Peek inside businesswoman Hilarie Geary's gorgeous house
Hilarie Geary is a busy career woman, so when she wanted a new home for her growing family, her first step was to listen to her mother, a property nut.
There are many striking elements about businesswoman Hilarie Geary's fabulous Victorian drawing room - the mantelpieces, the cornicing, the velvet sofas, the paintings - but it's impossible not to notice too the extraordinarily abundant supply of candles in a basket under one of the side tables; it shouts, 'This woman likes to entertain'.
And, it transpires, she really does; she loves to share her gorgeous house - which is a wonderful blend of period and contemporary styles - with family and friends, and with the friends of her three growing sons.
Entertainment in the cultural sense is part of Hilarie's background; her father is Bernard Geary, the composer and choirmaster, whose concerts are marked by his laconic yet gentle sense of humour. Hilarie's siblings all went on to to forge careers in music - her sister, Karen, is a violin teacher, her sister, Amanda, is a pianist, and her brother, Peter, is a classical guitarist - but Hilarie opted for entertainment of a different kind when she left school: the hotel industry. That led her to working in recruitment, and over the last 25 years she has gone on to become a top recruitment consultant with her own, highly successful, award-winning company, Executive Connections. "I started doing a business degree in hotel management in the College of Catering in Cathal Brugha Street, but I didn't enjoy it, so I did a certificate course in hotel reception and ended up working in the hotel industry for three years. It was a great grounding. I did a bit of everything; I was PA to the general manager, I worked in banqueting . . . a jack-of-all-trades, really," Hilarie notes.
The hotel industry is about people, and it was a good grounding for someone who has gone on to make her business all about matching the right people to the right jobs. Throughout her time in hotels, Hilarie knew she wanted to start her own business, and her strategy was to look for a sales-type job; she found one in Grafton Recruitment, which was the first step in her business trajectory. "I got a job in a recruitment firm and within six months of working there - I would have been 21 at the time - I was made branch manager," she notes.
The young dynamo was there for three years, until 1991, and she then left to set up her own business. It was the late 1980s and the Irish Financial Services Centre had just been established and was becoming a vibrant part of the Irish business scene. "It would have been going about a year, and I decided to set up my own company specialising in financial services recruitment. I was so excited about it," Hilarie enthuses. "I love everything about recruitment. People are my passion. I was so driven - I had it all mapped out and structured, and I had my business plan. I knew what way I was going to attack it."
Her instincts were good; even though she only turned over €40,000 the first year, she quickly expanded; initially, she had one staff member, a Fas trainee - now she has 25, and an annual turnover of €4m. She was clever in that she always bought her offices; she outgrew the first building she bought, which was in Merrion Square; now she's based in Baggot Street.
"We do everything," she says, "financial service, retail banking, insurance, stockbroking, and then the international banking structure. We also deal with large multi-nationals. I've a dedicated marketing team; they're delving into the more creative digital side, and we put finance people into those organisations also.
"Our three specialisms are marketing, finance and accounting," Hilarie notes, adding that she has branches in Galway and Limerick, and launched another business called Principal Connections with her business partner, Pat O'Donnell.
She has won many awards, and this year was shortlisted by the National Recruitment Federation for Best in Sector and Best Agency. "I love the business; I ooze it," Hilarie says. "I can't believe I'm celebrating 25 years in business this year. I was so lucky. I got such support from friends and family at the beginning."
Family at that stage included her husband, Gary Byrne, whom she married the same year as she started the business. Gary had been at the same school as her, though he was two years behind her. "We were at Cabinteely Community School, which was just opening its doors. I was the rebel of the family; my brother went to Blackrock College, my sisters went to Loreto Dalkey, but I said, 'I'm going with my friends', so I went off to Cabinteely.
"When I was doing my Leaving Cert, he would have been doing his Junior Cert," she notes with a laugh.
Because of the gap - senior girls would never look at junior boys - they didn't actually meet at school; "My best friend Avril, who's been my friend since primary school, lived near Gary, and she introduced us about a year after he left school. I would have been 21 at the time, Gary was 19. I fell madly in love; we got married around three years later," she says. She adds, joking about the narrow age gap, "There's 18 months between us - he was 23 walking up the aisle, but he was 24 two months later."
They're obviously a good team; Hilarie is a self-confessed chatterbox, while she says Gary is quiet but good crack. "He's silent but strong. He has a very warm personality, quietly fruit-and-nutty."
Hilarie set up her business just before they got married, while Gary also had his own business, dealing in office supplies and stationary.
He now has a manager looking after that business while he travels the world as a senior director with Fintrax, an international company specialising in enabling tourists to get retail tax back worldwide.
With both of them running businesses, it can't be easy for Hilarie and Gary, but they combined their work with rearing their three boys - Sean, now 20; Harry, now 19; and Charlie, now 16. Hilarie only took about six weeks maternity leave after each birth, but insists she never felt any pressure when she had the babies. "We had great support - our two families were nearby, though we never leveraged off it hugely, but it was great to know they were there. You do get highly organised when you have to. I would have had 10 kids - Gary was my brakes," she notes with a laugh.
The family have been in their four-bedroomed period home in south Co Dublin for 19 years; and Hilarie's mother played a big part in their acquisition of the house. The couple's family was expanding, they had sold their compact townhouse in Killiney, were renting in Foxrock and wanted to buy a more spacious home in the general area. "My mother was in the estate agents - she was always in estate agents; she had a massive interest in property," the bubbly brunette says with a laugh, "and she overheard a lady calling in, putting their house on the market, quietly. My mother said, 'My daughter might be interested in that', without even running it by me. My mother rang me and said 'I've an appointment for you to see this house'."
Like all good daughters, Hilarie acted on her mother's instructions and viewed the house two days later.
By then, even though there was no 'For Sale' sign up, there was already an offer on the house, and Hilarie was advised that if she was interested she, too, would have to put an offer on immediately. "So Gary and I went together to see the house and the deal was, if he fell in love with it, he was to pinch my hand, and I would know then that we were both on the same page. And that's what we did," Hilarie recalls, adding, "We walked around the house and we just fell in love with it; we just felt happy."
They made an offer, but they were informed the other potential purchaser had met them on price and they were told to make their final offer by the next day. "At the time we went for a very unusual figure, not a huge amount extra, but it wasn't an even figure, and we ended up getting it," Hilarie says.
They had a lot of work to do on the house - reroofing, repointing, and dry lining the whole building and replacing a lot of the windows. At that stage, 19 years ago, she also put in a modern kitchen, but three years ago, Hilarie and Gary did another massive renovation.
She kept the interconnecting reception rooms, which she redecorated in silver and grey, and added a really contemporary extension by pushing the whole building out. The light into the older part of the house is in no way compromised, as there's a lovely courtyard between the old and the new.
The extension, designed by Extend architects, comprises an enormous kitchen, a dining area and a living area, with steps from the kitchen up to the living area and the garden. The glass doors fold right back, making the extension and the gorgeous garden a seamless entity. It's a really innovative space full of glass and light, exactly what Hilarie wanted; a bit like her mother, she loves viewing houses, particularly for picking up on ideas.
"Sean is studying architecture, and Harry is studying property and economics. I asked Harry, 'How come you're both doing something to do with property?' He said, 'For heaven's sake, mum, we've been in and out of every house in south Co Dublin'. I used to bring them to house viewings for ideas," she explains with a laugh.
She has created a great party house, ideal for entertaining, and it's no bother to her to have 70 people for drinks or 20 for dinner, even after a long week at the office. "It's a really fun industry. What could be better, for someone who loves socialising?"
See executive-connections.ie and principalconnections.ie
Edited by Mary O'Sullivan.
Photography by Tony Gavin
Sunday Indo Life Magazine