A Waterford boy born and bred, Matt Kehoe became the youngest ever head of design at Waterford crystal when he landed the job two years ago.
Live. Love. Toast. talked to him about inspiration, Juicy Salifs and being a frustrated album cover designer.
LLT: You studied industrial design at college – what made you choose Waterford?
Matt: Coming from Waterford, like everyone else here, I’m proud that these luxury products are made in Waterford.
I never thought I’d be the designer of Waterford crystal – I wanted to design album covers when I was 15!
But I knew I wanted to be some sort of designer. That’s how I ended up studying industrial design. I thought maybe I would have to go to London or something like that but it wasn’t appealing at the time.
I thought I’d try Waterford but I didn’t give myself the chance to get into design here because everybody from design came from the cutting shop and that was the only route in.
But I joined as a draftsman and after about a year I started designing as a junior designer. It’s one of the best things that’s ever happened to me.
LLT: It’s good to hear someone who still enjoys their job, particularly knowing you’ve been there 20 years.
You collaborate with other designers – what’s it like to work with them? Do you have to teach them a lot about the material first?
Jeff Leatham with some of his Fleurology range, designed for Waterford
Matt: We’ve worked with all kinds of designers, including John Rocha, Jasper Conran, the fashion designer Monique Lhuillier and the floral designer Jeff Leatham.
They bring a different feel to it. They come up with a beautiful-looking piece and we’ll try to get as close to it as possible. We learn from each other. We try to get inside their heads and they try get inside our heads – and at the end of it, we hopefully have a beautiful piece that sells.
LLT: How much did you feel the weight of heritage from Waterford when you joined, and how much do you feel that now?
Matt: I had to learn that traditional style; I had to inject that DNA into me, so that I could become a Waterford designer. After a few years I tried to add more contemporary style to it.
I’m not saying I don’t like the traditional. It still very much has a place in the luxury business today but I do like to move things on a little bit. I’d advise anyone to do what I did: to listen and learn from the guys who have been there 20, 30 years.
I had a new weight on my shoulders when I became head of design in 2014, so I had to carry on the past and bring something new.
LLT: Talking of your more contemporary work, tell me about the Mixology range
Matt: It’s probably the most globally successful collection. We design for very different markets and I’m delighted that we created something that every market has embraced.
Part of the Mixology range
It was the kind of project I’d waited a long time for. We needed barware but we needed it to be fun, so I introduced colour and quite a contemporary cut.
We kept the DNA of Waterford in the pattern but we went just far enough to make it a contemporary collection. It’s a classic contemporary collection and I’m hopeful it will be timeless.
LLT: Where in general do you find your design inspiration?
Matt: I do some interior design as well so I keep up with that, as well as table-top trends. I watch for styles and colours coming in and going out.
We get a lot of inspiration from Waterford itself. It was founded by the Vikings in the 9th century so there’s a lot of architecture and the surrounding scenery is beautiful.
But if I’m really stuck I throw on the headphones and put on some fast music and hopefully something comes out of that!
LLT: And how does the process work from there?
Matt: I just put pen to paper and go through maybe 10 or 20 quick sketches.
Once you get the shape you can start working on the pattern. You could have an idea of what the pattern might be but you wouldn’t really finalise the pattern until you get the shape made up.
So you get the shape back from the blowing room – when it’s on your table, you can actually start drawing the pattern on the glass sample.
You might have a fair idea of what’s going to go on it but it normally changes when you get the physical piece in front of you.
We have these special markers with indelible ink and you just draw your pattern on. Once you’re happy with it and there’s a nice balance to it, you’ll send it off down to the cutter and he’ll cut it straight from that.
We generally have to get it right – I wouldn’t say first time but almost first time. The time constraints, the cost of getting samples made and all of that … there are a lot of different skills to master when you’re a designer at Waterford and that doesn’t happen overnight.
LLT: Are there any other designers that you would really like to collaborate with?
Matt: I’ve always admired Philippe Starck – I’ve bought some of his products over the years. I loved some of the watches he did with Fossil – really futuristic. I love his tripod orange juicer, the Juicy Salif and his perspex Ghost chair… I would love to get inside his head – I just think he is an amazing guy.
LLT: Have you got a vision of the future for Waterford? Any ideas of where you’d like to take it?
Matt: We’ve gone through our humps and bumps over the years, so I think we’re back onto a good thing again with Waterford. I would say that we cater for all ages, with that kind of classic contemporary look.
The one important thing about Waterford is that it retains its DNA look. I think one thing which should never happen – and I hope in my time will never ever happen – is that we don’t take it too far from that.
We can have contemporary, we can have traditional, we can have transitional looks but as long as we retain the DNA look for Waterford I think Waterford has a bright future.
Discover more about floral designer Jeff Leatham’s amazing collaboration with Waterford.
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Matt’s Mixology range has been a huge success for Waterford. Which pieces will you choose?