There are periods and places that have served as hotbeds for innovation in design—Northern Ireland in the late 1970s is not one of them. Mired in economic stagnation and the violent sectarian conflict known as the Troubles, the country was in a difficult period. In the middle of that strife, newlyweds Brian and Rosie McGuigan decided to start a high-end furniture company, Orior, out of Newry, a small town 40 miles from Belfast. It was bold. It was also a little crazy.
“[At the time,] I said, ‘This is a depressed society, I don’t know how high-end furniture is going to sell,’” Rosie tells host Dennis Scully on the latest episode of The Business of Home Podcast. “[Brian] said, ‘You start off on the trajectory you want to stay on and don’t veer off it. I want to make high-end furniture, and that’s what I want to do.’”
And that’s precisely what they did. Training a local crew from scratch and getting by on great design and hustle, Orior built a name for itself and grew over the decades. However, in 2008, the brand went through two crises: First, the Great Recession slowed business to a crawl; then, Brian McGuigan had a brain hemorrhage in 2012 that left him temporarily unable to run the company. His son Ciaran, a former professional soccer player, came home to take the reins.
“It was kind of a baptism by fire,” says Ciaran. “I met Gerry [Daily, Orior’s accountant], and he was like, ‘You’ve got no money, but you’ve got an unbelievable product,’ and he kind of mic-dropped and walked out of the room.”
Ciaran’s idea for the next step was also bold and a little crazy: Open a showroom in New York and reinvent Orior for the American market as a cosmopolitan brand with vibe and sex appeal. It took some time to catch on, but the company has won a fan base of high-profile interior designers such as Martin Brudnizki; actors and artists such as Maggie Gyllenhaal and Oliver Jeffers; and fashion designers such as Christopher John Rogers.
Key to the brand’s appeal, says Ciaran, is looking to the future but not running from the company’s Irish roots (all of its pieces are still made in Newry, with local green marble sourced from a nearby quarry). In 2019, to celebrate the company’s 40th anniversary, Orior brought in a consultant to spearhead a rebrand. At the time, Ciaran had thought that the right move was to position the brand as European, to put it in the same conversation as French, Italian and German brands that had cornered the discourse around “good” design.
“I was excited, like, ‘We should be a European brand!’ And the consultant was like, ‘Drop me back to the airport; we’re not interested in a European brand—there are so many,’” he recalls. “We’re here because what excites us is the Irishness of this product.”
Homepage photo: Rosie and Ciaran McGuigan | Courtesy of Orior