As far as materials go, it doesn’t get sturdier than concrete.
The latest building trends have seen an explosion in polished concrete floors, poured concrete countertops and chic, industrial fireplaces and hearths.
For those of us who are hesitant to go the whole hog however (not exactly possible if you’re renting), the smart money is on concrete accessories. Happily, here in Cork we don’t need to look too far afield to find them.
Kevin Corcoran designs and makes affordable concrete and wooden homeware that has been snapped up and displayed in some of the most stylish homes in the country.
Having started out with a small range of beautiful handmade products at the Glucksman Craft + Design fair in 2016, the West Cork-based maker’s Concrete Forest range has expanded to include glowing Hygge candle holders, marble-esque Japanese-inspired kintsugi discs and tactile lidded containers for kitchen use.
In his own words, this is how he’s WORKING IT…
I was born in Denmark – my Father is Danish and my Mother is from Cork. I grew up in a creative environment with art and craft of some sort in every corner of the house. I knew from an early age I wanted to work in a creative field 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. I learned 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. A year later I was doing just that! I have worked in design for the past 10 years 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.
I studied graphic design in college and since graduating I had constantly been working on other people’s projects, while always wanting to create something of my own. I lived in Berlin after graduating and worked for various start-ups in the tech industry. In my spare time I was making things and when I moved back to rural Ireland we moved to a house overlooking a pine forest. I turned the spare room into a workshop and started making products out of concrete for fun as a hobby. I realised that I really loved doing it and when I felt that I had developed the process and designs enough (after many months of prototyping!) I decided to launch the brand. It all developed organically over time and is rooted in my past.
In November of last year I had developed products to a point that I was happy with and launched Concrete Forest at the Glucksman Craft + Design fair. The feedback was great, I was approached by many stockists and buyers and it gave me the confidence and reassurance that I was doing the right thing. Due to demand, I was able to leave my day job and take another designer/maker on before Christmas this year.
The fact that Cork is so small is actually a positive as the creative community all seem to know each other. It is small enough to feel like you can meet people while also having a great international presence.
When I started doing this, I thought that concrete was just mixing powder and water. But it really is a science. I spent a huge amount of time reading up about it (on some very boring websites!). The attention really is in the detail and some of those details can be measured out to the gram- factors like temperature and humidity can drastically change the final outcome. Even the weather plays a role in this! Since I started working with concrete I have developed a whole new respect for the material.
My goal is to keep refining and create the best possible products and to keep them at a price point that I myself could afford as a buyer.
My father-in-law told me not to focus on making something that you think will be a good seller but to make what you love and do it to the best of your ability.
The three things in my working week I love doing are; turning the lights on in the workshop in the morning, taking a batch out of moulds and joking at the post office that I am quite literally posting blocks of concrete!
The candle holder is the project I’m most proud of so far. It took several months of experimentation- from sketching, working on new forms, moulds, developing different mixes and finishes before it was ready to see the light of day (or the dark of night!). That little candle holder has been so popular that I haven’t had time to expand the range as much as I would have hoped. However, it has kept me in business and has been a solid foundation to building Concrete Forest.
There will always be someone else working in the same material as you, but make your own designs, keep them unique and focus on what differentiates you from others.
I definitely could spend more time on social media as it’s been instrumental to getting my work out there but I’m lucky that it has just grown itself. My customers have been really encouraging and supportive and have also shared photos of my products out in the world, which I love to see.
How do I stay organised? You can’t beat writing something on a wall. And when it’s important write it big!
Looking back on my business journey so far, I would have left my day job sooner. However, the timing has been perfect as my wife and I have a little baby and I get to see her every day now.
I network with other business owners all the time. We all have to overcome the same hurdles and it’s great to be able to help each other out, that’s what makes it a creative community. I really believe in supporting local and small business owners and thankfully other people have this same attitude – if they didn’t I wouldn’t be able to do what I do.
I am currently working on a bespoke range for an award-winning gallery and I’m in the process of developing new forms for 2018. I’m also lucky enough to be in talks with another Cork creative about an exciting collaboration.