Inside Devin Toner and wife Mary's beautiful Dublin home - with a stunning kitchen for Mary's cake company
When Mary Toner and her international rugby player husband Devin bought their house, they found out that the back was held up by a plank of wood. Unfazed, they went on to create a superb home, which doubles as Mary's start-up office, with extra-high ceilings for Devin.
There was a time when we'd marvel at a child's birthday cake made in the shape of a train - usually shop-bought, most likely from Marks and Spencer.
Now, the sky's the limit. No child gets through the early years without at least one Peppa Pig birthday cake, or one in the shape of a Disney castle, complete with turrets, drawbridges and princesses. Optimus Prime, Winnie the Pooh, Noah's Ark, they're all options. And it's the same for adults - no self-respecting fashionista marks her 50th without a Chanel-handbag cake.
But that's just the tip of the iceberg, or, indeed, the icing bag - the design, colour and shape of cakes have all changed beyond recognition, and no matter what your fantasy, it can be conjured up in a cake, as can be seen from Mary Toner's stunning website, Bakers and Cakers.
A caker is a cake specialist. And it's only right that they have their own word, because their artistry is a world apart from standard baking.
Mary is herself a caker, but there's much more to this stunning young Meath businesswoman who is only seven years out of university - she's also a Ballymaloe-trained chef, has worked in the Michelin-starred Chapter One, and was Irish brand manager for Laduree, the iconic French macaron company.
In addition, she's done a postgrad in digital-media branding, which she did "along the way" some time after her degree in commerce and German.
"Even though I opted to study for a degree in UCD, and I loved it, I always wanted to work in food," the bubbly brunette recalls. "So after I finished my degree, I did the three-month course in Ballymaloe. It was amazing - it's the basis for so much. It gives you such confidence. One of the guys on the course knew Ross Lewis of Chapter One. He texted Ross and asked if there was any chance I could do a week in the restaurant."
Mary got on great at Chapter One, and a week turned into a month, then several months. She stayed there seven months in total. "I didn't know I wanted to go the cake route until I got in there. Great restaurants like Chapter One will let you do time on each section, so I did hot starters, cold starters, and prep out the back, and when I got to go down to pastry, I thought, 'Wow, I love this'," she enthuses.
At the time, TV3 had a show called Head Chef, similar to MasterChef, and Mary was chosen as a contestant. "Conrad Gallagher, he was the main chef, setting challenges and judging the results. He was a character, and Chapter One were amazing, helping me with ideas for recipes. I loved the artistry of the cakes I made, and I came second,"she marvels.
Her stint on the TV show was followed by a few months in London working with the queen of cakes, Peggy Porschen, and then she landed her job with Laduree. She stayed there for four years, but all the time, she dabbled in specialist cake-making herself, so she knows exactly how hard it is to make it as a caker.
"A lot of people think it's easy - you just work from home and make cakes, but there's much more to it. There's no ringing a bride and saying, 'Your cake isn't coming, I've got sick, or my child is sick'," Mary says. "Or let's say you've an order for 200 cupcakes - if you undercook a batch of cupcakes by 30 seconds, they can pull away from the wrappers and you're back to square one."
Then there's transport. "It's only when you have a cake in your car do you realise how bad Irish roads are," Mary bemoans with a laugh. "You're there saying, 'Slow down', and the driver says, 'I'm only doing 10 kilometres'."
But, more importantly, Mary realised it can be hard to get your cakes out to the consumer, and that's where she got the idea for an Etsy-style website where each caker has his/her own little shop within an overall website. It's useful for her caker and baker members - in that it has all the info on HSE requirements and other industry information - but it's particularly great for consumers. There's an extensive gallery of funny, pretty and delectable images for inspiration, and there's a calendar on what each caker/baker does, where they are, and their availability. It's a combination of Etsy, Pinterest and Airbnb rolled into one.
She had the idea four years ago, but only put it into practice in December 2016; not a particularly opportune time, as it turned out. "I was one of 10 picked out of 700 to do an AIB start-up course. I got the news that I'd got it on a Thursday. I was thrilled. Then, on the Saturday, I found out I was pregnant."
Mary says mock ruefully, "That wasn't timed ideally. To be honest, I had thought it was going to take much longer to get pregnant; my mum had struggled, so I thought I would too. It was a bit of a shock. It was a bit of a mad-whirlwind couple of months, but no point in being mad if you can't show it, as my nanny always said."
Her gorgeous baby boy, Max, arrived in September 2017, and he is adored by both Mary and her husband, Devin Toner. Devin is also from Meath, and plays second row for Leinster and Ireland, Mary notes with pride.
"We grew up just up the road from each other, but we only met 11 years ago. I was out for my sister's birthday in O'Donoghue's pub off the bottom of Grafton St, and Devin ducked through the door," Mary says, referencing his height - at six feet 11 inches, he's the tallest player in the rugby world at the moment.
"The minute I saw him, I fancied the pants off him. We went on a date the next night. That was it," Mary says. "When I think of it, I was 19; I was so young."
Rugby may seem glamorous, but Mary explains it's anything but. It's full-on, and there are only two-and-a-half weeks off in the year for the players.
And then there are the keyboard warriors out there who think they know everything. "The guys get a lot of that. You wouldn't say it to anyone's face, so why say it online?" Mary says. "I want to give out to them, but Dev won't allow me." As for the wives: "It's a lot of time spent freezing on the sidelines, not having a clue what's going on, trying to pretend you know what's happening," she jokes.
Rugby even affected their wedding date - she and Devon had picked a date, but had to change it due to a match.
They married in July 2016; she didn't make her own wedding cake. "I got one of my fabulous suppliers, Cherub Couture Cakes. There was enough going on, I'm not that mad," she laughs.
They had already bought their gorgeous home in 2013, though the red-brick in Dublin 8 was anything but gorgeous when they got it. It was in such a bad state, everything had to go in the skip. "Actually, we discovered that the back of the house was held up by a single plank, can you believe it?," Mary says, adding, "And under the stairs there was a piece of wood to keep the stairs up."
Mary is philosophical about these discoveries. "We were lucky we got it when the market was down. We knew we'd have to do it up. My parents were always buying and flipping, so we knew about potential," says Mary. She explains that they did so with the help of architect Tim Magee - of TM2 architecture - and building company Shomera. All the woodwork, including the kitchen units and the panelling and the wardrobes, was done by Ferndale Woodworks, and the sofas and fabrics are by Ventura Design.
Dating from 1873, the house is villa style, with steps up to the main door which opens on to the hall. From there, there are steps up to the three bedrooms and two bathrooms, and steps down to the living areas - the cosy yet elegant living room, the gorgeous glass area and the stunning kitchen.
Needless to mention, most care and attention was invested in the kitchen. But it's not just because Mary is a keen cook, Devin loves to don the apron and make dinner, too. "Dev's family are foodies and he grew up with fantastic food," Mary says. "Dev is a fantastic cook; sometimes I get a little jealous. He's good, and he didn't even train."
Devin has a few more years of rugby in him, but when it's over, he could do worse than join Mary in the business.
This dynamo is certainly going places.
Edited by Mary O'Sullivan
Photography by Tony Gavin
Sunday Indo Life Magazine