I can’t wait for the article on…

“I can’t wait for the article on your website about how fantastic the plumber was.”

This was the text I got last week form Ciaran from Delamech, our plumber.  He then went on to helpfully provide assistance for this future article with suggested characteristics I could highlight:

“looks, charm, warm personality, amazing eye for detail, oh and how good he looks.”

Whilst all of this is true, it reminded me of the importance of working with people who you can trust, but more importantly who can make you laugh – Ciaran’s next suggestion was “…and very modest”.  Maybe it’s because while you are renovating and still living in the house, that you are surrounded by reminders, Baltic temperatures, at that time the plumbing wasn’t yet finished, but good working relationships and humour (dark or otherwise) are essential to any project.

Suffice to say that the house has been very warm throughout this last winter, and considering the amount of pipework throughout the house and the novel ground source heat pump solution, there was not a single leak, testament to Ciaran’s professionalism – he kept telling me that “he never gets leaks”.

It’s usually best to go on personal recommendations or previous experience working with someone if you can.  This can be really hard though in the current climate where finding anyone to do a job (particularly small ones) is difficult.  Our advantage was that this was house number 7 and we had a greater understanding of the environment, so I could project manage around people’s availability.  We managed to retain Paul Kennedy, the electrician from Kenmac from our previous project, but the rest of the team had to be pulled together through recommendations and availability.  It’s definitely no longer a ‘client’s market.’  

One particular recommendation was for a labourer, Tony.  It took me a few days to get used to him until I realised that he had a very dry sense of humour.  He joined me and my brother-in-law Gavin at the beginning of the project whilst digging out the floor of the basement and removing damp plasterwork off the walls.  There wasn’t anything he couldn’t turn his hand to, from bricklaying, laying pipework and cables, floor-sanding, carpentry and tiling. I soon came to rely on him as my right hand man and we built up a strong friendship throughout the project. When things were tough, he’d lighten the mood and I always looked forward to him arriving on-site, even when he’d creep up behind me whilst I was floor-sanding in full PPE and grab my leg sending me flying in shock! Sadly, in June 2022, he passed away suddenly at home, one week before his 40thbirthday.  I miss him dearly and often expect him to jump out and give me one last fright.  His legacy remains, however, everywhere I look in the house there’s something he help me build, repair or restore; and the introduction to his friend and colleague Nic, has meant that the work could carry on with another very capable labourer.

We were blessed with a good recommendation for Ciaran, our plumber for this project.  My wife will happily strip wallpaper, tile, paint, run electrical cables and extreme gardening, but her eyes glaze over when I talk about plumbing. So when I mentioned that our prospective plumber wanted to meet with both of us she wasn’t keen to add plumbing to her portfolio. We passed the interview with Ciaran despite her lack of enthusiasm (or maybe because of it – dealing with 2 clients’ needs can be tricky too!). Actually now that I think of it the turning point might have been when she said: “I haven’t the blindest interest – I’m going to leave that to Steve!”.

Joking aside, being able to work and communicate well with your team is essential. I have also come to value flexibility even more as renovations throw up unexpected findings (see my recent blog) and how you approach ‘variations’ will directly affect the length of time  a renovation takes and how much it costs (have you watched Room to Improve or Grand Designs?). What’s also incredibly important, particularly in a restoration project, is trying to maintain the traditional craftmanship and artistry. Both Ciaran and Philip Edwards, our roofer, are artisans in their own way. The plantroom is a work of art in itself, and the fine details in the lead work and tile cutting to allow water run-off and restoring the beautiful weathervanes on the roof is testament to the attention to detail and craftsmanship that both displayed throughout the project.

The reality is that there is at least as much artistry in renovating a listed period home as there is in my day-to-day career as an artist. The layering of lime plaster throughout the house, by Andrew Russell and his NewForm Group, led by Karl, reminded me of how I lay layers of paint onto wood; the various layers becoming more detailed and refined as it gets close to the finished surface. 

I am blessed to be a custodian of this beautiful house in part of its history, but more importantly its beauty and artistry is inspiring and helps me creatively whilst I’m in the studio, which incidentally is now very warm – thanks Ciaran and Paul!

Look out for some more articles soon on the roof renovation and the lime plaster restoration.

A big thank you to all of the team on this project, some not yet mentioned – your time will come!

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