Friday 20 April 2018

When romance and work paired to make a beautiful Enniskerry home

When Bernie Kinsella applied for a job, she discovered it was just a ruse by the boss to get to know her. But it all worked out in terms of work, romance and home. Edited by Mary O'Sullivan. Photography by Tony Gavin

Bernie Kinsella in her garden, which is on a quarter of an acre, is full of mature trees and has stunning views of the Sugarloaf. Photo: Tony Gavin
Bernie Kinsella in her garden, which is on a quarter of an acre, is full of mature trees and has stunning views of the Sugarloaf. Photo: Tony Gavin
The white high-gloss kitchen is nine years old. The circle of oak on the island was added last year; Bernie wanted somewhere family and friends could sit while she cooked. Photo: Tony Gavin
The dining room is furnished with elegant antiques and silverware. 'My mother-in-law was an antique dealer and for years I went to auctions with her. I remember we carried the dining table home on top of her Cinquecento,' Bernie recalls with a laugh. Photo: Tony Gavin
This bookcase is the pride and joy of Bernie's husband Garrett; Bernie says the extension was designed to ensure that the bookcase would fit
tony gavin
tony gavin
The radiators are covered in antiquestyle casings. The house is zoned, and heated economically throughout the year
tony gavin
Bernie Kinsella's bathroom
Bernie Kinsella's bedroom

There's always a bit of debate about the best way for men and women to meet and marry the right person. Some say internet dating is the way forward now, while others maintain the old ways are still best - through friends or the workplace. Garrett Murphy was in the same line of business - though not the same workplace - as Bernie Kinsella, the woman he fancied, and he found a unique solution to the problem of how to get to meet her.

"Garrett interviewed me for a job, and there was no job. After the third interview, I asked him outright, 'Is there a job?' And he said, 'There's no job, would you like to go for a drink?' Needless to say, I didn't," Bernie recalls with a laugh. "After that, he phoned every day for a year, at six o'clock, to invite me for a drink. The Angelus, they called him in work. 'The Angelus is on the phone again', they used to say. I went, finally."

It ended well; they went on to marry and become the parents of three charming children - Sarah (13), Sean (11) and Ryan (9) - and they have a gorgeous home in Enniskerry.

It's probably just as well that there was no job. Instead of being an employee in Garrett's transport company, JMC Van Trans, Bernie is a successful entrepreneur in her own right - she's the co-owner of one of Dublin's biggest courier companies, Wheels, and she's just started an exciting new venture called worldBox, and is acknowledged as an innovator by business giants such as Google.

"You hear so much about entrepreneurs but, you know, you don't get up and think, 'I want to work for myself'; sometimes you just fall into things," Bernie explains. That is exactly what happened to her and she had no great career plan at all.

Originally from Drimnagh, Bernie lost her mother when she was just eight years old; she has a brother who was just a year old at the time. "My grandparents had nine kids, and just as the last one got married, we arrived for them to care for. My dad lived down the road, but he went to work and they reared us. It's only now that they're dead and buried that I realise how brilliant they were," Bernie says fondly.

After school, she did a secretarial course which involved work experience and, as luck would have it, she got a job in a courier company, which she instantly loved, and so they kept her on. "It was the late 80s, and it was all about being on the phone. I liked the simplicity and the honesty of it. All people wanted was a parcel picked up and dropped off. Of course it's different now, there's more technology involved," Bernie explains.

She got on so well that in 1997 she actually bought into the company and became part owner. "No fear, that was it - I don't know if I'd have the same guts now," she says with a laugh. As it happens, An Post bought the company in 2000 and kept her on, but in 2008, she got the opportunity to buy back the business and did so gladly. She is now in partnership with two others - Philip Evans and Joe Brannick - while she is the managing director.

"It worked out very well because An Post put a really good corporate structure around the company and it was a better business when we bought it back," Bernie says.

Initially, it was difficult, as 2008 was also the start of the recession and, according to Bernie, transport became a luxury element for a lot of companies. "We had no choice but to batten down the hatches, throw out the family silver and become really frugal. One thing we did do was invest in technology and that was the saving of us, particularly now with online shopping, and I'm proud to say we didn't have to lose any staff. We have 80 sub-contractors and 20 staff. We all had to dig deep and develop our skills; we all really grew up together," Bernie acknowledges. She adds that they're a stronger company because of what they had to go through, and the way they've adapted and changed to suit the demand for the delivery of online purchases.

Then, last November, she came up with her great new idea. "Any new business that's going to be a success has to solve a problem," she asserts. And as it happens, Bernie was presented with a problem. "A customer phoned and asked if we could deliver a box to Australia for her sister. I asked: 'What weight is it?' She said it was approximately a kilo, and I gave her an approximate price. When the invoice came, we rang her and told her that because of the dimensions of the box, the price was double. She was livid, so we thought that there has to be a way that people can know the price upfront," Bernie explains.

And so Bernie tackled and solved the problem. She came up with three boxes - one which holds five kilograms, one which can take 10kg, and a third which takes 20kg - and they're pre-priced. For example, for America, the boxes are priced at €55, €65 and €75 respectively.

Customers come in all sorts of guises - maybe a mammy sending a parcel to her offspring in America or Australia; a student sending on books to his/her Erasmus destination; a family getting together and sending gifts to members of the family abroad - and the great thing is both collection and delivery can be done at times to suit both senders and recipients.

"We've had a great reaction. We've been adopted by Google as a start-up and they've been an incredible help. They wrote our whole digital strategy for us," Bernie says. She also has a 2kg Jiffy-bag service, mainly used by hotels to return lost property to guests.

"Some hotels also provide a service for guests where they send back home the items they've collected on their travels. And we would ship them too. Their memories, I suppose you'd call them," Bernie says.

When it comes to memories, Bernie herself is a great one for relying on photographs to relive the happy occasions and remember the people she loves - every surface in her stylish home is covered with photo frames. It's Bernie's and Garrett's first home together and they've been in it since they got engaged.

"On one of our first dates, I always remember he said, 'If we ever marry, we're going to live in Enniskerry'. My only experience of Enniskerry at that stage was a meal in the Summerhill House Hotel. I remember we had rocket soup and I thought it was very posh," Bernie reminisces with a laugh.

The couple met in 1997, and two years later they got engaged and decided to look for a home in Enniskerry. Their choice of house was in a park of houses under construction, but all of them were booked. That didn't put Garrett off, as he kept ringing to see if one had become available. Sure enough, his persistence paid off and they got their dream home - a five-bedroomed house of 2,500sq ft, on a quarter of an acre.

"We moved in just before the millennium, and we decided to have a big New Year's Eve party. The neighbours at the time were nearly all non-Irish and they didn't know what hit them. I remember one saying, 'You're so clever to clear the rooms of your furniture so it won't be damaged'. What she didn't know was we had no furniture - only a double bed from Arnotts," Bernie says with a laugh.

She says that they got married shortly after and, bit by bit, they furnished the house, especially when Sarah, Sean and Ryan came along. Bernie says it's a marvellous place to rear children, there's such a community spirit, and great places like Powerscourt for them to ride their bikes and meet their friends.

In 2006, they took the house apart and completely renovated it - it's now twice the original size. "It was very dark and, like everyone else, we wanted space and light, and we've got it now," Bernie says. "We also zoned the house and put in solar panels, so while the house is double the size, the heating bills are halved."

They made the kitchen much bigger and filled it with light by adding two sets of double glass doors on one side, which open on to the garden, and there are two windows on the other exterior wall. Bernie says she would have loved more glass, but they wanted to maintain the exterior look of the house so that it would still be in keeping with the front, and with the houses of their neighbours.

The kitchen is gorgeous and has everything you could need for living, but it's not from a designer brand. "We're not the types to spend €70,000 on a big-name kitchen. We knew what we wanted. We drew it out on an Excel sheet," she says.

There are tons of electrical appliances (including two dishwashers), ample storage units and a granite-topped island. "It was hard to get the granite piece the length of the island, and we were lucky to get it installed without problems," Bernie says.

Last year, they added a circle of oak and high stools for the family to sit at. In addition, there is a dining area, a TV area and what Bernie considers the most important part of the house - the computer spot. "I wanted something where I could keep an eye on the kids while they're on the internet," she notes.

In addition, there's a gorgeous living room, which is also flooded with light thanks to more glass doors to the garden. There's also a playroom, a TV room and a dining room, which is full of gorgeous antiques. "My mother-in-law was an antique dealer, so for years I went to auctions with her. I remember we carried the dining table home on top of her Cinquecento," Bernie laughs.

No doubt Wheels or worldBox could do that job now.

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