Your Home Made Perfect: A Build Project Management Perspective

Unused as I am to entirely focusing on single projects after 20yrs as my own boss in the world of property renovation / rental / interior design, when I took a call in summer 2018 about some fairly committed project management work across a brand new BBC2 TV show, my interest was well and truly piqued. This call, dear readers, did not bode well for the installation of the Moregeous kitchen, but it did bode well for an incredibly interesting, educational and varied year. And that’s exactly what I’ve had as PM for this first series of Your Home Made Perfect.

I’m guessing that a fair chunk of you follow the adventures of Mr Moregeous and I over on Instagram or Facebook, so a part of me felt as though I didn’t actually need to write up a What I Do description after the last year’s posts and stories. All that tearing up and down motorways tethered into the laptop, all those seafood snacks and late night finishes… you’ve seen it already! Plus when the first batch of five episodes went out – Stirling, Faversham, Eversholt, Grantham and Melksham – we were still super busy with the remaining ten.

However as this second batch has started, kicking off with the fabulous St Albans build, I’ve had some DMs asking me what is it I actually do / what’s my involvement / why aren’t we on the show?

Well in a nutshell, it’s ’cause the show isn’t about the dirty bits. And me, I do the dirty bits. Nope, this show is about the homeowners, the architecture and the design process. The inspiration and the beauty. The clean bits.

The couples who own the homes on the show have for a very long time been, well, how do I put this politely…. ‘discussing’ how to reinvent and renovate their homes and getting precisely nowhere. Like James & Vicky below, from our Faversham build. It’s actually awful isn’t it really, for two people who love each other, within a great family, to be saying they live quite separately. This is the effect poorly designed homes can have.

Our two incredibly creative and talented architects, Laura Clark and Robert Jameson are tasked by the show to come up with a solution each for our problem houses. They visit, assess, imagine, solve and create. Their two schemes go head to head, literally within a headset, as our homeowners see the competing proposals through the medium of ground breaking virtual reality.

This viewing process is, for many of our couples, an intense process. They’ve been arguing over what to do for so long, they’ve often lost sight of the potential of their homes and when they see the possibilities, it can be quite overwhelming. Totally understandable.

They then have the incredibly difficult choice as to which scheme to choose, which vision of their future lives they feel best suits the way they live. Or the way the wish to live. They appoint their own contractors and pay for their own projects. Now, anyone who hasn’t embarked on or completed a large renovation before might think that’s the hard bit, the choosing between the designs bit. This is not the hard bit. Ok, it is a hard bit, but there’s a tonne more toughness to come.

And that’s where I come in. Since summer 2018, I’ve been working with the homeowners, the TV company and with Laura & Robert on all 15 builds, to try and ensure that the visions actually get built. Because, don’t you know, ambitious renovations can be an absolute buggar. Some builds have needed more help than others. Some of our contributors have been very hands on, and some much more nervous and hands off. Some homeowners want to be fully immersed in the process once they know what’s to be built, and others prefer constant assistance and guidance. If you think about it, these are people who’ve got involved with a TV show because they are unafraid to admit that together making decisions is a challenge – to leave them to fend for themselves would be both unfair and a recipe for disaster. So the fantastic production company Remarkable TV recognised that and did something about it.

So shall we have a little look at what TV build project management might* involve?

*did involve

Pouring over plans. Plans, plans and plans. Anytime of the day or night, seven days a week, in the car, at a desk, in bed, on the road. This was in Wiltshire after a 10hr day. Mr M went to the loo and when he got back, the plans were out. Sorry darling. Because no matter how detailed the plans, something always goes awry with the actual house and how it dovetails in with the aforementioned plans and things have to be re-drawn / re-measured / re-thought. Renovations are totally different to new builds, they throw up all kind of issues once you start building. With our architects based in Glasgow and Belfast, it’s down to the the PM to funnel issues and filter through what could easily be sorted versus what needed their input.

Can I just stress that not all reading of plans involves a pint of cool Wilshire cider. Although they really all should.

Working with the builders. On the whole I love them. They drive me up the bloody wall but on the whole I speak their language and if we start off on the right footing with good lines of communication and mutual respect, most obstacles which then may arise can be overcome. It’s hard to interject into a builder/client relationship if you haven’t been directly involved from the start, that’s one thing which has been made crystal clear, and giving builders autonomy but support is essential. They are all so very different, and have to be treated, spoke to and communicated with differently. Because, it may surprise you to know, builders are human too 😉

Understanding steels and questions about them and their impact. Quickly being able to assess problems and how to solve them can be tricky when you’re at the far end of the country so good liaison between a PM, our builders and the SE’s, as well as rapid assessment on the impact on the architecture, is essential. Changes are sometimes unavoidable due to budget constraints or levels or the as-built houses, and designs have to be rethought out with alarming speed as delays cost money. How will this change to this steel affect the finished glazing / lighting / kitchen? Not easy questions – felt sometimes like a crystal ball was needed!!

Being there / around for our homeowners to rely on is quite possibly the most important part of my job. Some need more visits than others, some are happy with a weekly WhatsApp series of questions. Seeing them gain in confidence as their builds progress is fabulous be part of. People who quite literally know nothing about building suddenly use phrases like RSJ, substrate and resin grout – brilliant! There have been many tears on this 15 car renovation rollercoaster, tears which don’t get seen on the show but you better believe they exist. Mostly after 9pm at night in long conversations which generally end up in laugher. Things aren’t so bad when you have a sounding board / wide shoulders available and that’s part of the role of being a good PM.

What else is needed? Well, the ability to understand random photos of wood stud work and visualise it completed, finished and ready for furnishings.

Assessing when things uncovered during the build should be able to be dealt with swiftly and cost effectively, or whether it’s reasonable for extra costs to be incurred and passed on to the client. Such as when damp or rot is found. Those years running a DPC company came in handy!

Working through with the builder and client when things don’t quite marry up with how everyone thought it’d be, like Helen’s utility wall in St Alban’s. Making a bigger than planned bathroom meant that all of a sudden the boiler pipes and waste were in the ‘wrong’ place and things had to designed as a reaction to the actual. When stressful things like that happen, having a good relationship with the builder is so critical and their input is vital to solve problems.

Never mind random timber stud work, if you’re PMing remotely you’ll definitely be sent regular photos of grey spaghetti along with questions like ‘when the kitchen units are up, are these cables in the right place’? Yes, seriously. And you’ll need to answer those questions whilst half way up a ladder on another build without actually having the plans to hand.

It’ll also involve photos like this and you’ll know instantly which kitchen it refers to, on which build, and which homeowner is currently regretting the Ebay DIY purchase of 28 cut out hole handles. Mimi, I’m looking at you.

Arranging samples and knowing which floor tiles / wallpaper / paint / worktops will complement which build is also something TV homeowners generally need help with. Clients across the board are always amazed at how critical samples are when making big ticket purchases, it’s no good just looking at stuff online and expecting it to be perfect. Order the samples and put the whole palette of materials together – check, check and check again! This is one of the most fun parts of helping on these projects, obviously 🙂

You might be asked which tile pattern will look best in a kitchen or bathroom.

You might be asked how best to cut up runs of work top to minimise waste, or plan a bathroom, or fit a loo into a space where no loo should fit.

You might have to try and sell something on Ebay. Like a full conservatory!!

You might have to work around awkward obstacles, such as this slightly warm and ever so comfy one in Eversholt.

You may have to allow your loved one to have his face next to another woman’s derriere. Look at him, bless, him, studiously staring at Suzanne’s slippers.

On many occasions you will be sent images of mud. Which is super. If you like mud. I like mud.

You may find yourself drilling, wallpapering, painting, spraying or designing & installing lighting. Ever ready, that’s what you must be 😉

Sometimes, you won’t actually know who or where you are.

And all the while you’ll be running 845 WhatsApp groups on every different topic on every different build trying to keep everyone happy. And no-one is ever happy til the end. God bless WhatsApp.

What you will find when you do this type of work, is that you meet the loveliest of people and have some brilliant experiences with them. These renovation journeys are proper rollercoasters and our homeowners are often juggling full time jobs, businesses, children, wider family, pets, and just life in general. Layer on top of that the responsibility of managing builders, making 20,000 decisions they’ve never made before and delivering a TV reveal ready transformation – wowser, it’s no wonder they feel the pressure.

When I think about it, really my job is being the lid. The lid on the renovation pressure cooker. Keeping it all slowly cooking and knowing when I’m being invited to lift up the lid and dive in.

It’s been a completely phenomenal year. No matter how long you’ve been working in property and building, you never stop learning, and I have learned something new on every build. Do you get now why I called them my Reno Babies on Insta? I think you might. There are still several episodes left for your viewing delectation, I can’t wait for you to see them and meet our homeowners.

More blogs this week on some of the detail you’ve been asking me about. We’re working at home all week on Moregeous HQ as Dave the joiner is here, so I’ll definitely have some time to sneak off and answer some of your questions. The lighting / flooring / bathroom / utility area at St Albans first up I think!

Laters x

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