Toby Neal's guide to refurbishing a Downing Street flat

Have you got a flat that needs redecorating?

Decorating is full of pitfalls
Decorating is full of pitfalls

Having spent a few days doing some painting and decorating myself, which included a personal introduction to the art of wallpapering, I am humbly prepared to offer some tips on how to achieve best results, whether your flat is a historic property in central London, a country cottage near Shrewsbury or a less historic property in Gornal.

Who knew that a plumb bob would still be a useful tool in the 21st century? And who knew that wallpaper could be so expensive? A staggering £40 a roll from Laura Ashley, according to the packaging, but this RRP was then sequentially reduced to just £4 a roll (my wife being quartermaster on this particular assignment).

Lots of pressure then as I only had three rolls (held in storage for months in preparation as the excuses gradually ran out) and if I messed up there was little chance of getting any more that matched.

Here's my step-by-step guide.

1. Getting the measure of the job

Tasks such as these are not to be undertaken lightly. In winter, tell your partner it's too cold. In spring, ask yourself this question: with there being a global pandemic, and the other things going on in the world, is painting and decorating really a priority? If you are lucky, your partner might agree to an indefinite postponement.

2. Finance

It doesn't come cheap. And the money has to be found from somewhere. There are basically three options and there are problems with each of them. First, you could try getting the taxpayers to fund it. If you are living in a Government building, there is a certain logic in that. But the miserable taxpayers might object. So an alternative is to try to get a rich pal to pay for it. They might expect a favour as payback, but hey ho, that's the way of the world. And lastly you could pay for it all yourself. But if you are the tenant in a flat, why should you be the one to pay to refurbish it?

3. Colour

A matter of personal choice, but there are some you should definitely avoid. If you have a fan in the flat, do not use brown.

4. Stirring the pot

Whichever of the three finance methods above is officially the correct one, at least you don't need to worry about doing any stirring, because there will be plenty of people to ensure that is done very thoroughly.

5. Coverage

This is where it could all go wrong. Aim for very thin coverage, or if you can get away with it, no coverage at all. The nightmare scenario is if you end up with wall-to-wall coverage.

6. Watching paint dry

An unjustly unappreciated pastime. However, if you are not prepared to invest the time in this relaxing occupation, an alternative is to watch the bulletins of the past few days on the BBC, ITN, Sky News, etc, etc.

7. Whitewash

If the worst happens, and you find that you do get that wall-to-wall coverage, it's time to bring out the whitewash. As every new blemish appears, apply liberally. And don't be ashamed of doing so. Everybody makes mistakes, so why admit to them? But be warned, however much whitewash you apply, there are some things that simply cannot be covered up.

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