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Who’d be a client?

Who’d be a client?

Having just emerged scarred and shaken from the life-changing process of buying and renovating my dream house, I now have the opportunity to reflect on my reversed role as a client rather than a consultant.

By way of an explanation: The house in question is exactly the one I dreamt of finding in all the decades I spent traveling around the world and indeed living in bits of it. When we first drove up to view it, I parked in a little lane to the side of the house, looked up at it and said to my wife, “There’s no need to get out of the car, this is it!!” Such was my immediate conviction that I’d found my own piece of heaven. We then commenced the dance of purchase (very stressful), designing the interior modifications (a joy) and securing heritage consent for what we wished to do (a nightmare — the authorities “lost” my application for six weeks, and we received consent on the same day as the contractors were due to start work!).

As business pressures and geography precluded my detailed day-to-day involvement with the construction process, I appointed a local architectural technician and a quantity surveyor/project manager to facilitate the work. Both were excellent and did a great job. However, the “client” bit that caused me more sleepless nights than I ever could have imagined related to that essential client function: DECISIONS. Perversely, these were not decisions about costs or timing or whatever, but decisions about design, selection of fixtures and finishes. Whereas I am entirely at ease with major hotel and resort projects in different parts of the world and the decisions required of me in that context, the simple question of “What tap?”, “What basin?” and “What color?” drove me to stuttering incoherence. Similarly, when faced with a site problem caused by removing bits of a 350-year-old building, uncovering unexpected conditions and the site foreman then asking, “What shall we do here?”, my reaction was that of a rabbit caught in the headlights – absolutely no idea, as my brain was custard!

That we managed to overcome my hopelessness and move in by Christmas was a major miracle, and I remain hugely embarrassed that my decades of professional expertise and, indeed, confidence deserted me so dramatically in the face of what by any measure was a minor domestic project. Our builder was a wonder, and my wife managed to buttress my performance at the critical moments.

It is often said that one never ceases to learn lessons. Well, I’m here to tell you that I’ve now learned a huge lesson that will forever inform my attitude. Whenever I feel impatient with what I perceive to be prevarication and indecision on the part of clients, colleagues and friends, I shall simply say to myself “Plas Gwyn” (the name of our house — it means White House in Welsh), and I shall then immediately relax and benignly await the outcome as and when it happens.
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