After initially, and unsuccessfully, employing an architect – we dropped him because the scheme he drew up for the chapel was just too grand (a lesson to be learned here about giving a very clear brief: we obviously didn’t) – we turned to family for help. More precisely, to brother Robert, a blunt, no-nonsense Yorkshireman (or maybe just ‘Yorkshireman’ would say it all) who had happily retired to live on his barge on the French canals. Back in England for a short break (as short as possible: he thinks France is the business) he gave us the benefit of his 30 years’ experience as a building contractor: keep it simple, know your budget, and, crucially, give the builder a clear brief. He talked me through the things we’d need to include in the invitation to tender and I drew up the document for his approval. “It’s too nice,” was his verdict. “You’ve got to be more specific and much more professional.” So now he’s working on it for us. There were things we’d never even thought of – would we provide tea-making facilities for the contractors on site, a toilet and washroom, space for a skip? Did we really want to include decorating in the schedule or get our own man in when the building work was finished? If we included it, the contractor would, not unreasonably, add a percentage. I’d specified the builder should liaise with the stained-glass window contractors: what precisely in this context did “liaise” mean? “It’s a bit airy-fairy if you ask me.”
We hadn’t a clue how the contractor would price the various items such as doors and sanitary ware, as at this stage we couldn’t be specific about what we wanted: simple, says Rob. Ask him to include a provisional cost, plus a percentage margin, then it can be adjusted when you make a definite choice.
His point is that when you give the builder the spec you have to dot the proverbial i’s and cross the t’s. Leave no room for arguments once the job has started, and then everybody knows where they stand. It sounds simple and obvious – but most of it we hadn’t even thought of.
The plans and building regs approvals have just arrived in the morning post. Hurray! Now we can get going . . .