My Favourite Home: Two's company for Fiona Heavey
When dress designer Fiona Heavey went on a simple errand to her local shop, she had no idea that doing so would point her in the direction of her dream home. Edited by Mary O'Sullivan. Photography by Gerry Mooney
A lot of the small businesses that have sprung over the last decade in this country are run by husband-and-wife partnerships and, despite the old cliche about never mixing business and pleasure, many are very successful; it seems the roller coaster of marriage brings a greater understanding of the strengths of each partner and each helps the other to fully exploit his or her potential.
Don Gormley and Fiona Heavey, owners of the fashion company, Fee G, are one such partnership, and from very small beginnings in 2004, they have developed and expanded, managing to build up two great labels in ten years, as well as producing three gorgeous kids - Leo, eight, Luke, six, and Hannah, two. So far, so typical of the husband-and-wife business partnership.
However, Hannah's birth was a pretty unusual test of the relationship; most men consider it a badge of pride that they were present at the birth of their kids, but Don can go one further - he delivered their baby girl himself. The couple enjoy telling the story now, but it was high drama at the time. "It was a Saturday night," Fiona says, setting the scene. "Two-thirty, I woke up; two-forty, I said to Don, 'I'm in labour'. We phoned our childminder, who DJs on a Saturday night, and she said, 'yeah, yeah, I'll come'. There was no panic at this stage. I told Don, 'phone the ambulance'," Fiona says. "She said it in a very calm voice - not!" interjects Don with a laugh. "As I was saying our address to the ambulance people, I delivered the baby," he says. "After just six contractions," Fiona adds. "I caught Hannah on the way out," Don explains. "It was nerve-wracking at the time, a car-crash moment, but you go on autopilot." To add to the excitement, Hannah was born with a caul - a membrane covering the baby's head - it's supposed to be a sign of great luck.
The whole experience brought them closer, but they've always been tight, ever since they met in their hometown of Omagh. "We were childhood sweethearts, I was 16 - he got me young," Fiona says, adding that Don was 20 and at college, studying IT. After graduation, he worked in the IT sector.
Fiona comes from a very creative family - her father was an engineer who designed his own house, and Fiona toyed with the idea of studying architecture or glass making. However, it was probably the influence of her grandparents - her grandmother was an accomplished embroiderer; her grandfather taught her to knit - that pointed her in the direction of fashion. She graduated from NCAD in 1996 with a First in fashion, and worked in design for two years, before the pair decided to head to Australia. Both found work in their respective fields and they loved the lifestyle there, but ultimately decided to come home and start their own label together. It was a risk to combine forces, but a calculated one. "I was always a very commercial designer; I was never going to make a garment with three legs to get looked at," Fiona says with a laugh. "Some people make amazing one-off pieces, but that's not what gives me a buzz. I like making women feel good." To Don, Fiona's particular kind of creativity was always a sure thing. "She has a fantastic eye for colour,and she's brilliant at picking fabrics," he says, adding that her designs are clean and sharp.
So, combined with his IT and business background, they had a perfect blend of qualities for starting their own range. Their gorgeous dresses, coats and separates are big sellers in Ireland, particularly in the Kilkenny shops - the pair are full of praise for Kilkenny, saying that the company has been really committed to them and to other Irish designers from the start - and Fee G is fast building a customer base in Spain, New York and Italy.
Fee G has done so well that they've created a new, slightly younger label, Luke Lovely, called after their second son, Luke, who is, according to Fiona, 'lovely' - though she hastens to add that all the kids are adorable - and there are gorgeous photos of all three on the walls of their beautiful home in Dublin 4.
It's their second home since returning from Australia. They bought the house four years ago; with the two boys and their plan to add to the family, they needed a bigger house, but they were determined to find something in the same area as the first one - near the beach, but 20 minutes from the centre of the city, just as their home in Sydney had been. Fiona spotted the ideal house by chance. "I was actually going down to Sandymount village for a message on a Saturday and I saw a sign for an open viewing. I literally abandoned the car and came in here instead. Then I came home and said to Don, 'there's a house for sale and it's really perfect'," she recalls.
"When myself and Don came back for the next viewing, I found an old Irish penny on the windowsill in one of the bedrooms - now Hannah's - so I took it as a sign of good luck. My mother said it was probably the estate agent who planted it there for fools like me. I prefer my story," Fiona says with a smile.
Dating from 1890, the house needed massive work. Fortunately, they like renovations. "We like giving ourselves headaches, basically," Don jokes. When the first building contractor didn't work out, Don became the project manager.
They did a huge job, essentially gutting the house, putting in new windows, new doors, new electrics and plumbing. The ground floor was a warren of small rooms; the current kitchen area alone was actually four rooms. They now have a spacious kitchen, a drawing room, and playroom as well as four bedrooms, and an attic conversion, and two of the bedrooms are en suite.
The kitchen is sleek and modern, while the rest of the house is classic contemporary. The decor is soft and subtle, while dashes of colour are added through furnishings and accessories like ceramics and paintings.
In general, the palette in the couple's home is more muted than the Fee G and Luke Lovely ranges, both of which are going from strength to strength. The couple now have a staff of eight, with Fiona concentrating on design and buying and Don looking after business, sales and the stores. "The key to our success is separate offices," says Don. Fiona echoes his sentiments, "You can be too close, everyone needs their space."
See feeg.ie; lukelovely.com See kilkennyshop.com
Sunday Indo Life Magazine