Small and mighty: exploring Superfolk's studio in County Mayo, Ireland
‘The house that we live in now is a very small house with very small rooms – you just can’t help it but the building starts to shape you and the things that you do,’ says Jo Anne Butler – one half of the design duo Superfolk, based in Westport, County Mayo, on the Atlantic coast of Ireland. ‘Everything we’ve made in the past year hangs on the wall.’ There’s the oak folding table hanging by the door for dinners in the garden or on a local pier surrounded by the ocean, all packed into the back of the car on a whim. ‘Because it is a small, dark building and it’s really gorgeous outside and we have access to really empty, beautiful beaches, really interesting forests, really interesting landscapes.... For us, it’s to learn about everything around us, too.’
Based in a former docker’s house, the light-deprived space with small windows – but an enviably long garden – has proved an inspiration for Butler and her partner Gearóid Muldowney, who moved back to their native Mayo after years of living in Dublin. ‘We’re both interested in small space living. I think that’s something we have in common with people who live in cities,’ offers Butler as she swoops up the newest member of the Superfolk team, her baby daughter. Both met while studying at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin, where Butler studied sculpture and Muldowney studied craft design. It was always the plan to move out of the urban environment; now, the great abundance of such natural beauty and materials are woven into Superfolk’s signature oak, beech and ash trivets and their leather folding stools.
Living in the shadow of Croagh Patrick, a holy mountain, that seems to have captured the imagination of everybody who lives in the town, Butler says she’s learned more about form in its presence than all her years at art school. ‘It’s always changing,’ she says. ‘It’s such a large presence.’ With that in mind, the duo and their protégé are imminently off to Finland on a tour of Aalto buildings, with the anticipation of Villa Mairea causing particular excitement. Translating one's environment in the way that he’s done, concludes Butler, is something that always plays on the mind in their beautiful western inlet.