Definitive Decorating in an Uncertain World

One of the most interesting things about the response to the pandemic – if you’ve been lucky enough to be able to observe it from the sidelines rather than be engulfed by it – is the way small businesses have responded to the crisis. For many, the secret of survival has been to move online and for those companies previously slow to establish a digital presence, Covid has been the catalyst and has proven a critical way to access new clients and discover fresh opportunities. But if you’re in the painting and decorating trade, a national lockdown can prove especially challenging, even for a company as well established as Paint The Town Green.

As PTTG’s founder, Phil Robinson, says “We were a business providing a service that involves going into people’s houses during a pandemic where the government were telling people not to go into each other’s houses”. Phil’s first instincts were twofold – how did he keep his team working within government guidelines for however long the lockdown endured? And secondly, what positive, longterm changes could he make to enhance his business during this enforced period of reflection?

 

Wallpaper and woodwork, precision paintwork and clean lines. Designer Salvesen Graham. Photo: Juliet Murphy.

You might think the much talked about pivot might be more difficult for a relatively large decorating company, but Phil is one of those people who knows exactly what to do when life gives him lemons. Realising that large, public buildings and offices, which might normally struggle to find a convenient time to refurbish or redecorate, were now emptied of their daily occupants, he identified them as perfect lockdown projects. Google’s purpose-built offices in Kings Cross were ideal, their commitment to natural materials and green credentials chiming with PTTG’s own ethos, environmental awareness and conscientious choices. Another project to re-decorate the library at St Paul’s Cathedral, already up and running, was definitely one that allowed for social distancing once the severest restrictions were lifted.

Empty offices benefitted from a lockdown makeover while their usual occupants worked from home.

Decorating is Phil’s passion but the company also offers a wide-ranging skillset amongst its trusted subcontractors, including plumbing, electrics and joinery, making it a one-stop shop for almost any project. And whilst they are consistent in terms of the quality of workmanship and professional approach, it is the variety of projects that keeps Phil and his team engaged and motivated. From Google’s London HQ to St Paul’s and Marble Hill House, I’m getting a little jealous of the views his team must have enjoyed over the last year, it certainly makes a change from WFH!

Ceilings and architraves require expert attention. Picture: Mariell Lind Hansen

So far, so good. But when the company turned its attention to the second of the two questions posed by Covid, in contrast with what many choose to do when under threat, PTTG opted to focus on their core business rather than diversify. It’s always been their mission to be the very best at what they do, to offer an uncompromising level of service in an ethical and considered way, whilst challenging the stereotype of how a painter and decorator might work.

So what does this mean in practice? Sustainability is still very much part of the PTTG DNA but the eco-friendly paint range that Phil developed in 2007 has been retired in favour of supporting the other environmentally conscious brands now on the market. It frees them up to give honest, impartial advice on any number of products and allows them to channel their expertise into the business of decorating.

Paper floor covering sealed with plastic-free tape and paint kettles lined with compostable bags.

This mindfulness feeds into every aspect of the business from replacing plastic protective sheeting with compostable and recyclable alternatives, recycling leftover paint for good causes and providing staff with clothing and water bottles made from recycled, ethically-sourced materials. Incrementally the company is looking to improve every element of what it does for both its clients and the wider world. On a day-to-day level, on site, this means making sure the family dog is where he should be and checking when the baby normally naps.

During lockdown they have been offering quotes based on floorplans and virtual consultations. With more than twenty years’ experience it’s a process that has become increasingly refined as Phil talks clients through the process of inspecting the condition of wardrobes and skirtings and measuring furniture etc. Also, in an effort to engage with those self-isolating and taken with the idea of a little DIY to improve their homes, Phil issued an invite to all comers to email him with their decorating queries – from prepping walls to upcycling furniture – he was able to offer expert advice.

Neutral colours showcase ceiling and cornicing details. Photo: Mariel Lind Hansen.

If recruitment during the pandemic is any indication of a company’s resilience, then the omens for PTTG are good. They currently have 25 painters on their books operating in teams of 7, each led by a pod leader – or supervisor. Phil describes these pod leaders as the wise owls of decorating, working across 2-4 projects each and ensuring that the culture and values of the company feed into each project. It means they can often work with quite challenging time frames. PTTG also offer colour consultancy as a standalone service or free if you are a decorating client, although they’re equally happy working with independent designers.

Services include painting, wallpapering, tiling, paneling, joinery & electric work, as well as colour consultancy and creative decision making. Photo: Mariel Lind Hansen.

The images here are from a recent PTTG project, a beautiful, family home in South West London. The scope of work involved tiling, panelling and joinery, as well as electrics. Lights were hung, radiators removed and sprayed, floors sanded, stained and sealed. The client might well have started with a builder but an experienced decorator will always have their eye on the finished result, co-ordinate the decision-making and drive the schedule to maximum effect. PTTG are often in a situation where there is limited time to get a property up and running, but the speed and efficiency with which they work makes for a stress-free and cost effective result. It’s the reason they are often brought in by builders and trusted by heritage sites.

Phil Robinson started out working for TV property presenter, Sarah Beeny, but now dispenses his own advice.

PTTG still have their premises in South West London where they welcome clients and they work mainly across the South East but their vision is use their expertise and influence to change the way decorators operate in a more widespread and very fundamental way. To be open, accountable and sustainable.

As Phil says “The last 12 months have been the most significant in the history of PTTG. I have learnt more, changed more, and achieved more than in any other year.” In a year that’s proved to be so demanding for small businesses, it’s refreshing to hear about a company that has used lockdown to such positive effect.

If you feel you haven’t picked up enough new skills over lockdown, take a look at Phil’s self-isolation decoration tutorials – they’re great fun, really helpful and worth tuning into just for the musical accompaniment (he used to be a professional musician)!

If you would like more information on Paint the Town Green, click here. Phil Robinson can be reached here.

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