The disruption at our London home was at its worst a week after renovation started – seven workers traipsing through the house had become a nightmare. My wife, Rohan and I had known that it was an ambitious project but decided that getting all the work done at one sitting was worth any inconvenience. What we had not expected was a very special gift from Piotr.
We had begun to prepare for the upheaval well in advance. Carpets were rolled up and books, pictures and precious knick-knacks were moved out of harm’s way. We were forced to decamp – the guest room became our bedroom and makeshift arrangements in the television room provided space to study and eat. By default, the kitchen, the dining room and the staircase became builders’ thoroughfares linking the top floor, the back yard and the front entrance.
A three-man decking-refurbishment team led by Piotr was the first to arrive. They would be working at the back of the house. Within a week the treacherously slippery wooden decking and its heavy support frame had been dismantled and the remnants brought through the house for disposal. A week later the team started to lay the yard’s new surface which meant that wheelbarrow loads of sand, cement and paving bricks were trundled down the corridor. The paving itself was a challenge; the central area was to be laid out in a herring-bone pattern, the edging like the teeth of a comb – a ‘soldier course’.
On the same day as the paving started, a three-man, window-fitting team led by Jason and Don began their work. Their domain was the front of the house. By the end of their first day they had removed all the original front windows – three downstairs, four up – and in their place fitted our new, bespoke, double-glazed sashes.
Amidst all this commotion Charles, our long standing ‘handy-man’, started re-decorating a study and a downstairs sitting room.
With doors and windows open, stairs and corridors occupied, and dirt, dust and grime everywhere, the inconvenience during the second week was invasive. Then, after three days of turmoil and with their work completed, both teams upped and left, leaving us to recover.
The first stage in re-establishing our home was the clearing up. In the past we would have done this ourselves, this time we had help. The day after their departure, Gorete, a ‘cleaning lady’ we have known for years, came over to help us clear away the worst of the mess. One day I will write a blog about her kindness and quirkiness.
As for more substantial matters, Charles stopped his decorating and spent two weeks ‘making good’, so replastering and repainting around the new frames where needed. The speed with which we were able to recapture the house was a great relief, and, once done, the effects of the improvements became clear. Fewer draughts through the older, ill-fitting windows, less risk of slipping in the yard, and the realisation that there would be no need for work on the house in the foreseeable future.
But, there was an additional factor – some of the details in the work that our artisans left behind were irresistible viewing. Just looking at them has become a great pleasure and often I go back for more! While it was difficult not to blame the teams for the mess and inconvenience we suffered, by dint of the quality of their work, forgiveness was easy.
Watching master craftsmen has always filled me with joy. To this end, since my retirement I have spent time apprenticed, first to a stone mason (joecollier.blog; The Apprentice’s Tale, 14 May 2012) and then to a carpenter (joecollier.blog; An Artisan and a Gentleman, 25 September 2015). For me, just watching both artisans labour over the tiniest of details as they create a wall or made pieces of furniture, is a treat. Those two apprenticeships were in France and the same feeling of awe resurfaced again during the recent London refurbishment.
Jason and Don are joiners and their boss a cabinet maker, and seeing the detail of their double-edged, architraved panel between two windows downstairs was a real joy. But greater pleasure came from the work of Piotr. The patience with which he cut and laid the paving bricks in the yard, and more specifically, followed the pattern through in the sunken metal tray of our manhole cover, was simply a delight.
Before he left, Piotr went back to have one last look at the bricks, and at the cover in particular, and his quiet contented smile said everything. Clearly we share a love for detail and a sense of perfection. The pleasure his work has given me has already served to oust any bleak memories of the fortnight’s ‘invasion’.
Many thanks to Bella, Rohan and Vivien for helping me prepare this blog