Working for a Retired Decorator

By Mike Cupit


I’ve been a decorator for most of my working life. In that time, I’ve only ever worked for one retired decorator, and it wasn’t exactly pleasant. I’ll take you through what happened…


It was an elderly couple. The husband was a decorator since he left school up until retirement. He had something wrong with his back, meaning he was in a lot of pain. I would be the first person he had ever paid to decorate his own house.


The couple seemed nice, and I felt sorry for him, so the price was as tight as I could make it. I never mind helping a brother of the brush (first mistake). I got the job, a seemingly straightforward lounge to paint and re-paper, nothing to it. All the woodwork was white apart from one stained doorframe which they asked me to paint.


I had an apprentice with me at the time. We rocked up, sheeted and started to strip the paper. Problems with both the job, and the clients started pretty much straight away. The retired decorator had wallpapered over wallpaper four times over, meaning there was a lot of work in removing it. Not just that, but he became agitated by us doing the stripping. He was adamant the proper way was to just do the paintwork, then wallpaper over the existing paper for the fifth time. Still, we proceeded to do what we do.


I had to nip out for an hour, only to see another job and pick up some paint. When I came back, the apprentice was shaking. The old boy had come into the room and shouted at him for stripping the paper and using water to do it!! I had to have a word with the clients and put my foot down a little bit. Any problems had to come through me, and we must be left to complete the work. If they weren’t happy, we would pack up and leave.


At this point I knew, working for a retired decorator was a bad idea. Decorators are a certain breed who like things being done in a certain way. I think he felt like less of a decorator by us being there doing the work our way.


Anyway, paper off, prep done, walls lined (he didn’t see the point in lining either). We prepped all the woodwork and ceiling, applied an adhesion primer to the stained door architrave, followed by an undercoat…. Then we had our next problem. The retired decorator came in kicking off because we had painted the door architrave. Apparently, when they said “paint the doorframe”, they didn’t mean paint the doorframe, they meant stain it!! I always provide a detailed spec with each quote, including the process we take. It was obvious he hadn’t read it!! It clearly stated we were to apply and adhesion primer, an undercoat and two coats of satin to the door architrave. Ahh well, something else we took on the chin. I did a bit of jiggery pokery, painted it brown, varnished over the top and you couldn’t tell. (the stain on the frame looked pretty naff before we started).


The rest of the job went well. We did the painting, hung the paper and cleaned up. The job had massively run over, leaving me out of pocket. However, it was finished and looked mint.


The last insult came when I handed him the bill and waited for our cheque. I had to endure a patronising speech from the retired decorator about how I shouldn’t make work for myself and how to price properly (He didn’t realise I wanted to do him a favour by putting in a cheap price, he thought I’d made a mistake). He still saw himself as the authority in decorating and as far as he was concerned, I didn’t know what I was doing.


Luckily, I’ve been doing what I do for a long time, and I know I’m a competent decorator. Problems on jobs are few and far between. I didn’t let it bother me, I took my cheque, smiled and moved on. Never again will I work for an ex-tradesman!!

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