2023 winner of Conor Farrell Design Award revealed


Design student Neil O’Donoghue has been named as the 2023 recipient of the Conor Farrell Design Award, a collaboration between Ardee-based Farrell Furniture and Atlantic Technological University, Connemara.

Neil is the fourth winner of the now annual award, established in 2020 in tribute to the late Conor Farrell. His winning design, entitled ‘Podium’, is a set of fully recyclable end tables, designed in response to the EU Legislation in progress ‘Eco-design for Sustainable Products Regulation’ (ESPR).

This year’s award presentation took place at the Trees to Treasures Exhibition at Farmleigh House in Phoenix Park, Dublin.

Trees to Treasures is an exhibition showcasing excellence and innovation in furniture design, manufacture, technology and education by students, staff and graduates of ATU Connemara.

Having completed four years at ATU’s Furniture Design & Manufacturing programme, Neil is now beginning a Masters in Design Innovation at Maynooth University.

Asked what it means to win the award, he said: “To win the Conor Farrell Design Award, it’s a big deal for me, to recognise my design, it’s a very proud moment. Accolades such as this, supporting the work I’m doing, it’s very encouraging.”

Designed utilising eco design principles, Podium consists of three materials, assembled without the use of adhesives, allowing the ease of separation at the products end of life. Two of the materials are biodegradable; linoleum and cotton, with the other being fully recyclable; glass.

Explaining the thought process behind the market-ready product, Neil said: “My research began by attending Dutch Design Week in October of 2022, the largest annual design event in Northern Europe.

“Research and testing of renewable materials was the theme of the event, which inspired me to conduct my own research into the flooring material linoleum. Linoleum is a biomaterial made from natural, renewable raw materials”.

Each Podium consists of two layers of linoleum placed back-to-back, forming one enclosed loop. The shape is achieved from utilising the flexibility and structural properties inherent in linoleum combined with the tension created from hand sewing the material together against two pieces of toughened glass which sit in rebates cut into the linoleum.

The seam sits into a slight groove made in the linoleum. Through prototyping and refinement, Podium is a functional, playful and simplistic design.

This year’s trophy was designed by Jeremy Madden, Lecturer in Furniture Design and Manufacture, ATU Connemara. Jeremy has over 25 years of experience in education and the furniture industry both nationally and internationally.

“I’m really happy that Neil has won the award this year because his work was the epitome of what Conor had and what he did for Farrell’s, he was an innovator and creator,” Jeremy explained.

“What’s unique about Neil’s design is that he took a chance, he was a risk taker and he used innovation, creativity and especially sustainability. It was those features that set himself out from the other pieces in this year’s Conor Farrell Design Award.”

“The standard this year was extremely high. I value the students every year, putting their designs forward, taking a chance, willing to be put on a pedestal and be valued. I think the level and standard every year is increasing.”

Jeremy added: “Neil and the previous winners should be very proud of their achievements. To see a company invest in students is so important and I think companies such as Farrell know how the future can make a difference.

“Taking an opportunity on something that’s so dear to their hearts, taking that loss and giving the students an opportunity to take Conor’s legacy through as a designer in Farrell’s is really important. Companies like Farrell taking a chance in doing this just shows the commitment that they have to the young designers in Ireland is something that they take very seriously.”