarán McGuigan, son of Brian and Rosemary, had just taken over the helm. He was full of ideas about where he might take the brand. In 2019, he took it to America.

Jordan Trinci-Lyne, Orior’s brand director, tells the story: “After doing a bit of research and development, Ciarán believed that the American market was the natural next step for the brand. We had the people and product so the biggest challenge for us was finding the right space.”

Orior’s showroom opened in Soho in 2022. Their furniture is still available in Ireland but it’s expensive. Because all their pieces are made to order, there’s no handy list of prices to steer the customer. As a rule of thumb, if you need to ask, you can’t afford it, but their more popular pieces include: the Mara Credenza (from €XXX); the Bianca Chair (from €XXX); the Atlanta Sofa (from €XXX); and the Easca Table (from €XXX).

Ciaran McGuigan’s NYC loft with furniture by Orior

Orior’s designs have become rounder, sinuous and contemporary. Some are new; others come from Brian McGuigan’s archives, often reinterpreted with new and luxurious materials like marble, crystal and bronze.

In an email, Trinci-Lyne describes the reaction when Orior first came to the US: “We noticed that people really appreciated the colors we used — electric blue velvets, contrasting green leathers and vibrant mustards.”

The tastes of Irish and American customers are quite similar. “Everyone has an interest in strong designs and quality craftsmanship.” On Orior’s website, the ‘n Real Life’ section shows international celebrities, like actor Maggie Gyllenhaal and Brooklyn Decker, enjoying their Orior furniture. It’s all very aspirational.

Orior’s furniture is still hand made in Newry. “There are about 40 people working in our factory in Ireland,” “Trinci-Lyne writes. “Many of them have been around since the start of the company. A handful now work alongside their children too.”

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