You wouldn’t normally associate an aircraft mechanical engineer with the artsy world of interior design, and perhaps even less with the touchy-feely world of hand-crafted goods – but then Bronagh O’Kane isn’t just your average aircraft engineer.
Originally hailing from Cookstown in County Tyrone, Bronagh spent a total of twelve years working in the RAF - a career that couldn’t be farther removed from her current job as one half of up-and-coming design company, Orwell and Goode, which produces quirky, humorous home textiles and art using the time-honoured tradition of screen printing.
Bronagh, who now lives in the Scottish Borders, first met her business partner Zuzana Gibb, when she attended a screen-printing course just over five years ago. Zuzana is originally from Slovakia but moved to London to study, promptly fell in love with her husband and set up home with him in Scotland after graduation, where she established her own wallpaper design and print company, also offering screen printing classes to other people.
“After nine years in the Air Force I thought I was leaving and started to retrain to run my own business,” Bronagh explains. “I went to one of Zuzana's screen printing courses and started my own little brand. But I couldn't bring myself to leave the Air Force, so I signed a contract for another three years. In the meantime I returned twice more to Zuzana's courses and we became good friends.
“At the end of my first year of my wee business we chatted about how great the possibilities would be if we worked together. So I closed my company and started one with Zuzana, just like that! We gave ourselves the name Orwell and Goode as it sounds like ‘all well and good’. We made the decision at end of 2010, started designing in January 2011 and exhibited at our first trade show in April 2011.”
Both women initially worked part time on Orwell and Goode while juggling other commitments, which for Bronagh included two tours in Afghanistan, and for Zuzana the birth of a baby boy - but the brand gathered recognition quickly and in 2013 Bronagh left the RAF and they both made it their full time occupation. In September, they exhibited at Top Drawer in London for only the second time and were delighted to be awarded ‘Best Home Product’ out of almost 800 exhibitors.
These days, there are more than 80 UK stockists of their unique homewares, which are largely inspired by nature – albeit with an Orwell and Goode twist! From foxes in smoking jackets to beautiful fine-art inspired cushions, their designs use materials that are locally-sourced where possible, making the ordinary, extraordinary.
Bronagh says: “We both love living in the countryside and share a love of animals, so it just comes naturally to us to be led this way. But Zuzana does have a wonderful way with pattern, hence it shows up in our designs - the trees are filled with pattern in the Woodland collection and the Pattern Stag Head.”
Especially dear to Bronagh and Zuzana is the ‘Royal Air Fox’ who has learned to fly, no doubt to the chagrin of his airborne prey: “The cunning fox print designs each have a different take on how he can outsmart his prey! Obviously the Royal Air Fox reflects some of my background but actually his jacket is also taken from a photograph of Zuzana's father-in-law’s actual war uniform. He flew Lancaster Bombers, and was shot down over Germany. He parachuted from a burning aircraft, and survived on stolen eggs and milk for five days before he was captured and imprisoned in Stalag Luft III at Zagan. Here he was part of the famous ‘Great Escape’ team, but luckily he wasn't one of the men chosen for the escape and so survived the whole ordeal. This jacket is displayed in Zuzana's home and it was a great honour to use it for our artwork.”
Highlights for the girls so far include meeting Linda Barker on their stand at Top Drawer, being featured in The Guardian’s Top 50 Christmas Gift Guide and appearing on designer sale site, Achica. They’re also currently in talks with a major UK department store - so watch this space, and in the meantime, visit www.orwellandgoode.com for more information.