‘My husband’s attempts were a disaster’: The women DIYing it for themselves

Don’t wait for someone else to do it – grab your power tools and whip your home into shape

From Room to Improve to Love it or List It, we are all fascinated by the transformation of rooms or even whole houses. That feeling that magic has happened, when a team of experts descends with paint brushes, tool kits and work materials, and set about turning a tired space into something bright, fresh and inviting.

But although we all have grand design ambitions for our homes, the cost of getting someone in to create a whole new look can more often than not pour cold water on our dreams.

Admittedly, being a trained professional gives them an unfair advantage over us mere mortals with an eye for colour and some lofty ideas, but there are plenty of jobs that we can do ourselves and more often than not, make a fine job of them too.

With this in mind, we spoke to two women who have proved more than capable in their decorating and DIY skills, and have gladly shared their experience and advice to help the rest of us master, or at least attempt, to fix up and decorate our living spaces.

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No stranger to creating a calming atmosphere in the home, as chief executive of Brooke & Shoals Fragrances, when Alison Banton grew tired of waiting for her husband to carry out DIY minor jobs around the house, she decided to get to it herself.

“As someone who has built a business from scratch, I’m used to just getting things done and because I always have to be focused on moving things forward in work, I am naturally quite impatient about sorting out DIY issues when they arise at home,” she says. “But, it’s so hard to get a workman in to do a big job, never mind small ones, so in the past I would say to my husband that we should try doing stuff ourselves rather than waiting a few weeks until a professional could come and do it for us.

“However, it soon became very clear that he was not keen on DIY and in general his attempts were a disaster, with crooked curtain poles and lumpy plastering over holes. But he is an amazing cook, and I really dislike cooking but I love drilling holes in walls and hanging things so that they are straight – it was the perfect division of labour and since then, I have hung all the curtain poles and pictures around the house.”

So much so, that Banton now has an impressive tool bag, containing an electric drill, an electric screwdriver, a spirit level, a couple of hammers, allen keys, every size of screw and panel pin, rawl plugs, and many other DIY bits and bobs.

“All of which my husband is forbidden from touching!”

Having successfully tiled a floor last year, the mother-of two, who lives in Wicklow, is so keen on DIY that she’s planning on asking for a pneumatic nail gun for her birthday, as she continues to master her DIY skills.

“Some floor tiles smashed after a display unit was dropped on them and the area was too small for a professional tiler to get involved, so I decided to have a go myself,” she says. “One of my hobbies when I was younger was working with mosaic tiles and making artistic patterns on tables and mirrors, so l already had tile cutters and thought it that it couldn’t be that difficult to tile a bit of floor.

“So, as we had some spare tiles to replace the broken ones, I went online and looked at a couple of YouTube videos to find out exactly what I would need. Then I went to my local helpful DIY store, Brady’s in Greystones, and got the right tile adhesive and grout and got on with the job.

“I am a bit of a perfectionist so I did it very slowly and carefully and the finished job looked good – I think the experience of working with mosaic tiles in the past definitely helped. After that, I felt encouraged to put some splashback tiles in my downstairs bathroom behind the sink. Again it was only a small area so it wasn’t something that a professional tiler would be interested in doing. There were only six tiles involved but it made a huge difference to the look of the bathroom and was something that had been annoying me for ages.”

“As someone who has built a business from scratch, I’m used to just getting things done and because I always have to be focused on moving things forward in work, I am naturally quite impatient about sorting out DIY issues when they arise at home,”

—  Alison Banton

The business woman says that everyone has the potential to get to grips with minor jobs like this and believes that DIY skills should be taught alongside cooking skills to boys and girls in school.

“When l was in secondary school, l wanted to take woodwork as one of my options, along with French, Science and Economics,” she says. “However, the head nun told me that l was a ‘clever girl’ and should take German instead and leave the woodwork class for boys who weren’t academic. I was outraged, but, at 13, wasn’t confident enough to protest. In the end, I did German for three years and hated every minute of it – I would still love to learn a bit of woodwork, so maybe now’s the time.”

Aileen Hogan knows exactly how Alison feels, as, having started out as a ‘hobbyist furniture painter’ twelve years ago after leaving a two-decade career as a member of British Airways cabin crew, she has since turned her hobby into a viable business. Hogan won the prestigious Upcycler of the Year Award in 2019, and was chosen to attend the DCU High Fliers Academy for female entrepreneurs.

She also won the Croke Park All Star Design Leader in Upcycling two years in a row and is now a social entrepreneur ‘creating positive change in society’, by encouraging others to restyle and reuse their old furniture and in the process, save money and our landfills.

Since, the onset of Covid-19, she has become something of an inspiration to female homeowners, as she does her best to encourage them to “pick up the tools and do the jobs for themselves”.

“I moved house during the pandemic and without the help of professionals it was left up to me to turn our blank canvas of a house into a home for my family,” she says. “My husband works long hours and I wasn’t travelling with work at the time, so I took to social media to show people what I was attempting to do myself – room by room, project by project.

“I am completely self-taught, although I did spend years in my twenties watching my father put up curtain rails and heavy pictures, while he went to great pains to explain what to do. I tried hard not to listen as I had no interest, but obviously something stuck, as I took to DIY like a duck to water.”

The mother of two says that she initially relied on the internet for advice on how to undertake and complete a job, but it wasn’t long before her confidence grew.

“At first I looked up everything on YouTube, but that can be a bit of a rabbit hole as everyone on there considers themselves to be an expert,” she says. “You can’t do DIY without tools, so slowly I built up my tool collection, mainly inexpensive versions from Lidl and Aldi, and although I made many, many mistakes, I never gave up and started to improve with practice. Every mistake is a learning curve and I now look back at projects I did three years ago and think that I could do that better now.

“I think that fear is the biggest stumbling block for women when it comes to DIY – that and the belief that they are not capable. So, I have made it a mission of mine to dispel this belief and tell them that they can do it and I make them believe me.

“To watch the change in the women who came to my beginner DIY course and those that are now inspired by the projects I explain on Instagram stories, proves to me, that they are indeed well capable, independent and confident – they just needed a little encouragement.”

Hogan who has a paint colour collection with Irish paint manufacturer Fleetwood Paints, now travels the country teaching people how to update their homes themselves. And such is the demand for these classes that before she has a chance to advertise them on her website they have already sold out.

“I mainly teach beginners DIY in my projects, starting off slowly and constantly repeating myself, until I know my followers get it,” says the DIY expert who will be presenting at the Ideal Homes Exhibition this year. “They tell me that I explain things very simply and that they can relate to me.

“Among other things, I teach them how to use a drill, how to drill into plasterboard and masonry and also look at drill bits, wall anchors, how to use them and when. I introduce power tools to them and teach them how to use them and also show them how to buy, measure and cut wood for projects around the home

Hogan also teaches how to install all types of panelling, something which is particularly popular of late.

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