Peek inside Bloomtown founder Helen Mulcahy's enviable Venetian Gothic style home
Bloomtown founder Helen Mulcahy has done a lot of things later in life than most people, including buying her first house. But it's a first house worth waiting for.
One of entrepreneur Helen Mulcahy's earliest memories is of a dewy morning in the flower-filled garden of her grandmother's house in south Co Dublin; her grandmother adored pottering about her garden and was often up, out and at it at dawn, pruning, watering, dead-heading and generally communing with her shrubs and blossoms.
Helen absorbed this memory and tucked it away for future reference; it's now become the basis for her revolutionary new online flower shop, Bloomtown.
As she grew up, the elegant Dubliner - the eldest of six, and herself something of an Irish rose - showed an aptitude for study. After her Leaving Cert at Muckross College, she went on to Trinity, where she studied business and economics. After that, she did a master's in business in the Smurfit School in UCD, specialising in marketing.
"I got a job with the Larkin Partnership, and I was there for eight years. The owner was something of a guru at the time, and we worked on amazing accounts - Penneys, Aer Lingus, Bord Gais. It was a fantastic experience working on high-profile accounts like that," Helen explains, "but I suppose, after eight years, I felt life was too comfortable. I felt I needed a kick up the arse."
Helen decided to head to London, where she had a lot of friends from college. "I tried to get a job over there while working here, but it turned out they needed to see the whites of my eyes, so I headed off without a job," she says, adding, "The London thing was the hardest thing I've ever done. I was starting again from scratch."
She began by taking temporary work, but soon got a permanent job in an agency. She was lucky in that she had tons of friends from Ireland over there, and the social life during the week was fabulous. Weekends, though, were a bit of a problem - people tended to stay put in whatever part of the outskirts of the city that they lived in. "I have great friends there, but there's no denying it was lonely," Helen admits.
However, having made one huge jump, she decided she was ready for an enormous leap - to the other side of the world. "Out of the blue, I got a job offer. It meant going to the Caribbean and Central America. It was scary and I told myself, 'I'll give it six months', but I loved it, and I stayed almost three years," she marvels.
Helen's new job was with a telecommunications company, but her brief was still advertising and marketing, which meant it was all work with which she was already familiar, though in a totally different setting.
"I worked in different locations there. It was fabulous - though, of course, while most non-nationals were honeymooners, I was working. My first question when I flew into a location was always, 'What's the Wi-Fi code?'" Helen recalls.
She adds, "The whole area is absolutely beautiful. One of the places I worked was Honduras, which has a reputation for being really dangerous, and there are a lot of guns, but I had a lovely time there; the people are really warm."
It helped that the other members of staff were exceptionally welcoming. "If you flew into an island on a Friday, there was always someone to take care of you. In situations like that, when you're far from home, colleagues become family," Helen volunteers.
And, then in a lovely twist of fate, a colleague did become family when Helen hooked up with one of the other members of the team - Donal, from Castletownroche in Cork.
"All the way to the Caribbean to meet a Cork man. He was on the techie side, although, as he said in his wedding speech, he did suddenly take a keen interest in the marketing end of things," Helen remembers with a laugh.
The couple got married in 2009 in Kilkenny - a good compromise, as it's roughly halfway between Cork and Dublin - and then they did something very unusual. They resigned their jobs and went travelling.
"We'd never done the backpacking thing, so we decided now was the time. We went to Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Nepal and Dubai. Then we came back to Ireland.
"Two weeks after we came back, there was the earthquake in Haiti, and we decided to volunteer for a few weeks," Helen says. "The effects of the earthquake were harrowing. We were able to help with distribution of food and basics."
After that, they went travelling again, this time also doing some freelance work as they travelled throughout the States and Brazil. Once the wanderlust was satisfied, they decided to come home and settle down. Donal started his own company and Danny (five) arrived shortly afterwards followed by Ali (two-and-a-half).
Helen continued to work in marketing as an independent consultant for lots of different companies, but then she got the itch to do something different. "About a year-and-a-half ago, I started thinking about working for myself. I always wanted to do my own thing, but I couldn't figure out what would get me up in the morning," she says frankly.
Her love of flowers had never left her, and gradually she realised that the flower industry was worth investigating. It may seem a leap from all the other areas she has experience of - marketing, online, technology - but Helen's flower business is unlike most, and her take marries her love of blooms with her skillset.
"I spent a lot of time thinking about my different skills, my marketing background, my love for beautiful things, my love of online," she says. "I realised the flower industry is still very traditional here, and I thought it could be cool to make the process of ordering and sending flowers easier, to make it as easy as ordering a Hailo [taxi].
"I did a lot of research, I did all the courses on flower arranging. I also had to learn all about social media, because when I was in marketing and advertising, it was all press and TV - now, you have to know about social media. I had to push myself up the curve. After all that, I came up with the right website and app," Helen explains.
"I've made both the website and the app very streamlined. And I've tackled things like pain points. You know, you decide the price of the bouquet, but then delivery is added on at the end, so the client is actually paying more. With our prices, delivery is included."
"Flowers in a breeze" is the catchline and it is, indeed, a breeze to open the app, pick from a visual menu of really delightful bunches, all made up of seasonal flowers and all complete with vases, enter your credit card details and, hey presto - your chosen blooms are on their way to the recipient.
If you order before 10am, it's same-day delivery, and you can do it seven days a week, that's if you're based in Dublin. So you still have time to order your Valentine's Day flowers. Helen hopes to deliver nationwide shortly.
You can even include a fun selfie. "The reason I focus on seasonal flowers is they will be really fresh, and because of that, they will last. I work with two really great floral designers, and I love their designs. We've only been going since November, and it's really taken off," says Helen, "Christmas was brilliant - we got great corporate work - I had several clients who took care of all their gifts with flowers," Helen says.
Of course, a bunch of flowers can really lift the heart, and it can also add life and colour to a home. Helen uses flowers extensively in her own gorgeous house, which she and Donal bought in 2011. They had been renting all their lives up to then, and they'd hadn't put roots down anywhere, so they had no strong opinions on where they wanted to live.
"We weren't fussy. We did want to be on the Dart line, and we wanted a house with a bit of flow. We saw about 50 houses in all, and a lot had amazing reception rooms, but they looked unlived in. We wanted a casual house, a good party house. When we walked in here, I got that feeling, a tingling up the spine, that 'oh my god' feeling."
The house, which is on a leafy road near the sea in south Co Dublin, dates from 1860, was built for the chief brewer at Mountjoy Brewery and designed in what's known as the Venetian Gothic style by architect of the time, Thomas Dean.
It has many unique features, including arched windows, superb ceiling decoration, and its original fireplaces. It also has a superb double-height kitchen extension which, though full of light, is not like your usual glass-box extension, but is totally in keeping with the style of the house.
The house has several elements that give a sense of easy flow from one room to the next - there are double doors between some rooms, steps up to some rooms and steps down to others.
It's a listed house, and the previous owners had restored the house beautifully, including all the windows and plasterwork. In fact, the house needed nothing at all, except some paintwork.
"That suited us," Helen says. "We were at a stage in our lives when we didn't want a project, and we really loved what they'd done, so we even bought some of the big statement pieces that we liked, which were furnishing the rooms."
There are four bedrooms, three bathrooms, an office, the huge family kitchen, and great storage. The house suited them down to the ground, even from the point of view of their two kids - of the four bedrooms, one had been decorated in blue for a boy, and now Danny sleeps in that; while the other is pink, and so it's perfect for Ali.
And perfect for Helen. "Every day I wake up, I think, 'This is fab'," she says.
Bloomtown, tel: (01) 910-9929, or see bloomtown.ie
Download the free iOS or Android Bloomtown app from the app store or from the Bloomtown website.
Also see facebook.com/BloomtownFlowers
Edited by Mary O'Sullivan. Photography by Tony Gavin