In a recent competition, Londoner Sarah Wain became the only female in the top ten TrustMark tradesmen in the country. That's pretty special but considering she worked suited and booted in Savile Row PR for the first part of her career, we're doubly impressed that she swapped the suit for the hard hat, jacking in the office job to set up a property company whilst retraining as a builder's apprentice. We put the kettle on and asked her a few questions about life changing decisions, transforming homes and tea.
Congratulations on the TrustMark! What does it mean to you? Thank you! Getting a TrustMark is a further endorsement for my business, but coming in the top ten is an enormous achievement and a huge recognition of all the hard work over the last thirteen years. Plus a little publicity never hurts!
It must have been quite a gamble changing careers, setting up a business and becoming an apprentice all in one swoop - what was it like swapping the suit for the hard hat?
Actually at the time it didn't feel like a gamble, more like a necessity! However, setting up any business is a gamble, but if you want something enough, you do whatever it takes. In my case it was performing as the boss and the apprentice simultaneously, which meant that seven day weeks were the norm. In terms of swapping the suit for the hard hat, it didn't take as much time getting dressed in the morning!
Have you encountered sexism in the building trade?
There have been the odd comments about being in a man's world but, for the most part, people have been very encouraging & more surprised than anything. A few nasty words tend to dissipate when faced with a client's delight and positive feedback.
Do you drink tea and if yes, how many sugars do you take?
Thank you, milk and one if you're making it. Of course I drink tea, although have had to cut down from the standard 2 sugars! My right hand man and I have acquired a taste for Lady Grey. After extensive research we have found that this is the only tea that you can drink copious amounts of and not get that furry thing going on. Spread the word!
Do you know or work with many other female tradesfolk?
I know a part-time female painter & a gardener, both of whom I have worked with a couple of times, but other than that I don't know any other female tradesfolk (come on girls, seize the opportunity! Ed.)
What advice would you give to women who want to make it in the trade?
Just go for it!
What has been your favourite project to date and why?
The one I'm currently working on. We are converting an old chapel into a three bedroom, three bathroom luxury apartment. My colleague and I have just designed and built an oval shaped oak sweeping staircase, which has been a creative challenge, but nevertheless exhilarating. My favourite projects tend to be the ones that test my skills and creativity, and consequently take me to a higher professional level.
What's your favourite building in London and why?
I couldn't name just one but definitely the older buildings. I love all the decorative elements - Corinthian columns, arches and symmetry - and the fact that they have stood the test of time. I particularly like Regent's Street. I remember walking round the corner from Saville Row in my lunch hour thinking how awful my job was! Raising my eyes skyward, I would feel inspired by the beautiful buildings and think what a privilege it was to be working in an area of such majestic architecture. I feel the same way about the Nash terraces around Regent's Park and I still gasp at the sight of St Paul's, now shrouded by mainly linear glass and concrete structures but by contrast this just enhances the technical brilliance of its huge dome and ornate features. Given that I was brought up in Holland Park, its broad tree-lined roads and large stucco fronted houses have aesthetic appeal albeit inextricably linked with sentimental value. I could actually go on and on about various different areas and street of London that I like, largely because I'm a true Londoner and very proud of my beautiful city!
Do you have a top DIY tip for us?
Remember the 6 Ps: Positivity, preparation & patience preceeds perfect performance.
We've heard you have a waiting list of 6 months! Can you give us any advice on finding reputable, available, affordable tradespeople in London?
Always use someone who has been recommended by a friend, and be prepared to wait - if they're worth having they will be busy.
Find out more and have a look at some of Sarah's work at www.sarahwain.com