Mirror, mirror: Events manager goes for over-the-top twists in her incredible home
Henry Ford famously said, "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said, 'Faster horses'." In other words, he gave them something they didn't know they wanted until they actually got it.
Young Karen Healy was of a similar frame of mind, though on a slightly smaller scale, when, at the age of 20, she went to London for a weekend and hit on an idea. While there, she visited Harrods, where she saw fabulous Christmas bows for decorating the Christmas tree, the like of which she'd never seen before, certainly not in Ireland. "This was 1985. We had baubles and coloured lights here, but no bows," she says with a laugh. She was so enthused, she thought selling similar bows would help her make her fortune - or at least help towards getting a mortgage for herself and her then boyfriend, Martin.
Thirty years later, Karen, an events organiser and interior designer, recalls her first attempt at entrepreneurship and how it nearly put her off for life. "I took it upon myself to make bows that I planned to sell at the local market the following Christmas. I spent the year making them; everywhere I went, the makings of my bows came with me, and finally I got a couple of hundred made, and I decided to sell them. I arranged to be collected at 6am on the Saturday morning, but the day came and there was no sign of my driver. He forgot, and of course there were no mobile phones, so I hitched a lift with my huge bags of bows," Karen recalls with a laugh. "When I got to the market, I realised I had never thought of a way of displaying the bows, or pricing them, or any other part of selling. And the other market people were horrible."
After four disastrous hours, Karen had sold one bow. The day, however, was saved when, on the way home with her bows, she spotted a shop called Valueland. "I hopped in, did my sales pitch, and in five minutes, I persuaded the owner to take the lot. At a knock-down price, admittedly. Some of my friends still have some of them, and they still put them up, out of nostalgia," she laughs.
Karen, who had been working as a dispensing optician since she had left school, stayed in the day job, but it was, in a way, the beginning of a life as a serial entrepreneur. She worked for international rugby player-turned-optician Robbie McGrath, who had four shops, and she developed various extras for herself. "We had really big windows in the shops and no-one to dress the windows, so I said I'd do it," Karen says. "It was the beginning of designer frames; we had fabulous frames, and I wanted to display them. I had to check the different premises and while I was at it, I'd do the windows. In the end, I had built up such a collection of props for the windows, I had to build a shed."
The windows won prizes in TidyTowns competitions and the like, and Karen got noticed. "Someone asked me to do flower centrepieces for weddings, then the hotels where the weddings were held asked me to do wedding fairs. One thing led to another," she says.
When she became a mother - Karen married the same Martin when she was in her early 20s - she decided to work from home and set up her own business. She started Baucasions by Eleanor Pierce, named after her first two children, Pierce and Eleanor, who are both now in their 20s and working in the States - the baby, Claudine, is studying science in Galway.
"I used to import stuff for weddings from America," Karen says. "You couldn't get anything here - remember, there was no internet. I used to get American wedding magazines, look at what was available, and I built up a catalogue."
Karen, who's one of seven, did the catalogue for five years, while, at the same time, dealing with the hotels led to her being asked to stage events. Then, when the events scene was quiet, she was asked to do interiors. "When it was tough selling houses in the early 1990s and early 2000s, a lot of people asked me to get their houses ready for selling," she recalls. "Then, that might lead to me decluttering their wardrobes. I was always a busy bee."
These days, she does a combination of event management and interiors. The events include corporate events, Christmas parties, business awards. "I work often with Drogheda Chamber of Commerce," she says. "There are a lot of maritime events in Drogheda, like the Tall Ships; I do everything from start to finish."
She's also been organising charity events for 25 years. "I do two big volunteer events every year; Daffodil Day for the Irish Cancer Society, and I do the Dip in the Nip for the Oncology Unit in Drogheda every September. This is our seventh year. The first year, we had 43 women. Last year, we had 257, and we raised €60,000. It's great fun; we have Zumba dancing on the beach and a wishing tree. Everyone starts out very shy, but once they get in the water, they lose their inhibitions."
Karen can now do events management in her sleep, but she's conscious that most people find it hard to know where to start, so she's in the process of putting together an events management directory of all the suppliers one might need when pulling off an event. She's also planning to train people online as events organisers - this website will be launched in the autumn.
The other string to her bow is still interiors. And when she's not at work on a client's house, she's redecorating her own. She and her family have been in the house 26 years, and given that it was originally what Karen calls 'compact', it's obvious that it's had many facelifts. It started life at 1,300 sq ft - in those days, it was a dormer bungalow - now, it's more than twice that size. It helps that it was built on an acre site. "We've done three extensions," she says. "We were here 10 years when we did the first extension, then, 10 years ago, we added the kitchen."
In all, now there are five bedrooms - three en suite; an enormous kitchen, a TV room, a living room, an office, and a dining room. Dining rooms tend to be under-utilised in most houses these days, but this is not the case in Karen's house - she loves to entertain. "I'm mad for entertaining. I'd have two dinner parties a month, 12 people at each. I used my dining table so much, it snapped," she notes. Her regular guests can relax - there is a replacement. She has cabinets full of Waterford glass, but the crystal isn't brought out for drinking.
"I use them for putting tea lights in, and they look fabulous. I love to use things in a different way," she explains.
Karen's personal style is classical with a twist. "Modern houses are not my forte," she says. "Modern is too changeable. I like to be able to mix old and new."
Karen often opts for a very over-the-top twist, which makes for a really fun house. Not a lot of family homes have a minstrels' gallery. She likes animal prints, lots of gold and silver, and mirrors. "Mirrors are like my calling card. I have mirrors everywhere; the mirror has to reflect the right thing, like maybe a chandelier," she says.
Her bathrooms are full of unusual bits and pieces, such as the black statue of the woman in the downstairs bathroom. "That was supposed to be a lamp, but when I bought it, the light fitting was broken. I didn't mind," she says. "I wanted it to hold towels and it's perfect."
She devotes a lot of time to decorating her bathrooms, and with good reason; she likes to spend time in them.
"Before an event, if you rang my house at 2am, I'll be in the bath, thinking it all through. It's nearly like my religion, I light my candles and soak. That's my yoga, I couldn't do an event without it."
KarenH, see karenh.ie
Edited by Mary O'Sullivan
Photography by Tony Gavin
Sunday Indo Life Magazine