OBIN Specialist Joinery reaches a milestone 125 years

A fourth-generation family business has evolved from furniture manufacture into high quality specialist joinery and innovative design…

When a 15-year-old left Portadown for an apprenticeship in 1890, he could little have known the groundwork was being laid for a thriving family business. Thomas McDonagh would return in 1898, aged 23, to found McDonagh Furniture.

And 125 years later, the business is run by his great-grandson John McDonagh under the two complementary entities OBIN Specialist Joinery and Studio Terry. “We manufactured ranges of furniture, sold those ranges to retailers across the UK and Ireland, and that’s the way it stayed for a long time through both world wars, The Troubles, and a number of fires,” said John. But in 2007, a combination of competition from cheap imports and the financial crisis prompted a pivot from furniture manufacture into bespoke joinery.

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John’s father Terry was instrumental in the firm’s new direction, partnering with interior designers, architects and design-led brands such as Tom Dixon, Decode London and Kristalia. And since 2008, the firm has built a prestigious portfolio spanning commercial, hospitality, retail and residential projects from RTE Home of the Year 2019 Ormiston House to the Queen Street hometel by room2. While the firm employed hundreds of people over the years, today its team totals around 45 in OBIN Specialist Joinery and five in Studio Terry.

Under Terry’s tenure, the firm was the first Northern Ireland furniture business to achieve Investors in People accreditation, in 1996, and John is continuing his father’s legacy. “The big thing for me is we want to be a really great place to work,” he said, with a nine-day fortnight in place for office staff and a four-day week for the workshop team.

A 125-year heritage

1890: Portadown native Thomas William McDonagh joins Quinn’s Furniture Manufacturers on Donegal Pass in Belfast as an apprentice aged 15.

1898: The family business is born when Thomas returns to Portadown, now 23, and makes a table and chairs from local timber in his father’s smithy.

1904: Thomas buys the Old Mill in Richhill, opening a furniture factory and gaining a reputation throughout Armagh and Portadown for his well-crafted pieces.

1915: Thomas buys a house and land on Obins Street, named after a settler from the 1600s, relocating his business to Portadown.

1925: A new manufacturing site is opened in Monaghan to circumvent import taxes introduced after the partition of Ireland but sold on in 1939 when the tax is removed.

1934: Thomas retires to South Africa, aged 59, leaving the business to sons John, William, Thomas and David, and son-in-law George Chapman.

1939-45: During WWII, the business is allocated timber to make utility furniture and builds a customer base across Ireland.

1980s: Thomas and David pass away, John retires, and William’s son Terry takes over as managing director, leading a shift towards marketing, design and technology.

1984: The business refocuses on cabinetry, moving away from wholesaling and upholstery, and expands its client base into GB.

2002: £700,000 is invested in a new design studio, adding an internal design team to a workforce of around 100.

2007: Struggling to compete with cheap imports amid the financial crisis, McDonagh Furniture ceases trading.

2008: The business is reborn as Terry, honouring its MD’s reputation as a leader in design and fabrication.

2022: A rebrand sees the business separate into two entities, OBIN Specialist Joinery and Studio Terry. Terry passes away, and son John becomes the fourth generation to lead the business.

2023: Celebrating its 125th anniversary, the business looks to the future with a portfolio of prestigious clients across the UK, Ireland and continental Europe.

To read the full feature go to Issue 34-6 Dec-Jan by clicking here

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