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Imagining What Life Used to be Like

Updated Jul 26, 2022 | Posted Nov 26, 2021 | Life of a Decorator, Miscellaneous, Professional insight | 1 comment

Do any of you guys on the Decorators Forum UK stop to think / imagine what like used to be like all those years ago when a house was first built? Especially old Victorian houses like this one. I’m talking about from a decorators’ point of view of course.

These spindles were installed in 1905. The client wanted them fully stripped and restored and the whole hallway decorated. This was a massive job for me. I had to burn everything and meticulously scrape, before using chemical strippers. One good thing that came from it is I had plenty of time to reflect.

I stopped to think how life would have been back in 1905, the tradesmen that installed these and the tools they must have used. The type of family that lived here and how things might have been.


I do like seeing original features like this and although it took me little longer to strip, my client is so happy.

He is 75 years old and an old school decorator. He actually got his tool kit out today and helped to sand down the banister panels. It felt good watching him work and we spent some time talking about his decorating days. I felt a sense of pride and I really felt good about what we do as decorators. He was telling me about the good old days, and I was telling him about the new lol.

I suppose a lot has changed really. Talking about airless spraying and dust-free sanders must have seemed alien to him. I imagine decorators back then were proper craftsmen. Scumble glaze, sign writing and gold leafing would have all been commonplace. A decorator might even turn up to work in a shirt and tie with their whites.

I still have to finish off the sanding/filling and repair work, but so far looking good and the family are very happy.


Imagining What Life Used to be Like – by Vish Ladwa

stripping varnish off old-fashioned spindles
Imagining What Life Used to be Like as an old school decorator
Imagining What Life Used to be Like in the old days

I often find myself imagining what life used to be like for the decorators of past generations. I have worked for a retired decorator myself, but my experience wasn’t a pleasant one. In fact, he got very territorial and agitated at me being in his house. He took it upon himself to shout at my apprentice for something that wasn’t his fault. Then he took offence because I told him I wouldn’t wallpaper over the 4 layers of wallpaper that were already there.

I very nearly walked away from the job on the first day, but they were an aging couple, and I didn’t want to leave them with an unusable room. Oh well, we live and learn!!

I wonder what I’m going to be like to work for after I hang my brushes up for the last time?

Mike Cupit

1 Comment

  1. Phil

    I often think about the victorian trades when I find myself scraping layer after layer of gloss from skirtings and architraves on pre 1900’s properties. I wonder how things might have sounded with no radios or headphones to listen to. Did they sing or whistle? I wonder what some of those old lead based paints and wallcoverings would have smelled like and how did they transport their gear to the property they were working on? We take so much for granted now but I’m sure in another hundred years time, decorators in the future will wonder how we managed!


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