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Revisiting the old ways in decorating 2008-2020

Listed under Blog Posted Apr 24 2020

I have been revisiting the archives at Traditional Painter, starting Here and here. As people consider returning to normal in Covid times, this post covers some more thoughts on Revisiting the old ways in decorating.

Redecorating a Cotswold period property

This is about redecorating the walls in a rambling Cotswold mansion with old school Farrow and Ball flat oil. That was a challenge on powdery lime wash and distemper. 

Whatever happened to the collapsible bin for wallpaper cut-offs?

We cover the full gamut of ways to keep a check on wallpaper cut-offs, to avoid classic banana skin accidents. This article has also been updated to 2020. Trashcans Unlimited used to sell a clever and logo-ed collapsible bin, designed for paperhangers. There is some further info on a change of bin.

I also look at safely disposing of waste wallpaper and waste wallpaper adhesive. 

Further thoughts on reducing decorating waste in the new normal.

Let’s think again about the supposed return to normal. Are economic, environmental and social ways going to remain unchanged in face of new evidence emerging by the day? While some are assuming a return to normal, it sounds like a lot of people are daring to dream of change, challenging many aspects of the recent normal.


In the last article, I covered a couple of points about the economic reality of normality pre-Covid 19. By Jan 2020 wages had only regained the ground lost from pre 2008 levels. So there was clearly something amiss in a system that charts success by measuring per capita economic growth. And with the looming economic projections, we have to assume there is going to be a scary squeeze on consumer spending. That squeeze will not be uniform.

Businesses who aren’t in the front line will be under pressure. Are they going to fold because it isn’t the same as it was, or adapt?

If businesses under pressure want to generate the same profit from less income, the easiest option is not to waste anything. In other words, pay attention to waste as an overhead, an expense that can be reduced.

Cut expensive waste

There is a lot of info packed into this article about how lockdown has cleaned up cities previously lost to smog and water pollution for decades. Pollution in developing countries is important. Industry in Asian cities provides much of the “stuff” that Europe consumes. Do they go back to work as normal to keep us in “stuff”?

The ideal is for everybody to return to work as normal and keep those levels of pollution down. And why not, it is all our air and water! But what can we do as UK decorators to keep pollution levels down?

Through quarantine measures world-wide, we have proved to ourselves that individuals can make a difference when enough individuals act in unison. Therefore, decorators globally could easily demand products that are eco friendly and/or locally made.

This low impact approach is possible of you adopt the closed cycle, or cradle to cradle way of thinking that underpins B Corporations.

  • local only production and consumption.
  • Everything made must be recyclable.
  • Working conditions must be safe, workers’ rights respected.

The UK decorating industry could apply the Kilometer Zero concept adopted by trendy restaurants. Why not 3-D print your kit instead of having it shipped from China? Less transport, less cost, less pollution.

Cynics will say that that not buying from developing countries will cause employment issues in those countries. Maybe, but instead of continuing along the lines of demanding damaging products, why not demand organic paints and insist on tools designed with respect for the local environment.

(I am not talking theoretically. In a previous life I saw true child and labour exploitation. It is grim. If we can create or provide meaningful employment demanding eco friendly kit, vulnerable people do not have to sniff petrol to forget how bad their lives are making stuff to meet the price demands of painters in the West.)

It is endless, the ways in which we can cut carbon footprints – and overheads – and improve the lot of everyone involved in this trade.


Customisation usually costs. The decorating trade globally, (I have checked this out!) always reverts to type when it comes to costs. If it is expensive forget it. But wait. One of the biggest accounting secrets in the corporate world is “externalities“.

In general terms, let’s say a litre of oil costs the client £1, and the producer 10p. The dirty secret is that society overall could stand to pay many many pounds for that litre. Think about the health care costs and insurance costs related to consumption of oil. The taxpayer pays for the health service to treat the side effects of using petrol. Meanwhile the seller or the buyer of oil are home clear, hiding behind the initial transaction.

In other words externalities are the true cost of consumption passed on to society. If you purchase products that do not incur extra social costs, overall you will be better off. eg only buy products that are part of a closed recycling process and do not leave inocent people ill and workers destitute and reliant on state aid or petrol fumes.

Hope in numbers

Most calls for individual action sound like peeing in the wind. But I remember a bike racer telling me how every gram counts and accumulates. Apparently it is costly to build a bike frame 60 grams lighter than the last lightest bike frame. However, if you save 5 “meaningless” grams on a dozen components on the whole bike, with careful product selection, you can end up 60 grams lighter for next to nothing.

Revisiting the old ways in decorating? Hopefully not all ways.

When I set up Traditional Painter back in 2011 I adopted a contrarian approach. Imagine the decorating world you want to live in and try make it happen. On reflection it was either a race to the bottom doing the same old same old, or be brave and turn things on their head. From top to bottom, almost all aspects of this platform were set up exactly the opposite of how other trade platforms worked. While the trade was stuck on hierarchal top down cheap and quick, we raised standards, increased value, increased prices and invested, prioritising the members’ needs not the admin’s.

That all happened in a bad recession when so many contractors were cutting rates down to the bone.

Post Covid-19, we may well see the worst recession ever. However, it doesn’t need to be a race to the bottom. We do not need to be clinging to the same old same old, cutting quality in line with low prices, polluting our 2% worth. I think the decorating trade as a whole should consider a better normal, and change its ways, somewhere along the line between 60 grams and a completely new framework. The public will demand value, the environment demands respect, give it.

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