This week I invited myself for a cup of coffee with the client owner for whom we acquired a charming house on Portobello Road as a fixer upper two years ago. To my surprise, the builder’s hoarding is still up. Painted a tasteful shade of grey, this squat wooden cabin is still planted firmly on the forecourt of the house and I have to ring the bell on the outside to announce my arrival.
As I am welcomed in, I see that the house is looking not only beautiful, but is to all intents and purpose, finished. “This looks wonderful, so why is the hoarding still up”? I ask Portobello client. There is a short silence and then she slowly and slightly defensively replies “because………….I love it.”.
We sit down for coffee and I although I can tell this may not be a welcome question I lean forward to look directly into her eyes and ask “can you explain to me what it is about the hoarding you are so attached to?”
“Well”, she begins, “you have absolutely no idea of the extra uses of a hoarding and what you can do with it”. “No, I don’t and do please go on” I encourage her. Portobello client settles down with her coffee and warms to her subject.
“For a start, it gives you the cosiest feeling of security and privacy. You can put a combination lock on the outside and then……..then you enter your own private world which shelters you and your front door from the street. I find I can rummage peacefully for my door keys without being worried that I am irresistible to muggers while I dither on the doorstep. I can drop off my shopping and luggage at a quick punch in of the code then go and find a parking space.”
“Yes, I can see that”, I reply, “and what else can it do?”
“You can use the hoarding as a workshop for all those tasks that normally mess up your kitchen. In early December I spent a blissful afternoon in the hoarding making a wreath and garlands for our first Christmas in the house, with carols playing and a large glass of mulled wine kindly given to me by our lovely street vendor neighbours.”
Now alight with enthusiasm, she continues: “a week later we had a full on yard sale, decorating the hoarding with Christmas lights and painting a huge yard sale sign. The half open door was like catnip to passers by and I achieved a pretty good clear out of old china and bric a brac from our old house. At the end of the day, exhausted, I didn’t have to cart the unsold things back into the house, I just shut the hoarding door, collapsed indoor and cleared up the next day. It was brilliant!”
“Did it come in useful over Christmas”? I asked. “My goodness yes, we filled the hoarding with lantern and green boughs and used the builders’ trestle as a bar. The family and guests loved opening the door to it, and said was like Narnia. Very handy for the smokers, too!”
I had to ask I there were any downsides. Portobello client thinks for a moment, then continues “I suppose if you don’t like graffiti it could be a problem. I have enjoyed the work done by graffiti artists, but do you know, a hoarding is also a magnet for people who are very, very angry and want somewhere to express this publicly.”Matt has herpes” is one of the less rude phrases that have appeared. One was so crude that my builders were embarrassed for me to see it and painted it out! I keep hoping that Banksy may be passing one day but so far no luck”.
“This all sounds very lovely, but could the truth be that you are in denial about being exposed to the street ?- this can’t go on for ever you know” I gently suggest. The defensive look returns to Portobello client’s face. “Yes, I know, one friend has just sent me a card which says “Spring is coming – Hoarding Down!” “I am sick to the teeth of being nagged and I guess I will have to face up to it soon – but maybe one more week?”
I am now making a diary note to drive past in a week’s time, but secretly I am pleasantly surprised to have had my eyes opened to the hidden delights of the builders’ hoarding With sheds having been overstyled and overexposed on Instagram, maybe now is the time to celebrate the sweet but fleeting charms of the humble builders’ hoarding.