from a recent interview
Furniture Designer and Cabinetmaker
How long have you been making furniture?
The Bailie’s have been making furniture in Ireland for a couple of hundred years, but I only really began to focus on furniture design in 1995. Before that I was doing other stuff.
Metal fabrication and welding. I also owed a commercial art studio that designed and manufactured retail street signs. And I was a farmer for a while, (like a proper Irishman….)
So what made you want to create furniture?
My kids needed a bed, so I made one. And then I made another. My beds got noticed in England, and before I knew it I was a furniture maker.
So England was you first market?
Yes, and then Harrods noticed my furniture. They sent a buyer to meet me, and he saw some prototype sketches of a range I was developing, and he said, “I’ll have a full bedroom suite of that style.”
I explained that I hadn’t designed a whole suite, just the bed, and that I couldn't even offer him a price.
He said that he wanted it, and left the purchase order blank for me to fill in.
So Harrods ordered which furniture range?
Funky Furniture. It didn’t even have a name at the time.
And it sold well for them?
The buyer phoned me to say that Funky had outsold not only all other children’s furniture ranges, but all furniture in the history of their store. They were selling about GBP£30,000 worth of Funky Furniture every week.
Wow! And then what?
And then I developed RoomMates Furniture. But I marketed it differently. I sold more RoomMates than Funky, but not through Harrods.
And then I got a phone call from New York.
You started selling to US?
Sort of. USA Baby wanted Funky. They had about 120 stores. I redesigned three suites for them. And then I traveled to Malaysia and China to set up the manufacturing.
So you were on a roll.
No. Just then US government imposed an import tax of 198% on Chinese made furniture. So the New York business threw in the towel; left me high and dry.
All that work for nothing?
It could’ve been. But I’d met some useful people, and we set up a manufacturing company in China. This meant that I was in control, and I could market my furniture anywhere I wanted – except USA.
So how did you get on TV?
'The Price is Right' game show used a suite for a star prize on their Christmas edition; home make-over programs wanted my furniture because it was so fresh and different. And then one day I saw a suite that I’d sold to a US props company being used in the set of a music video for the US R&B group 'Outkast'. And a little later on I noticed that primetime US comedy ‘Malcolm in the Middle’ were also using my furniture. And then I got a call from the hit US show, ‘Extreme Home Makeover’. It just snowballed…..
You achieved this success without any formal design education?
Actually, I left school at 16, so to be fair, you could say that I was expelled without any qualifications whatsoever. I’ve always taught myself everything I’ve needed to know.
I suppose my only relevant qualification was that I was elected a member of the Chartered Society of Designers in 1999, and a professional member of the American Society of Furniture Designers; they let me in.
What has been your inspiration?
I just want to make furniture that people fall in love with. Kids love cartoons, so I love to make cartoon furniture.
Have you seen the work of Judson Beaumont? You should check him out; his work is in a similar vein to mine, but has never been mass-produced. When I noticed Jud’s work I thought, “I’m not alone; I’m not the only nutter on the planet”. I love his work and his sense of humour.
So what’s next for you?
Well, since the world went to pot in 2008 things have changed. We shut down factory production of my furniture in China. I took a sabbatical, wrote some books, and stuff. I’m just now getting back into making and designing furniture.
I’m trying to put painted MDF furniture behind me and only use solid hardwoods, preferably home-grown native Irish hardwoods. I’m kept pretty busy, and the feedback is good.
Where can people find out more about your other work?
Check out www.broncle.com That's got links to everything I'm involved with.
And I'm always happy to receive emails
from people; always happy to chat.
Yes, it's a long story. I'm a broncle. I wrote a book about it......
Like I said, I'm happy to receive emails if anyone's interested.
Newtownards, County Down, Ireland