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September 18, 2020
Though hundreds of our loyal clients remember our first frenetic weeks nearly 32 years ago, many of our team, clients, and even my children have asked - ‘What was it like in the olden days?’
This blog covers our early years.
Cold cold cold. All the salons I had worked in had a problem getting rid of the heat building up. None of them had central heating nor needed it. I just never gave it a thought when I opened, not realising that I’d always worked in small salons. This salon was much bigger with far fewer people per sq. foot and critically, had massive windows. In winter it was cold; too cold until about 11.00am. We used to have portable heater blowers on as well as all the hood dryers to try to get the temperature up first thing.
One of the first winters had an exceptional spell where the snow stayed settled on the roads for a couple of weeks. Both Frances and I came to work for a whole week in our ski suits and kept them on all day. I apologise unreservedly to any clients that still remember feeling chilly in those early days. Since this major refit in 1993-5 we now have two fitted heating systems.
Not long after our opening, the apartments above, which I had sold on to developers, were giving us problems. The property market had collapsed and they couldn’t sell their newly refurbished flats, so decided to let them. Unfortunately some of the female tenants they let them to, had an awful lot of male visitors so we asked the Council to step in.
The developers next tried short term holiday lets which didn’t really bother us until one day I arrived to find a line of about 50 people snaking past our front door around the building and into the mews. They were laden with luggage and musical instruments and waiting for an agent to come with a key. The coach delivering this East European Orchestra had driven off, and these 50 odd people seemed to think they were going to fit into the four one/two bedroom flats above the salon.
I put it into the hands of my lawyers and luckily found out that the Mortgagor building society was in the process of repossessing all of the flats anyway. After two years of negotiations with them we managed to buy the flats back. In keeping with the quality of the salon we decided it was better to keep the entire upstairs as one large dwelling which I later moved into.
In 1993 I wanted to get the building thoroughly refurbished from top to bottom and took the opportunity to add a floor to the top and dig out parts of the building that didn’t have basement.
1994 - They took out the back wall and window to get the JCB digger in and out from the mews
Louise reminded me of what now seems like an amusing episode, when she called me at 7.30 in the evening whilst closing up, to say someone was rummaging around downstairs. This chancer was helping himself to some of our building materials, lengths of copper pipe, and telling me he was part of the building crew. I knew all the faces on site and he wasn’t one of them so ended up chasing him down the street in my dressing gown shouting ‘stop thief’ or suchlike. I got the copper pipe back.
1994 The Colour Studio
My father, a very energetic 77 year old whilst this building project was going on, was instrumental in much of the work and amazed many of the younger builders on site with his agility around the scaffolding and his sheer hard work.
The builders managed to get the small JCB digger in to excavate half way down but then had to do the rest by hand.
This new area dug out under our colour studio gave us what is now The Deli.
There were some big pieces of steel that went into the new third floor and roof. These ones closed the street for half the day.
1994 - Taking off the roof to add a floor
Thinking back there were some moments that still make me shudder. We had a foreman on site that probably wasn’t the brightest in his class, but you’d normally think of a builders’ foreman being something big strapping and macho? Not this one. Under the main outlet manhole to the sewers is a plug which stops rats from the sewers coming into buildings – apparently in London you are only 10ft away from the nearest rodents, and the builders working on the basement floors and drains kept leaving this plug off, giving us regular furry visitors down there.
The foreman who should have made sure this didn’t happen was terrified of rats and wouldn’t go near them; so on the occasions they were spotted, he would come up and get me, the hairdresser, to try to get rid of them. I remember the evenings clambering down the work ladder in the dark with him cowering behind me and my trying to throw bricks at them.
Fitting the new chimneypiece. Even when work had to be done in the salon areas I couldn’t countenance closing during work hours and inconveniencing our many regular clients. Here we had to widen the chimney breast for the beautiful antique marble surround I’d found.
Of course I miscalculated just how long these things take and tried to complete it over a weekend. Long after the builders went home, my ever helpful elderly father was outside mixing cement with a shovel in the road at 2.30 a.m when the neighbours unsurprisingly complained. The police arrived in their squad cars and dad was left trying to explain the bizarre situation to them. I think they took pity on us and we moved everything inside to carry on with the doors closed.
We stayed open 5 days a week throughout the 12 month building project and I am forever grateful to all our loyal clients and the team for putting up with the inconvenience.
The famous ladder with the missing step.I can’t remember why but whilst the work was going on in the basement our water systems and pumps were interfered with, and so each morning I had to manually turn the water on by clambering down this rickety ladder, being careful to avoid the missing step, which I think was a metaphor for the builders – being one rung short of a ladder - walk through the dark basement avoiding any rats they’d let in, and along to the back of the building where our water pumps were. I think my colleagues often wondered if I would return.
Part 3 to follow.
Michael Van Clarke
October 23, 2021
October 15, 2021
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