Raymond McGrath (7 March 1903 – 23 December 1977) was an Australian-born architect and interior designer who for the greater part of his career was Principal Architect for the Office of Public Works in Ireland.
Born in Sydney of Irish descent in 1903, he studied English and architecture at Sydney University, graduating in 1926. He then moved to England to take up a fellowship at Clare College, Cambridge, during which Mansfield Forbes had McGrath redecorate the interior of the College's house Finella, a large Victorian house on the backs in Cambridge, now belonging to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. McGrath's bold modernist remodelling of Finella made adventurous use of materials, with copper-clad doors, an aluminium-walled bathroom, mirrored ceilings and a rubberised floor decorated with Pictish motifs.
Setting up practice in London in 1930, McGrath's first commission was to design the interiors for Broadcasting House in Portland Place, London. To assist with such a large commission, McGrath solicited the help of Wells Coates and Serge Chermayeff; the latter was passing through London and would emigrate to America in 1940.
McGrath was particularly interested in the architectural and decorative use of glass, writing several articles for the Architectural Review in the 1930s,and in 1937 publishing the highly influential book Glass in Architectue and Decoration. Some of his 1934 etched glass doors can still be seen at RIBA's headquarters in Portland Place, London.
In 1940 McGrath moved to Dublin where he was appointed Senior Architect at the Office of Public Works. In 1948 he was appointed Principal Architect, a post he held until 1968. He quickly took command of the resources which were available to give a recognizable "look" to Ireland's state buildings. These included specially-designed woolen carpets, Waterford glass chandeliers, Irish silk poplin hangings and, in terms of fittings, 18th-century chimney-pieces and ornamental plasterwork. He acted as supervisor and co-ordinator of the decor as well as the architecture, using his extensive knowledge of Irish architecture of the Georgian period.
In the early 1950s he embarked on the series of specially-woven carpets which are the particular hallmark of his government work. These were installed in public buildings in Ireland and in Irish embassies all over the world. The projects at the Irish Embassy in Paris were particularly pleasing to him. The embassy was an impressive 19th-century building, and the task of furnishing it fell to the Ambassador, William P. Fay and his wife Lillian. The Fays worked closely with McGrath, who among other things designed the carpets and chose the furniture; McGrath was assisted by Noel de Chenu. When the Fays were later appointed to Washington, they again called on McGrath to fit out a new embassy building.
In Dublin McGrath's principal concern was the restoration of Dublin Castle, which started in the late 1950s and continued for decades.
Throughout his twenty-five year programme of designing carpets for State building, McGrath relied on the traditional skills of hand-knotted carpet manufacture in pure wool which were available at Donegal Carpets in Killybegs. Through his support this company was enabled to keep up production even in the most difficult times in the 1960s and after.
For many years, starting in 1946, McGrath championed and worked on the design for a National Concert Hall for Ireland which was to be built at Raheny. However the project was always dogged by political complications and was eventually cancelled in 1973. McGrath died in Dublin a few years later in 1977.
- Glass in Architecture and Decoration (1937), Raymond McGrath, Albert Childerstone Frost and Harold Edward Beckett, Architectural Press, London.
- "Twentieth Century Houses" (1934), Raymond McGrath,Faber and Faber London.
- Nicholas Sheaff, "The Harp Re-strung", Irish Arts Review
- Arcaid photographs of the Hill House, Chertsey.