Seven secrets of surviving decorators

WE HAVE just spent the summer with the house in turmoil as we had plasterers and decorators in, working on what felt like every space in our home.

They were redecorating every room bar the kitchen, sitting room and bathroom – that is, they were working on three bedrooms and the hall, stairs, landing: central, unavoidable living areas.

Perhaps it was folly to attempt to have so many spaces renovated at once while still living at home, but, knowing it would be ghastly, we wanted to get the horror over and done with. Every possession we own had to be removed from those areas, and for nearly five weeks, we were virtually confined to living in our kitchen and sitting room, surrounded by knee-high boxes and bags of displaced belongings. It was reminiscent of moving home, only without being able to unpack when we wanted.

When you have workmen in, you’re effectively living with these men – total strangers, in reality – for the duration of the job, which brings an added layer of stress – or, to be diplomatic, interest.

Before this summer, we had previously had the kitchen, bathroom and cloakroom gutted and revamped; had the roof cleaned; had new windows and doors installed; had the fascias, soffits and guttering replaced; had a new boiler installed; had the banisters rebuilt and new bookshelves created; and had had a replacement hot-water tank. Our house, although relatively modern, has been a money pit, because it was just at that age (30 years old) where everything needed changing for the first time.

For anyone else thinking of having workmen in, here the seven secrets of surviving tradesman that I’ve learnt from my experience:

1 Before redecorating, always, always use tester pots. Do not rely on the colour strips or charts provided by paint manufacturers. I know they cover themselves by saying they can’t guarantee the shades are accurate, but they are even more different than you think. Wildly so, in some cases. I ended up with a main bedroom in completely different shades from those I’d envisaged.

2 Be nice and friendly to your workmen. Offer tea at frequent intervals and listen to their chat. Don’t be bossy or patronising. It’s in your own interests. Not only will they will want to do a better job, but a good relationship will result in more goodwill on their part, too – for instance willingness to come back later for making good or “touch-ups”.

3 Don’t bother buying biscuits. Most men these days are at least watching their weight, if not in training for the gym or a marathon or something. Cereal bars and bananas, though, should go down fine.

4 Take no notice when your workmen tell you in advance you don’t need to worry about dust sheets as they will bring their own. They will indeed bring their own but they will be dusty and/or filthy, and you need your own – clean – dust sheets to protect your carpets and furniture from their dust sheets.

5 Likewise, if there are rooms not being worked on, try to rig up a dust sheet over the doorway (see photo) to prevent “muck and puther” (a favourite phrase of my mother, and so much more expressive than mere “dust”) getting in.

6 Ignore the workmen – plasterers, in particular – when they say there won’t be mess. There will. Weeks’ worth of cleaning up, and cleaning stuff more than once.

7 Have a T-shirt ready for the last day, when decorators and husbands start asking for one to use for polishing or varnishing woodwork. At this stage, men will always expect you to suddenly and miraculously come up with “an old T-shirt”. Because we all have those, don’t we, T-shirts we haven’t worn for years, just sitting in our cupboards waiting for this day. Would that be my £50 Jigsaw chiffon-layer T-shirt you’d like, or my £25 Monsoon printed cami? Before the work begins, best to buy the cheapest T-shirt or cami you can find in the High Street or supermarket, preferably for not much more than a fiver. Or a tenner, allowing for inflation.

And a few suggestions for workmen, if you want to be helpful to the homeowner:

1 Don’t arrive before the agreed time in the morning. I know you’re in our home but we’d still appreciate keeping a modicum of privacy. If you do arrive early, you might find yourself punished with a shortage of tea all morning.

2 Stick to using just one loo in the course of the job, whether upstairs or down – but preferably the cloakroom. We’d like to have one area where we can keep our embarrassing bathroom stuff private. And nor do we want to have to wash every towel in the bathroom in case you touched it, and disinfect the loo and sink every day. But most of all, make sure you wash your hands. Just do it. Please.

3 Don’t walk in rooms where you’re not working in your outdoor shoes. It only adds to the big clean-up job after you leave at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. If you’re not working in the kitchen, don’t go in there just to put your mug by the sink, because that creates extra work, ie we have to clean the kitchen floor.

4 At least think about putting your dust sheets in the wash – if not between jobs, at least once a year. Whether you think they need it or not.

The landing, before and after:


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