Northern Ireland food firm duo swap compact house for six-bedroomed showstopper
He’s the MD of a successful Lisburn baking ingredients company, she’s a former teacher from west Belfast... and when Tim and Mairead Andrew had twins after 15 years of marriage, they swapped their compact house for a six-bedroomed showstopper
House-hunting is a fraught business. It's not only a question of finding a house you like that's within your budget - and, if you're a couple, you both have to like it - but then there's getting the report on its soundness from your architect or surveyor. And let's face it, they are a cautious bunch, rarely giving their wholehearted approval, particularly if there are renovation works involved.
It was this very cautious approach that Tim Andrew was relying on when his wife Mairead spotted the house of her dreams.
It was a huge old farmhouse, with an unwieldy extension and a massive barn - all in terrible condition, Tim felt it was too ambitious a project for himself and Mairead to get stuck into, particularly with twin babies on their hands. So he relied on their architect John Lavery to give it the thumbs-down.
Sadly, or so it seemed at the time, the architect gave it a resounding thumbs-up. "He looked at it for a long time and then he turned around and said: 'I'm sorry, Tim, I see nothing wrong. We could do a great job here'," Tim recalls with a laugh.
In fairness to Tim, he knew when he was beaten, so he and Mairead undertook the project and gave it their all, and, as a result, they have a stunning home.
The genial couple have a lot in common when it comes to their priorities around family life and their home, though there is an age gap, and they come from very different backgrounds in Northern Ireland.
Tim is from the country; he grew up in the pretty coastal village of Whitehead in Co Antrim, where his father, who was originally a baker, had a business supplying baking ingredients to the trade.
"My father was a baker in England, but his mother was from Larne. At the end of the war he met my mother, who was a cake decorator, and they came over here. He had a company selling everything a baker (would need) to make bread and cakes."
After finishing school Tim felt there was no room in his dad's small company, as his much older brother already worked there, but he took a summer job in the storeroom with the intention of staying two weeks. "It was very physical work, we didn't even have a forklift truck then," Tim muses, adding: "That led to me filling in for someone else, and then someone else. I just stayed. I was never given a title or a role, I just did what was needed."
In 1979 Tim's father died, and in 1998, when his brother decided to retire, Tim bought him out.
In 2015 the company, Andrew Ingredients, celebrated 70 years in business, and Tim, now MD, is proud that he has expanded the already extensive range of baking ingredients he sells to include the many gluten-free and vegan products needed to satisfy current tastes. As well as selling to bakeries, Tim now also sells his products to hotels and restaurants. The warehouses, now in Lisburn, have increased from 8,000 square feet to 33,000, and the workforce has increased from eight employees in the early days to 30 now. The workforce includes his daughter Clare from his first marriage, who looks after marketing. His second daughter Susan is a midwife.
Mairead grew up in west Belfast; the daughter of a single mother, Mairead is one of four girls. "There were bullet holes in our house," she says. "My uncle used to live in the house and the IRA came to take away his car. They wanted it for a job, but he said no, and they sprayed the house with bullets.
"He had to move out. We moved in. My mother wasn't nervous about moving in there; she was a strong woman, and said it would be bad publicity for anyone to attack a single mother with four daughters."
Mairead, who went on to train as a primary teacher, and then got a Master's in information systems and computers, says she wasn't academic in her teens, but she got hugely into sport.
"I went to school on the Falls Road," Mairead says. "I got into outdoor pursuits - they were great, they took me away from everything going on on the Falls, although it was a lovely community with lovely people; a few bad people caused the grief." Mairead found she had a talent for rowing and sailing, and she went on to sail across the Atlantic many times as part of the voluntary crew on the Ocean Youth club sailing boat, taking interested teenagers on the trip.
It was through sailing that she and Tim first met in 1989. He had sailed all his life, and they met while both were part of a crew sailing across the Atlantic. At that stage they just became friends, but it blossomed into something more in the mid-1990s and they married in 1998.
"It was an interesting time. Mairead had lost her sister to cancer the year before, and then she finished her degree in 1997," says Tim. "Around the same time I bought my brother out. The legal details were going on forever and then I said: 'We have three weeks before the legals will be resolved, why don't we go to the Caribbean and get married?'
"Our travel agent initially thought we were planning for the following year, but when she realised we meant right now, she pulled it off. So we went to Barbados, we had a Baptist minister and we got married there and then. It was lovely."
Mairead felt one needed to be jolly for primary teaching, but after her sister died, jolly was the last thing she felt, so she did the Master's in IT instead. Her Master's project was designing the computer systems and the website for Tim's company. She then went on to work in IT.
She took time out to look after the twins when they arrived, and while she's a director of the Andrew company, she only works now when the children are at school. Their arrival 15 years after the couple married was a surprise - though there was always a chance of twins, as twins run in Mairead's family and she herself is a twin.
It was because of the arrival of the twins Ronan and Jamie, now five, that they decided they needed to move house. "We lived in Annacloy, a small farming village. It's a lovely wee place and we had lovely neighbours. The house was just right for the two of us.
"When we had the twins, we thought should we expand or find somewhere else," Mairead says. "I used to work in Belfast and I drove past this house every day on my way home from work. I particularly noticed it because it had a weather vane and big clock that caught my eye. It was a nice big house."
Tim takes up the tale: "It had been for sale for three years. It was too big and too dear. Then it changed agents and the price came down, and we said: 'Let's look at it to rule it out'. When we came to see it, it was a mess - the kitchen had been taken out; all the electrics and plumbing had big signs saying 'Do not use'; there were dead birds everywhere; there was grass growing out of the gutters. It was not inviting. There was nothing appealing about it at all," Tim says.
However, Mairead was smitten. "I saw potential, but I think I was a little bit green as well. I knew we could make it look good, but I had no idea of the amount of work involved."
That was probably just as well. They bought it in 2015, but didn't move in until 2017. The first year they devoted to planning what they'd do with the space, right down to the door handles and the hinges.
In consultation with architect John Lavery, they eventually decided to gut the buildings and to create a new home out of the combination of the old house, which was a traditional 19th-Century farmhouse; the existing extension, and the barn, making them all part of the same house. They had to gut all the buildings, retaining period features like cornicing where possible, and install new wiring, new plumbing, new floors, doors and windows.
They had to fit a new staircase to the front of the house, and they had to raise the staircase in the back.
They filled the whole house with light, with double-heights in some areas and many expanses of glass - the huge kitchen has three sets of sliding glass doors; there are marvellous electric skylights in some rooms and an indoor, glass-filled balcony.
What they have now is a home comprising more than 5,000 square feet, with six bedrooms, all en suite; an open-plan kitchen/dining/living room; a formal dining room; a formal living room; a tv room; and a playroom with an en suite - this room could be converted for Mairead's mum, should she want to live with them in the future.
It's also on a wonderful site, five acres of gorgeous countryside, much of which they've planted - they've added 1,000 trees. In fairness to Mairead, she does know both her and Tim's limitations. "We put fake hedging to the front. I know us - we would never prune it, never mind weed it," says Mairead.
With their busy working lives, it's obvious they've a lot of ingredients on their plates already.