Treasure: Irish trip yields inspiration
“The real voyage of discovery,” French writer Marcel Proust reportedly said, “consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
I was reminded of this recently on a week-long trip to Ireland, where I was lucky enough to spend half the week in Dublin and half exploring the idyllic countryside.
The Irish have a long (and often turbulent) history, and the past is present throughout the country, from the architecture to the ubiquitous early Celtic design, which inspired many of the decorative arts we know and love today. And while I didn’t come home with many physical treasures – I found antiques in many of the shops to be pricy and more formal than I was looking for – I gathered lots of inspiration and was impressed by the Irish ability to take something vintage we often take for granted and show it to you in a new way, much like the Proust quote advises.
Off The Wall: One of my favorite stops was Avoca Weavers (avoca.com) in downtown Dublin. Besides thick tweeds, nubby Fisherman’s sweaters and the colorful and to-die-for textiles in wool and cotton, Avoca has a wonderful top-floor café, filled with vintage furniture and other everyday antiques. I was charmed by a wall of old printed wallpaper used in an unusual way – in strips, hung together side by side, and topped with empty old wooden frames. Nearby, wooden rolling pins – something many of us have and take for granted – were given new life and a place of honor inside a frame, making for instant and unexpected “found art” that would look right at home in any kitchen.
Mid-century Discovery: Not surprisingly, mid-century modern is as popular in Ireland as it is here. At the National Museum of Ireland’s decorative arts museum housed in a former military barracks, we wandered happily through an exhibition dedicated to Irish-born designer Eileen Gray. I hadn’t been exposed to her contemporary work before, but she is considered “Ireland’s pioneer of 20th-century design and architecture,” according to the museum’s website (museum.ie). “She was the first designer to work in chrome, preceding such acclaimed designers as Le Corbusier, Charlotte Perriand, Mies Van der Rohe, and Marcel Breuer; and was original in her use of aluminium, celluloid, tubular steel, bakelite and cork in her designs. These unique designs manifest an explicit engagement with pure form and line yet were always functional, sensible and comfortable.” It was well worth a stop and I was happy to discover a new mid-century master.
Love Your Library: One of the definite highlights of the trip was a visit to Trinity College (tcd.ie), home to the Book of Kells. Lines snaked around the entrance (buying ahead online gives you a fast pass) to take a look at these famous manuscipts, dating to the 9th century. They were every bit as amazing as expected, and well worth the wait. I was equally impressed with the Old Library at Trinity College, part of the Book of Kells tour, which was a beautiful two-story space with a barrel-vaulted ceiling and wall-to-wall vintage books. The college was founded in 1592 and the Old Library’s two-story Long Room built between 1712 and 1732. It houses 200,000 of the college’s oldest and rarest books. In the days when books are increasingly and sadly devalued, the space was hushed and beautiful and felt almost sacred despite the crush of tourists.
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