Loving Laois

Though she was born and trained in Dublin, when Gill Reidy fell for a farmer, she moved to Laois in 1999, and now runs her studio, Penhouse, from a set of converted stone farm buildings near Stradbally. While working from outside Dublin proved a challenge in the early days, digital tools have made things so much easier and given Gill and the team more time to enjoy country life: ‘In summer especially, it’s lovely being in the countryside, sitting out in our garden for meetings or outdoor lunches, while watching the harvest being cut outside our windows is pretty hard to beat.’

The move was gradual, with Gill first commuting to Dublin and then moving the studio to Portlaoise. ‘When I moved here first I commuted, but with crazy deadlines keeping me in the office in Dublin and added travel time in the mornings and evenings, my days got too long. I decided that Penhouse needed to leave the city, though I was nervous: most designers were (and still are) city based. When I first moved the business to Portlaoise, I got a nice place beside the train station so could courier our design work up and down by train — not a concern now! I joined a couple of local business groups and started to meet the local businesses, everyone was very friendly and welcoming. I got some great local work to add to my Dublin based clients and things took off from there.’

Packaging for Lily O'Brien's Chocolate, designed by Penhouse

Penhouse is now a team of five, with Gill joined by Leonie, Gemma, Sara and Lesleyanne. ‘I have never wanted to grow any larger than this as a business model — which has been hard at times — but an important part I think of what we do and how we work with people. Ultimately I like to design myself too and get to know our customers well, so it suits me to keep the team tight.’ 

Reports and other materials for the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, designed by Penhouse

In terms of projects and clients, Penhouse strikes a good balance and has a variety of work coming in: ‘On any given day in the studio we could be exploring new packaging concepts for Lily O’Brien’s, or pop up shop retail displays, photoshoots, corporate presentations for them. Then for the Department of Children and Youth Affairs we could be designing more serious reports, branding and launching campaigns such as LGBTI youth, Early Years digital etc. Meanwhile we are designing brochures or lifestyle ads for Druids Glen, Hotel and Golf Resort, or brainstorming to name and rebrand new food products. I really love the variety, keeps me fresh and interested. I don’t do repetition well, so it’s great to keep it always evolving with lots of very different jobs on the go at the same time. I work best when I’m juggling lots of jobs and buzzing with ideas!’

Materials for Druids Glen, Hotel and Golf Resort, designed by Penhouse

There are things the Penhouse team miss out on being located outside of a city, and certain things take a bit more planning. ‘We are limited in terms of a design community here. There are always little bursts, and we have organised a few events in the past ourselves, but it is harder with lower numbers to muster interest. In terms of design events or mixing with peers... we are a bit out of the loop for sure and I would miss that. Popping into something for an hour after work is a lot easier to do, off the cuff, when you are in the city already!’

‘The main challenge for our location, work-wise, is the added time we need to allow for meetings in Dublin. I would always allow half a day minimum for any meeting in the city, by the time we get up and down (avoiding the busy times) and spend time with our client. I usually try to group a number of meetings in the one day if I can. But a number of weekly meetings can be difficult to schedule in when we have a busy work week here. On the other hand... we are in a great central location in Ireland’s midlands for many of our clients around the country to visit, and for those on the outskirts of Dublin we’re less than an hour away, so it’s great for them to visit us without having to deal with city traffic or parking!’ Sounds like an open invite to us...

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