Joan Scales meets writer and designer Una Brankin-Murphy for a preview of her upcoming home fragrance designs 

OONZIE scent lamp diffusers are one of the more interesting aesthetic creations to have emerged during the pandemic in Ireland.

Designed during the 2020 lockdown by writer Una Brankin-Murphy, they are the result of her determined quest to produce an innovative alternative to scented candles and pod diffusers.

A former RTE press officer and Belfast Telegraph columnist, Ms Brankin-Murphy spent almost a year experimenting with various types of lighting apparatus, organic materials, and essential oils, while confined to the stylish Carlingford home she shares with her husband, Declan Murphy, from well-known Irish band The4OfUs.

The result is the Fragrance & Light collection, an elegant and original twist on the reed diffuser format.                                 


Q. Una, how did you go from fiction and journalism to creating these rather lovely designs?

“I always wanted to design, as well as write. Back when I was editor of Irish Wedding & New Home Magazine, I would be imagining the ad lay-out for my future creations in the interiors design section!

“But until the pandemic struck, I never had time to develop my ideas. Even when the first lockdown came info force, I was supposed to be catching up with a neglected manuscript. Instead, with no deadlines, I became constantly distracted by an idea I’d had for a fragranced lamp or nightlight, something different to scented candles and misty diffusers.”

Q. Where did the idea spring from?

“Well, I love scented candles - I have the house filled with Jo Malones and Yankee Candles, but I have a young nephew whose eyes redden and stream if he’s anywhere near scented wax, no matter how good the quality.

“That's partly of what got me so focused on finding another way to bring scent and light together. That plus the effect of sunlight - when it's mellow - on Carlingford Bay, which I find mesmerising. Calming and uplifting at the same time."

Q. Did you have any ground rules before you began the design process?

“Yes. No plastic, no noise, no coloured lights, no blobby structures. I dislike most contemporary fragrance diffusers – those soulless pods remind me of something from Star Trek.

“I wanted to create an organic statement-piece that emitted fragrance 24/7 and radiated light in the evenings. I wanted two types: one to recreate a candlelit glow and the other bright enough to read by.”

Q. Which materials did you choose to work with; did you have a studio space?

"I had a box full of mismatched paraphernalia, bits and bobs I'd gathered over the years. I took over the dining table to assemble my early attempts at a prototype, so dinner was restricted to trays on our knees for months afterwards.

“I had all sorts of stuff in the beginning – driftwood, fairy lights, Waterford Crystal, wrought iron candle holders... even semi precious stones and pot pourri. It became a lengthy process of trial and error before I settled on pale oak and glass.

"My husband was less than impressed with my first attempts – he went to art college and designs the artwork for his music and merchandise, so he’s hard to please. The dog wasn’t happy either. She was insulted by having my attention taken away from her for long periods and not getting her usual quota of walks."

Q. How did lockdown restrictions affect the project?

“Lockdown made it feel like I was operating in some strange, isolated other-world. But I was determined to keep going over that seemingly endless stretch, until one day I came up with a design that looked good and actually worked.

“Declan came on board at that stage – no live gigs gave him more spare time - and my manuscript went straight back on to the shelf.”

Q. One of the main elements of your design required a bespoke LED base. Not an easy requirement to fulfil in lockdown?

“No. But it’s not like I have reinvented the wheel here; this design is an adaptation of an originally French creation dating back centuries, but I have added a new functional element and a contemporary aesthetic.

“It did take a while to find a manufacturer to engineer the LED base to my specifications. When they saw it, they advised me to get the design patented right away.

"I've now got Intellectual Property rights in most territories, although that won't stop knock-offs. I'd take copy-cats as a compliment, though. As long as there are enough sales to go round."

Aptly, the inaugural scent lamp diffuser collection was christened Fragrance & Light. The brand, OONZIE, is Declan’s nickname for his wife of 17 years.

Elegant and deceptively simple in its presentation, the scent lamps can be used in combination with scented candles, to stunning effect. The combination of glass and oak lends the product a minimalist luxury cachet, almost a Skandi look.

Q. How did you come up the signature fragrance for the collection?

“I love classic citrussy and floral aromas – I have dozens of them in the house, and one morning I was thinking about a perfume my much-missed aunt used to wear… and I just took a notion to mix a couple of rose-based oils with lemon myrtle, which is one of my favourites.

"It was strange- suddenly it seemed as if Auntie Bridie was there in the room with me. I took that as a sign from on high …  Seriously, though, I’m surprised the combination hasn’t been used already in home fragrance - it’s gorgeous."

Q. You're already working on your second collection. What's your inspiration this time?

“Well, my new designs have a semi-nautical slant and there is a mechanism involved. I’m trying to find the quietest fan technology out there. I don’t like any sort of thrumming sound on the bedside table. It would keep me awake all night.

"I have a new coastal-forest fragrance theme for this collection - it's inspired by the woodlands along Carlingford Bay and the Glens of Antrim, across the border. The north has some of the most aromatic wildflowers on the island. I love foraging for them and experimenting back home."

Q. So what’s next for OONZIE?

“Ideally, I would like to find a good distributor, so I can concentrate on the new designs. I’m also working on a concept for a third collection, which will take some skilled craftsmanship to achieve.  It’s original and it’s tricky, but I won’t give up until I have one of them at each end of my mantlepiece.

"By that stage, the dog can get longer jaunts and the manuscript might get another airing, but I wouldn't bet against getting distracted by another product idea. Design is so much fun."
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