Interview: Issy FitzSimons Reilly

Issy FitzSimons Reilly is a freelance interior designer, woodworker and barista. She recently graduated from a bachelor of Interior Environments at QCA and in her final semester of uni took on an internship with local furniture makers Talty Sargent. Staying on at Talty Sargent, she has continued to develop her woodwork skills, and has begun to assess how this hobby could become a bigger part of her creative career.

From 19 June to 25 June Issy showed us her work and process on our Instagram @inresidence_ari

Interview by Sarah Thomson


ST: You studied a Bachelor of Interior Environments at the Queensland College of Art. What drew you to trying woodworking in your final semester at university?

IF: Long before my degree started, I stumbled across the work of Ariele Alasko, a female woodworker from America. Her work is beautiful and I highly recommend everyone checking it out. That is when my fascination with wood really began. I think being interested in woodwork before that point never felt tangible. This is perhaps due to the fact that in our current paradigm working with your hands in this way is still mostly constructed as 'man's' work. Fast-forward a couple of years and I was doing my degree and found myself with a spare elective. I used it as an opportunity to find an internship with furniture makers.

ST: How did you come to get involved with Talty Sargent? What have you learnt while working with them in their studio at the Foundry in Red Hill?

IF: Pure luck really! I came across James' (the Talty half) work through a website called Handcrafted, which is a platform that has a database of artisan makers. The work really resonated with me, so I decided to email him asking if he would take me on as an intern. The Foundry Studio is full of creative driven people doing amazing stuff- it was really great to have stumbled across this little hub in Brisbo. I have learnt a whole lot about woodwork (...everything I know) thanks to James and Sam.

〰the workshop〰 #inresidencetakeover

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ST: In living in such an incredibly digital, intangible age, what do you find so appealing about working with your hands to craft something from scratch? How do you feel when you’re making an object by hand?

IF: I find working with my hands to be really satisfying. Finding time/resources/skills to pursue it, is the hard bit. Doing something like woodwork is very fulfilling for me, because it is a beautiful mixture of translating my creativity, but also having an end product with functionality.

For me the repetition that comes with woodwork is very meditative. A big chunk of my time is spent sanding, which is a great time to either have a little silent disco or catch up on podcasts. Doing the internship in my final semester was perfect timing. I was a pretty highly strung anxious student, so finding something that took me away from the computer (writing essays or tirelessly working on REVIT) that also alleviated stress- was a big win.

〰oilin' her up〰 #inresidencetakeover

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ST: What challenges have you been faced with in translating designs to physical objects? Do you feel that it is important for designers (of any kind) to experience physically making the designs (as apposed to digital renders or outsourcing)?

IF: I guess the key challenges I have faced are those that come with learning an entirely new skill and a certain level of vulnerability that comes along with it. Being so new to this, anything I make is a huge learning process. I would say that I do not pick up things quickly, I have a tendency to be slow and calculated. On top of that wood does not come cheap (and nor should it- its a natural resource that should be cherished), so material costs can be challenging.

Doing woodwork helped me with studying design (and my future with interior design), to think about the functionality of what I designed and my documentation processes.

The experience of physically making objects has given me a very deep appreciation of tangible skills that have been passed through generations. As our society rapidly moves towards mass production, these skills are increasingly being lost, along with the appreciation of things made by hand.

ST: You mentioned in one of your Instagram posts that being exposed to other people’s creativity online can be both inspiring but also a hindrance in coming up with new, original designs. How has being exposed to the work of other’s impacted your practice? How to you keep a balance between being inspired and staying original?

IF: I think being really aware of this balance, and signposting it is something that should be a top priority for designers. In saying that, managing this balance is one of the things I really struggle with as someone who is just starting out as a professional. Coming up with original designs is really important to me in my practice, however, it is a huge learning curve and something that could take years to fully come to fruition. I also value the influence of other, more experienced designers. I think as I think more about this dilemma, I want to shift my thinking away from viewing this online saturation as being a hindrance, and embracing the potential that it brings for inspiration, and connection with other people and their work.

ST: What are some of your design influences? Are you inspired by other designers and periods in design history or more by things in your day-to-day life?

IF: More than anything, I really love mid-century Scandinavia design. Wood itself is so beautiful and has such longevity, that minimalist design appeals to me because of its capacity to stand the test of time. There is so much amazing stuff happening in Australian Design. I am really loving the work and philosophy of The Sociable Weavers. Their work really centers around architecture that is sustainable, affordable, functional and beautiful. Focussing on making sustainable design more affordable and therefore more accessible is a really important cause. Another Australian furniture maker I'm really loving at the moment, is Mast Furniture. Their Title Bed 03 is the stuff of my dreams.

〰Bedside table that I just completed 〰 for those who like to keep their books close〰

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ST: You have a strong focus around sustainability in your design work (and in life) how does this impact the way you design and the materials you use?

IF: My degree at the Queensland College of Art was very focused on sustainability and equipping us with the tools of design thinking as a powerful force to make strides forward to a sustainable and ethical paradigm. In terms of my woodwork, I am not there yet. I still have so much research and learning to do yet, before I can claim to be a truly sustainable designer and crafter. As I move forward, this is definitely something I plan to develop and consistently work towards. As a starting point, I only buy timber from suppliers who have sustainable practices and I design with longevity in mind.

On a personal level I get all my furniture from either the side of the road, dumpsters, Gumtree or vintage shops. There is so much good and affordable (or free!) second hand stuff out there, and I really urge people to think twice before buying new cheaply made furniture from overseas. Then if you decide to perhaps invest in a new piece, the money you have saved could go toward supporting locally made furniture (there are so many Australian furniture makers out there). It is all about shifting one’s own priorities and working to change our consumerist culture, and I try to employ that philosophy in both my work and my broader life.

Issy FitzSimons Reilly took over the In Residence Instagram 19-25 June, 2017.


Keep up with our Instagram Takeovers, news, events and new posts via @inresidence_ari