Island life: peek inside restored house with Edwardian period features
In their early years together, Colette and Martin Lenehan loved to travel to exotic places. Now they've swopped Bali and the Indonesian archipelago for another kind of island.
Colette and Martin Lenehan have known each other since they were teenagers; they've been married 22 years and they worked together for the best part of 35 years, but that doesn't mean they think as one.
The secret of their success is they each have minds of their own. So when the couple were looking at houses 22 years ago, and Martin gave explicit instructions not to bother looking in certain areas, where does Colette immediately find her dream house? In one of the verboten areas, of course. "We were living in Blackrock and our business was nearby, I was going off on a business trip to Mexico and I said to Colette, 'I don't care where you look, but not Rathfarnham or Terenure,'" Martin remembers saying. He adds, "It was pre M50. I didn't want to be stuck in traffic every day."
But on his return, she persuaded him to look at the house - it was in Terenure - and he fell in love with it too. He also fell for its period details - dating from 1923, it was one of the first houses to get electricity - and its massive back garden, and over the years they've lovingly modernised the property while maintaining the features of its era.
They've been in a better position than most to do so; the couple have been in the interiors and furniture business since their 20s, first with Global Village, and more recently with their two fabulous contemporary-furniture stores, Neptune by Global Village, in Powerscourt and Terenure.
They didn't actually start out with any big plan on what to do. All they knew was that they wanted to get out of 'dismal Dublin'.
Colette was 17 and Martin 19 when they met at a disco called Blinkers in Leopardstown. After school, Martin worked as an engineer in Telecom Eireann, while Colette went into office work locally, but they wanted more out of life. "Martin went off to the States to find his fortune, and after a while, I followed him," Colette explains.
They lasted two years together there, then split up, and Colette returned home. Shortly after, it was Martin's turn to follow Colette, and they linked up again. While they didn't love America enough to stay there, it brought out the entrepreneurial spirit in them, and they knew they wanted their own business.
They bought a pub, but didn't like the lifestyle and so sold it. "We were at a loose end, and we started travelling. We went to North Africa and we got interested in local crafts and ethnic furnishings like carpets," Martin notes; while Colette adds with a laugh, "We stumbled into interior design. There was no such thing as interior design in those days. You bought your three-piece suite when you got married, and that was it".
As luck would have it, they were in the UK at one stage, and they stayed with Colette's sister, Pamela, who was working with a company called Global Village. She brought them to the warehouse, which was crammed from floor to ceiling with rattan furniture, woven rugs, brass pots - wonderful crafts from Indonesia that were unknown in Ireland at the time.
Global Village had four or five lovely shops in the UK, and Martin and Colette set up a Global Village branch in Glasthule, then moved to Blackrock. "It's funny, everyone uses the phrase 'global village' nowadays in the context of communication, but this company and these shops were there long before that," Colette notes, while Martin adds, "I always feel the owner Victor Lamont was very visionary in coming up with the term, and bringing all this beautiful craftware from Asia."
Victor Lamont's company in the UK ran into difficulties in the late 1980s, but Martin and Colette were able to continue with the brand. It was very exciting at the beginning - the couple were selling antique chests and gorgeous rugs, and local rock stars and other celebrities were snapping them up. "They were probably seeing these things on their travels, but couldn't bring them back," Colette notes.
After three years, they moved to Blackrock, and even though their roots were still in the ethnic-furniture business, they began to go more mainstream. "We were first with Mexican pine, then we went into Indonesian mahogany sleigh beds. I thought everyone in Ireland must have one, we sold so many of them," Martin notes with a laugh.
Things were going so well, they opened a large store in Powerscourt, in 1999. During the Celtic Tiger years, they grew so much that they bought a warehouse in KCR business park, in Kimmage, and then, when that proved too small, they bought a bigger warehouse in Tallaght, so they had a dilemma - what to do with the Kimmage one. "It was originally the old Dublin dairies, then a sausage factory. It was very rough around the edges, but we decided to do it up and use it for ends-of-lines etc, as an outlet," says Martin.
Then the crash came, and they suddenly saw sales taking a dive. "Our business is a great barometer of the economy. It's so discretionary; you can buy a €10,000 sofa or you can sit on an orange box. Once the economy went down, people weren't buying furniture. Luckily, we had got involved in Neptune," Martin says.
Neptune is an English company and Martin had noticed them and liked their product, and when Neptune got involved in kitchens, he suddenly thought it might be good for himself and Colette to get involved in kitchens too; that kitchens might be the very thing to keep the company afloat, and so it has proved. From the moment they linked up with Neptune in 2008, as Neptune by Global Village, business improved.
In fairness, the Neptune kitchens are a great product, as Martin explains. They are completely solid, they are handcrafted to the highest standard, there's no MDF, and he says they last a lifetime, as do many of their products.
Needless to mention, Martin and Colette have a Neptune kitchen themselves. "If we didn't, it would be like the BMW salesman driving a Toyota himself," Martin says with a laugh.
Martin and Colette have one of the latest models, which is known as Chichester. It's classic style, painted in shell, has a neat peninsula and all sorts of extras, including soft-close doors, and it's designed to suit their own family's needs - Martin and Colette have two sons, Sam 20, Ben 15, a dog, George, and a cat, Bagsy. It helped that Colette works closely with the company designer in the design service they offer, and so knew exactly what would work best.
Neptune does a whole lot more than kitchens, and the couple avail of most of the Neptune range in their home, including sofas. "It's a complete home solution," Martin says proudly. The house is painted in Neptune paints, a lot of the fabrics and mirrors are Neptune, as is the garden furniture.
One of the Neptune sofas in the house is called George, and unfortunately George the dog thinks it's his personal sofa. It seems everyone in this family has a mind of his or her own.
Edited by Mary O'Sullivan. Photography by Tony Gavin
Sunday Indo Life Magazine