Garvan de Bruir sands a piece of leather on the workbench in front of him. His gaze is focused, his hand movements are routine. Forwards and backwards, back and forth, again and again, he moves the rough paper over the robust dark brown leather, which will soon turn out to be an elegant bag. It’s almost too easy for the Irishman. The result is a soft curve that waits to be sealed.
We find ourselves in Kildare, a small town not far from the Irish capital of Dublin. Here, the skilled furniture designer and craftsman has set up his own small creative studio – which of course he designed and built himself. Working in wood was his first great love, says Garvan and laughs. But little by little another passion came along: leather work. “Leather has a centuries-old tradition in Kildare,” reports the Irishman. So it is hardly surprising that Garvan de Bruir’s interest in this robust material was aroused at an early age.
Small town – big influence: With about 7,500 inhabitants Kildare is not one of the largest cities in Ireland, but it was one of the most important – especially in the era of cavalry. Since the end of the 19th century Kildare has also been home to the state-run stud farm “National Irish Stud”. This is also why the county in the east of Ireland is called the “City of Irish Horses”. Leather and leather crafts traditionally play an important role here. But also in the surrounding area of the small town, the aforementioned Kildare County of the same name – is also known as the “County of Thoroughbreds” – the equestrian industry has always been very appreciative of this robust material.
Garvan’s consistent drive to innovate and optimize his work eventually led him away from wood, and closer to leather, a traditional material in his hometown. First he integrated the material into his furniture collection, later he made complete leather objects as luggage and bags. “I’m working similarly to saddle makers I guess, at the kind of more structural master craftsmanship and the kind of really simple, functional objects. I just love the idea of making objects in natural materials. My structures, wether tables, chairs or complete buildings, had to stand up and bare a load. In leather, my bags are also structures, but they hang down and carry a load. I really enjoy any structural brief and the ability to solve it with a natural material like wood or leather.” And so his products radiate a mixture of robust nostalgia, visual clarity, boundless elegance, but also reliable functionality and quality.
No two pieces are alike: With meticulous craftsmanship and attention to detail, Garvan selects a particular type of leather, cuts the various components according to a pattern and gives his personal project the finishing touch. “Within leather working I’m kind of self-taught. So my skill-set has evolved from quite a diverse background. Sometimes an unorthodox use of tools might provide a new way of constructing something. And constant experimentation with different processes leads to new designs.” He adds some of the leather’s natural characteristics into his work – as long as they don’t have an undesirable affect on the design. Constantly trying out new things is especially important to him. He accepts setbacks: “failures are part of the process.”
Elegant, robust and timeless: tanned animal skins are one of the oldest materials. “They are natural and sustainable, qualities that we really appreciate in a material. With proven industrial strength, I consider leather to be as relevant a material for designers and craftspeople today as it has been for milennia,” Garvan enthuses. Although leather products are not necessarily decorative or suitable for placing on the shelf, they are incredibly practical and functional. “So If you’re looking for something to remember for a long time, a gift made of leather is just what you’re looking for,” smiles the Irish craftsman. “You know the object will still be hanging around long after the occasion is behind you.”