Wednesday 29 March 2017

Peek inside the kitsch inspired home of Tropical Popical owner Andrea Horan

For an entrepreneur, Andrea Horan can be too honest, admitting she was useless at sales. But she has other qualities useful for her business, including a love of kitsch.

Andrea Horan in the living room, which is furnished with lots of her favourite plants, ferns - real, fabric and paper
Andrea Horan in the living room, which is furnished with lots of her favourite plants, ferns - real, fabric and paper
Andrea opts for a blue-and-white maritime theme in the main bedroom. 'I love all things nautical and anchors. I think it’s because they’re about grounding you,' Andrea notes
The unicorn's head is a wonderful touch of kitsch, as is the retro hostess trolley
The vibrancy of the blue hallway with its pink stairs is tempered by touches of gold. Andrea is a fan of Damien Hirst and has several of his prints.
The galley kitchen is little more than a passage, but Andrea cleverly maximises space with narrow open shelving. The Shout Out graphic picture typifies her HunReal Issues platform, while her love of modern art is reflected in the Hockney print.
Mary O'Sullivan

Mary O'Sullivan

The Schiaparelli-pink doormat outside the home of Andrea Horan was something of a giveaway.

The exteriors of all the houses in the discreet period terrace in Dublin 8 were decorated in muted, subtle tones, but of course, the home of the owner of Tropical Popical - the most outrageous nail salon in Dublin - was bound to have a distinguishing feature.

And it only got more exuberant and OTT inside, with a pink staircase, blue walls, lots of gold and glitter, flamingos and ferns, pineapples and pop art.

The house exudes fun, and so does the 30-something entrepreneur, who took the beauty world by storm nearly four years ago with her new take on the beauty business.

The unicorn's head is a wonderful touch of kitsch, as is the retro hostess trolley
The unicorn's head is a wonderful touch of kitsch, as is the retro hostess trolley

Andrea firmly believes in the three Fs - feminism, femininity and fun. She is totally on for celebrating all three, loudly and vociferously . . . and she does so with her twin ventures.

There's her passion, the not-for-profit venture, The HunReal Issues. It's a website about issues which Andrea feels all 'huns' -affectionate Dublin slang for women - should have opinions about. Repeal the 8th is a burning topic for her at the moment, and she feels that all women should have a stance on it, whether they're for or against. And then there's the salon, Tropical Popical, which is her bread and butter.

Andrea and her sister opened Tropical Popical in November 2012; the pair, who originally hail from Tallaght, have the ideal combination of skills - Michelle is a hairstylist and Andrea, the elder of the two, had mainly worked in public relations, and has chutzpah in spades.

She started in the PR business when she was 21, although in those days, she was in no hurry to get to the top. "I started working in a PR company and I was there from the age of 17 until I was 21. I left because I decided I was too young to be this serious," she notes with a laugh.

After that, she worked in the fashion department of Brown Thomas for a few years, before deciding to take on a job in sales with Spin radio. "I was absolutely atrocious. I'm still friends with my boss from that time, but he brought me in to tell me I was terrible. He said, 'Andrea, you've sold one ad in six months'. He was dead right," she notes with a laugh, adding, "Sales was definitely not for me. I'm just not a pushy person. I'm better at PR; I can be attention-seeking, as opposed to forceful."

So she went back to PR, this time to a company called Thinkhouse, where she thrived and became a director.

Andrea opts for a blue-and-white maritime theme in the main bedroom. 'I love all things nautical and anchors. I think it’s because they’re about grounding you,' Andrea notes
Andrea opts for a blue-and-white maritime theme in the main bedroom. 'I love all things nautical and anchors. I think it’s because they’re about grounding you,' Andrea notes

Sadly, after nine years there, her dad died. It was just before his 60th birthday and shortly afterwards, Andrea decided to rethink her life. "A year after he died, I got a bit wobbly, so I decided to travel with my sister. We decided to follow the sun; we went to India, Asia, Australia. We said we'd go for a year, and it was the best year ever," she recalls.

It was while they were on their last destination - America - that the idea for Tropical Popical began to take root. "We were getting our nails done and we realised there was nowhere in Ireland like the salons we went to in the US. It was like a social occasion; girls were going with their pals. The way we'd go for drinks with our pals, they were going to get their nails done.

"Obviously, there were some beautiful places in Ireland at the time, very luxurious and quite the treat. We wanted something that people would get in the habit of going to," Andrea explains.

When they returned from their travels, Andrea went back to Thinkhouse for a brief period, while also setting up the salon with Michelle, who runs it for her.

She worked while setting up the salon because she wanted to avoid having to get a loan to set it up. "I'm allergic to loans. Growing up, I was different; I was hand-to-mouth. The credit union knew me by name, but now, I'm like, 'We do things when we can afford them'. And I never want to have investors - there's too much of a pay-off, your autonomy is gone," Andrea says with resolve.

They opened in November 2012, and the salon has been thriving ever since. They got a tremendous fillip last year when Saoirse Ronan, a regular to the salon, threaded mentions of Tropical Popical throughout an interview she did on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

The vibrancy of the blue hallway with its pink stairs is tempered by touches of gold. Andrea is a fan of Damien Hirst and has several of his prints.
The vibrancy of the blue hallway with its pink stairs is tempered by touches of gold. Andrea is a fan of Damien Hirst and has several of his prints.

"Saoirse is great, but it was funny too, because we're really not into celebs. All our customers are celebs - that sounds cheesy, doesn't it? But honestly, to us, they're all VIPs," Andrea insists - though she does admit that they were on standby to do Rihanna's nails the last time she was in town, and were delighted to be there, although their services weren't called for in the end.

The business has been going so well that they've actually set up a school for nail artists. "Our main problem is recruiting good staff. Our staff have to be amazing at nails and arty and also the crack, so we hire mostly from the school," she notes.

Once Tropical Popical was up and running, Andrea got bored and started her own PR company called Tropical Hype, but she decided pretty quickly it wasn't for her. "I realised I hated clients, so I closed it again," the curvaceous blonde notes with a bold laugh, adding, "I didn't have the patience anymore."

Nowadays, her time is taken up with the business side of the salon: branding, staffing, trouble-shooting, and so on, and of course, The HunReal Issues.

"This is a platform to mobilise women who wouldn't necessarily be politically minded; to make current affairs relevant to their lives," she notes, adding that while she loves fashion and beauty, she's passionate about issues too, particularly women's issues.

"I think it was Caitlin Moran who said, it's not about feminism anymore, it's about feminisms - that everyone has their own take. There's the stereotype of the strident feminist who doesn't like make-up, but everyone should be a feminist, there's room for everyone.

"My target market is my sister Michelle. She won't read a paper; she says the news is too overwhelming. Now, she gets her news through HunReal and feels empowered to fight for things that matter to her," Andrea notes, adding that when she herself got into politics, she didn't identify with the anger that some people can muster; she engages with things differently. "I'm not earnest, I have a lighter side, that's how I engage with things," she says.

But that doesn't mean she's flippant: "I think we should all do something to make the world a better place."

Andrea may be up to her neck in politics and nail polish, but she leaves plenty of time, too, for home life, and has created a gorgeous pad in a red-brick period house in Portobello. She adores interior design, and by way of total contrast to her other concerns, she'd also like to have her own hotel, but won't be getting into that business until she can figure out a way of finding the finance.

She describes her interior style as tacky; it could also be seen as thought-provoking. Like Andrea herself.

Tropical Popical, 28 South William St, D2, tel: (01) 675-3569, or see tropicalpopical.com

Edited by Mary O'Sullivan. Photography by Tony Gavin

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