The second installment of a new series by outspoken and self-confessed DIY novice Jan Lee. She’s bought her first family home in south London, now all she needs to do is renovate it.
Getting the professionals in
I know why they call it ‘spring’ cleaning. There’s nothing like those first rays of sun to show up cracked, smudged paint work, dingy corners and accumulated clutter. Bare French windows in the kitchen let bright light stream in, illuminating the grubby, mismatched plaster and ill-fitted cabinets. In the evenings, the kitchen could pass itself off as half-finished; but the mornings are less forgiving. I’ve walked out of railway station toilets that have been more thoughtfully installed.
Take, for example, the sink. For want of a few minutes spent measuring up and laying out the parts, I have a tap with the manoeuvrability of an aircraft carrier. Every time I turn it to direct the spray, it bangs on the edge of the box that houses the boiler pipes. Light grey, satin-finish tiles had also been laid (badly, without spacers) with white grout. The whole thing was a filth magnet. No matter how often I swept, hoovered and mopped, it looked like a litter-tray for an incontinent pet. I swear the room possessed a unique gravitational force that attracted – nay, compelled – muck and grime to ingrain itself into the grout.
After exhausting two toothbrushes, four wrists and several tonnes of cleaning products, I gave in and begged Himself to get a tiler in. And what followed was a revelation. We logged on to mybuilder.com, a web directory for contractors that works on the basis of referral. You post details of your job and sit back as offers flood in. We selected a few of these to come round and view the room before giving us a detailed quote, but the site gave us confidence that we’d get a good result, since every profile we looked at had approval ratings and a long written appraisal with pictures.
The friendly, punctual and incredibly hard-working guy who accepted the job even spent a bit of extra time straightening our units, lining our walls and tidying up. He gave us options, he was honest about the pros and cons and he stuck to the agreed rate and timescale. Aside from a coat of paint and window dressing, we now have a kitchen that looks like it wasn’t put together by year-two woodwork pupils.
Sometimes, however, you have to do a little more research to get what you want. Again, the internet is invaluable. I’ve mentioned before that we needed some classy infill for the nooks on either side of our three fireplaces. After a few days spent tapping in various searches on the theme of ‘London cabinetmakers’, I had three or four carpenters lined up to offer quotes. On meeting them, we decided that Philip Miles Carpentry would be able to translate our strange ramblings and build us perfect cabinets and wardrobes.
Nothing was a problem for Phil. Watching him build the furniture over two sunny weeks in March gave me serious job envy. The units have absolutely transformed the rooms, and they also tie in beautifully with the white shutters we had fitted just weeks afterwards. I have to confess to a bit of arm-twisting on the latter development, since I had been harping on about shutters well before we actually moved house. Thomas Sanderson seemed to be the flagship brand for shutters and blinds, at a fairly decent price. We were so impressed we put in an order to do downstairs and the main bedroom. They look so elegant, I feel as though I’m letting the side down when I emerge for work with finger-combed hair and creased clothes.
My other recent design triumph was hall runners from the Natural Rug Store, a web-based company through which I ‘designed’ my own rugs. The great thing about their site is that the price is recalculated every time you select a different size or material, so there are no cruel surprises when you click ‘send order’. A few weeks afterwards, the rugs arrived safely. Unlike many things you buy impulsively over the internet, the colours and finish were exactly as shown on the site. Full marks from a very happy customer and her clean hallway!
Jan’s next post will tell you all you need to know about keeping your home safe from intruders!