HOMEWARE DESIGNERS - Concrete Forest Studio

Today we feature a lovely interview with Kevin Corcoran, creator of Concrete Forest Studio - a range of concrete homewares that have recently been featured at Image Interiors & Living Design Awards 2018.

Kevin set up Concrete Forest Studio in 2016 embracing his Danish and Irish roots. His designs are minimalist and sophisticated. I discovered him through his Instagram feed where his images reflect his brand in architectural symphony and followers are growing rapidly as a result.

Already award winning, Kevin has worked on a number of successful collaborations and his eye catching creations are popular with magazine and features editors. I am delighted to share his story from humble beginnings to continually growing his brand. He tells us the personality traits that are important in getting a product to market and the skills needed to upscale while being the creative talent all rolled into one.

Your tagline describes you as Danish and Irish - can you tell me a little about your
background and how you came to live in Ireland now?

I was born in Denmark- my father is Danish and my mother is Irish- and I grew up between the two countries. After college I lived in Berlin for a few years working as a graphic designer. When my wife and I got engaged we moved home to Ireland to settle down. 

Concrete Forest is the name of your design business. What is it that you make and can you
tell us about the creative process of achieving the designs?

I create a line of minimal homewares that combines polished concrete and exposed aggregates with soft wooden accents. I would have to say my design process starts without me even realising it, I’m always on the lookout for new materials, interesting shapes and combinations of texture. When inspiration hits and an idea forms I’m a firm believer that all you need is a pencil to start developing the concept. Once I have something that I’m happy to run with my process usually moves into CAD and I create a 3D model. From this, I 3D print a prototype and if I’m still happy with the form I create silicon moulds and start production.

How did Concrete Forest evolve and where did the name come from?

I grew up in a creative environment and was drawn to design by the time I was finishing school. In college I actually took a slight detour and studied geology and environment sciences, learning a lot about the make up of stone and sand (something I draw upon now everyday in the workshop!). But after looking at my diagrams, a lecturer jokingly asked me why was I not studying art and a year later I was doing just that. I have worked in design since graduating college but have always been making things in my free time. Many people in my family are carpenters so maybe it was inevitable that I would start working with my hands. The idea of Concrete Forest came from my love of the clean aesthetics synonymous with Danish design and of the hands-on approach to making things prevalent here in Ireland. It seemed to be a natural progression to combine these two loves and create something that is true to me and my roots. When I was experimenting with different mixes and forms I set up in our spare room and turned it into a workshop. Every evening after work and on weekends I would keep refining products until I was happy with the outcome. There are two meanings behind the name. First is that our home overlooks an established forest, and second is that I was working in concrete but also wanted to incorporate wood so the 'forest' part represents the wooden elements in the designs- like the wooden lids on the containers.

Is Concrete Forest your full-time business now?

No, for my day job I work as a graphic designer at Spearline in Skibbereen. My wife calls that my 'clean' work and it's great to have the balance of working at a clean desk and in my dusty workshop!

Do you have a workshop / studio?

Initially I started off working from our spare room but as there was more of a demand for my products, production- and dust- ramped up and I needed a bigger space. I now work within a stones throw of our home which is great. All the clean work (finishing and packaging orders) is done in my wife's studio. She is an illustrator and has a nice clean set up, so I like to mess it up!

Can you tell us about the products that you have for sale now and where we can buy them

Concrete Forest primarily focuses on a small but considered range of homeware items. The most popular item is the candle holder, a polished concrete and well designed vessel with tapered edges which hide the naked flame within itself while revealing a soft glow due to the copper or gold interiors. In addition to the candle holder I also produce a complimentary range of containers and vases in the same style. 

For wall display, I have 'Kintsugi' pieces which are polished concrete discs with highlights in 24k gold leaf. These pieces are deliberately broken and the cracks are repaired and highlighted in 24k gold leaf. The irregular and chaotic nature of the fractures become the feature.

The work is available through a number of stockists and galleries. The Glucksman Gallery shop has always been a favourite as I launched the brand at their 2016 Christmas fair. West Cork Crafts in my hometown of Skibbereen would have the biggest range of products as I can drop new pieces in there as they’re made. Other stockists include O' Neills cafe in Skibbereen, Bandon Craft Centre, Nano Nagle Place, Lavit Gallery and Doswell Gallery in County Cork and Designist in Dublin. In the UK my work is available in the British Library and I will be taking part in the Glucksman Christmas Craft + Design Fair again this year from 9-11th November, with a new range inspired by the gallery. 

As an entrepreneur you have to be the manufacturer, marketer and salesperson - how do you split your time and how do you market your products?

To be honest most of my time is spent in the workshop, but I think that if you are passionate about what you do it’s easy and enjoyable to talk about it and it doesn't feel like you’re selling. Thankfully I haven't actually had to pay for any advertising and I hope to keep it that way. It definitely requires a lot of juggling as I work on every aspect of the business myself- the branding, making the products from start to finish, posting on social media, admin, stockist orders and so on. Early on when the brand launched I was lucky enough to be contacted by some great magazines and that press was invaluable. Sales have grown organically through social media and word of mouth. I think that Concrete Forest has established a good reputation of having high quality handmade products and I’m able to keep on top of orders in a manner that’s still enjoyable. Things do get a bit crazy in the run up to Christmas though!

Is Ireland a good place to have a creative businesse? Can you find support financially or educationally here?

It is today, but it’s definitely been a journey! I feel that the focus and credibility given to creativity and design is a relatively new thing here in Ireland. For instance, when I was growing up art wasn’t even considered an appropriate subject for boys in the local secondary school. I’m sure there could be a lot more funding for creatives here in Ireland but you have to think relatively and ask yourself is it better than it used to be, and that’s a definite yes!

What are the personality traits that help you to become an entrepreneur in Ireland?

Belief in what you are doing. Determination, hard work and passion for what you do. 

Another aspect that I think is very significant is your intention. I think it’s very important to ask yourself “why am I doing/making this”. If you are making because you love it I honestly believe your customers will see this and be drawn to your products.

Which designers, artists or other creatives are you inspired by?

So many things influence my work such as architecture and material science. I enjoy learning about new techniques and technologies. I appreciate clever design that is based on function. When a designer focuses on function to such an extent that a beautiful form naturally arises I think that is perfection. An example would be the famous PH lamps by Poul Henningsen. The lamps are designed so you only see reflected light and never the naked bulb. The form of the lamp looks sculptural but when you understand it's purpose you realise that it has a very simple function. Brilliant.

Ireland is a magical island. Where are your favourite places?

It really is. I've lived in several countries across Europe and am happy to have settled here and to call it my home. I love Cork city and lived there for a number of years. There is always something going on and it's a fantastic city for food and culture with a vibrant and diverse creative community.

I really love visiting the Burren in County Clare. Its ancient isolated features are vast and breathtaking. Sometimes it’s good to just be in awe of your surroundings.

What are your favourite restaurants right now?

Cafe Paradiso in Cork city is a longtime favourite. I'm not vegetarian but l’m always blown away by the delicious and creative dishes on the menu there. I recently collaborated with a local furniture maker- Tom Healy- to make 16 concrete tabletops for the restaurant. Sage in Midleton is fantastic too. 

Where would we find you when you have some time off?

If I'm lucky enough to get a few hours to spend with my family on a Saturday, I'll be sure to pick up a coffee at O' Neills cafe in Skibbereen. We have recently bought our first home though and it needs extensive renovation so that's where you'll be finding me if I have any time off!