COUNTRY and classic, two major trends in home furnishings today, are both at their best in Ireland, where country estates and town houses are equally handsome, according to Julian Tomchin.
Tomchin, Bloomingdale's vice president, is understandably prejudiced toward the Irish because he's helped put together the six-week-long Irish promotion beginning today at Bloomingdale's in White Flint and Tysons Corner. About $7 million (retail value) of Irish goods have been brought in for the event.
The promotion is another one of Bloomingdale's world tours, which so far has visited and promoted Israel, India and China. All are places, like Ireland, where handmade crafts are still to be found.
Rough wools, country pottery and wildflower motifs come from the Irish countryside. Dazzling cut crystal chandeliers, vases and goblets, fine linens and transparent china are the classic revival accoutrements from the great Irish Georgian mansions.
"Our customers are deeply interested in handmade goods," said Tomchin. "We had immediate success with Kentucky handmade goods in March. Our only trouble was that we couldn't find enough craftspeople to produce enough for all our stores then. We will have some in Washington in October from Kentucky.
"That's why Ireland was such a joy, we were able to find so many sources for handmade objects and help them develop goods aimed at the American market."
"We are always interested to know where Marvin Traub Bloomingdale's president and chairman of the board is going on vacation," Tomchin said. Traub's vacation trip to Ireland started off the current event.
Tomchin's own trips to Ireland turned up a fine collection of artist-craftsmen. Some work in traditional motifs, others in a more contemporary fashion. It is the traditional techniques, adapted to goods for today, which Tomchin bought.
Many of the objects came by one way or other from the Kilkenny Design Workshops, a government craft enterprise. The workshops train 10 or 12 apprentices for six months at a time in graphics, textiles, industrial design, silver, glass, pottery and other crafts and designworks.
"So often we found when visiting a craftsman's studio," said Tomchin, "that he had been trained at Kilkenny.
"Nicholas Mosse, a Harrows arts graduate, won an Irish Export Board scholarship to study pottery in Japan and Korea. He makes a speckled blue cannister, influenced by his oriental study," We made lamps from some of them. Bloomingdale's, y'know is one of the 10 largest lamp maufacturers in the country.
"Nicky's father, Stanley, is a miller, in the 400-year-old family business. He makes a mix for 'Mosse's Brown Bread.' Nicky's wife is an American, and a great cook. She suggested that he make a terracotta baker which would reproduce the heavy crust of the steam baked bread from a wet brick oven. So he did. The bottom is glazed, but the lid is not -- you soak the top in water and then put it on when it goes in the oven."
Nicholas and Stanley Mosse will be at Bloomingdale's, Tysons Corner, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2 to 4 p.m. tomorrow.
At Waterford, Tomchin found the master pieces, literally. These are objects made by apprentices as a final examination to attain their master's status. Normally these are not sold, but are kept on display at Waterford. Forty have been brought over for sale, at prices from $3,000 to $6,000. "Each one will come with its provenance, a paper and a picture of the cutter.
"We also asked for some new catagories, champagne coolers for instance selling at $1,535 ," Tomchin said. "We also have had 18th-century decanters reproduced. We have two sizes of rose bowls, one small enough to hold a votive candle if you turn it over."
The most amazing pieces of Waterford will be the two fountains, especially made for the event. It takes two people to put it together. "They're six feet high and four feet around. They have lights, water -- they do everything but throw confetti," Tomchin said. One will be on display in New York, one in White Flint Bloomingdale's.
The Irish textiles are the glories of the collection. The Aran tweed from the Island of Inishere has been developed into shawls, lap rugs and pillows selling from $45 to $300. "They'd never done fringes before," said Tomchin. "We'll carry yard goods as well, in the $20 a yard range. With the whole energy crisis, I thought people might be interested in using wool curtains, the way they do in Ireland."
The Kerry woolen mills were makers of thoroughbred horse blankets. "I looked at those wonderful overscale tattersall blankets, chocolate gray with red edging, and I immediately saw them for the bedroom," Tomchin said.
Weaver John McNutt will demonstrate his craft from 10 to 1 and 2 to 4 tomorrow at Bloomingdale's, Tysons Corner. Shelia Bradshaw, who designs handknitted goods will be at Bloomingdale's White Flint, from 11 to 1 and 2 to 4 tomorrow. Deidran Ryan, a Dublin lace collector will show her antique lace from 11 to 1 and 2 to 4 tomorrow at White Flint Bloomingdale's.
Desmond Byrne, a Kilkenny graduate, made the solid silver hand hammered sauce boats, ladles and wine pourers on sale. He will demonstrate his craft at Bloomingdale's, White Flint tomorrow from 11 to 1 and 2 to 4.
From Northern Ireland came the Belleek china, almost Victorian in its designs with teacups like sea shells and a dinnerware with a mask of a Greek god of wine set into the high relief border. "We expect to do well with them, the Belleek collector's society in New York has 900 members," Tomchin said. In Washington, Raymond Donovan, the secretary of labor, has a noted collection.
Richard K. Degenhardt, Belleek china authority, and Ida Grehan, author of "Waterford: An Irish Art," will speak at 9 a.m. at Tysons Corner and 2 p.m. Wednesday at White Flint. Tickets are required.
Real Irish linen sheets, a luxury only a few people can remember, are being imported by Bloomingdale's. "They're about $100 for the twin size, $150 for the double. I remember looking at them in England years ago, and the price hasn't gone up that much," said Tomchin.
More in the average price range are the Fieldcrest sheets designed by Kilkinney Design Workshops, edged in real (though machine made) lace, six inches wide and ruffled ($14-$16). The prints are Floral Meadows; Thoroughbred Plaid; and Island of Aran, a pattern suggested by cableknit sweaters.
Sybil Connolly, Ireland's best known dress and interior designer, has done a blue-flowered, blue-edged sheet for Wamsetta, named for herself. The pattern is also made up in comforters, towels and table linens. Caspari is also producing her note collection and address book. Sybil Connolly and Paul Costelloe, both couture designers, will be at White Flint from 1 to 3 p.m. Monday.
Joe Shanahan, a Tipperary basket weaver from a family who had been making baskets from willows since 1886, makes log baskets, peat baskets, and many others from 24 to 30 inches and 30 to 40 inches. He'll be at White Flint Bloomindale's tomorrow from 11 to 1 and 2 to 4.
Desmond Guinness, president of the Irish Georgian Society will lecture on Irish country and Georgian Dublin Houses at 1 p.m. tomorrow at White Flint and 9 a.m. Tuesday at Tysons Corner. Tickets are required for both.
For ticket information call Bloomingdale's, White Flint, 468-2111, extension 215 and Tysons Corner 893-3500, extension 215.