Tim, Sean and Claire Dunleavy, and company mascot 'Amber'. Photo: Tony Keane
There is one thing the distinctive pieces of handcrafted furniture at Irish embassies across the world, banquets at French chateaux’s and Aras an Uachtarán have in common.
They were made in Caragh. Just like their furniture, the Dunleavy brothers are also rooted in the Caragh community.
Tim and Sean set up Dunleavy Bespoke in 2009 at a workshop at the family farm. Supported by their parents Martina and Jerry, they decided to pursue their dreams in a time of recession.
Their determination paid off and last year they won the Best Established Business category in the Kildare Young Entrepreneur of the Year, going on to capture the regional title. They were one of three businesses to represent Kildare in the national finals.
“I suppose we were always into woodwork in school and then we both went to Furniture College in Letterfrack. We both worked for a few years after college, then the recession hit,” said Tim.
“We were faced with a decision — to make a go of things here, or move abroad.”
The boys chose the first option. Looking back now, Tim realises how brave that decision was, but he puts it down to youthful enthusiasm, exuberance and a bit of naivety on their part.
“When we started, it was the beginning of the recession in Ireland, it’s not the kind of thing people were looking for — expensive furniture. It’s not a priority. It definitely was tough at the start,” added Tim.
That didn’t deter the brothers. They set up their business on the family farm, alongside their dad’s pedigree Friesian herd and their mum’s creche, Tí na nÓg.
In fact, Tim joked the Dunleavy’s yard is now like a mini business campus.
When asked what their parents thought about the move, he replied: “It sort of happened gradually. When we were in school, we had a little corner of the shed and then we were always gathering tools and working on things and over time we started to commandeer large parts of the yard.
“It was great. We didn’t have to pay expensive rent that we would have had if we were in an industrial unit somewhere.”
Both he and Sean are hugely grateful for their family’s support.
Jeni Corrigan and Wojtek Gutter of Dunleavy Bespoke
Starting out, they had to build the brand and get the name out there. They attended exhibitions and were regular visitors to the National Craft Gallery. In the meantime they continued to produce their own designs and began to win a number of awards.
Gradually building up their client base, today the Dunleavys have sent handcrafted furniture all over the world including San Francisco, France, the UK, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Croatia. Just before Christmas Dunleavy Bespoke made a 14-seater banquet table for a house in France.
They also made a dining table for a client in the US. Aras an Uachtaran beckoned next as the brothers completed cabinetry and tables for the home of President Michael D Higgins.
Tim and Sean also work with architects and interior designers to provide bespoke furniture for their clients’ needs.
Such is the demand, they now employ two additional cabinet makers, Jeni Corrigan and Wojtek Gutter. Tim’s wife, Claire also runs the business side of things.
Speaking about last year’s Young Entrepreneur journey, Tim said: “It was a great experience from a business point of view. It really made you step back from the business and take a look at where you were going wrong and where you were getting things right and make changes.”
Tim said he still keeps in touch with many of the other people he met during the competition.
As the Dunleavy brother’s designs travel the globe, word of mouth of their talent is spreading to new horizons every day.
To enter this year, young entrepreneurs between 18 and 35 in Kildare are being asked to visit www.ibye.ie, to submit their entry. The closing date is October 14. The initiative is being co-ordinated by the Kildare Local Enterprise Office. With a €2m investment fund available nationally, this includes a €50,000 investment fund for Kildare winners.