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24 brilliant builders

We’ve talked about Midult porn. You know. Compulsively tracking your house value on Zoopla. Perving over RightMove in the small hours. Ogling Country Life in the waiting room. Look at that wisteria-clad-Georgian-rectory. I could play out all my inner chatelaine fantasies. Or at least have somewhere to hang the sodding washing.

But. Parallel universes aside, we’re never going to be able to upgrade to the roomy house down the road like the ones ALL those baby boomers owned by the time they were about 21 because it costs about four gazillion quid.

No, this is where we live. And it’s fine. The neighbours are okay in a smile-and-keep-walking kind of way. Plus the thought of moving is enough to make us weep. So. Where does that leave us? Make the house bigger. Better. Build up. Down. Out. And these builders are the ones to do it for you. All used and tried and tested by someone we know. They’ll knock your house into shape without knocking it down. Make it double in size without doubling your budget. They’re efficient, honest, reliable and as easy to work with as any builder can be. So work out what you want, get in the hob nobs and stay strong.

1. THE REAL BRICK: MAX (LONDON)

Every Londoner needs a Max. He’s a quality builder, has endless ideas you’d never have thought of, doesn’t cut corners, is honest, fair priced and the result is consistently good. When we saw where he’d put the thermostat (in the middle of a wall where we’d planned a picture wall) and cried, he plastered it over without a word. He just knew. When we called him back from Surrey for an electrical issue (couldn’t change a lightbulb), he whizzed over, changed it and rode off into the sunset without so much as a shaming glance. We even recommended him to our most perfectionist, high maintenance Midult friend and they got on like a house on fire. He’ll knock your walls down, do a loft, whack in a new bathroom, pull apart your kitchen, paint the whole place over, redo the electrics. Best thing? He’s always making suggestions that’ll make your life way better even though they’re a complete shag for him to do. Like moving the boiler into the loft. A one-man masonry miracle.

max@bwinstallations.co.uk / 07970 649 667

2. THE CHIRPY CHIPPY: ADO BUILDERS (SURREY)

If it feels like Alan is sizing you up when he comes round to quote. He is. “When I go to look at the job I’m not just looking at the building, I’m looking at the customer to see if I want to work with them, have they got that dark thing about them, are they hiding something, is there something about them that’s going to cause me problems?” He also steers clear of boring jobs. “I prefer the more interesting jobs,” he says. “Ones which are a bit difficult or have an interesting shape to them. A boring square conversion I’m not so interested in.” He likes a challenge because he’s good. He started out 30 years ago, after sailing through his apprenticeships with distinction. He’ll go all over Surrey as far up as Kingston. And he sticks to a quote. You get a payment plan, asking for 10% at the start to fund skips etc., 20% after laying the cement, 20% after the roof and so on. Alan is honest, chatty and if you can actually pass his selection process, he’s a keeper.

www.adobuilders.co.uk / 01483 472 032

3. PERIOD PEOPLE: SIMPSON & BROWN (EDINBURGH/LONDON)

If you’ve a new-build or an aversion to anything ‘period’, this lot aren’t for you. If however, you find yourself in an interesting old property – a Georgian flat in need of TLC, a ye olde thatched number or something a bit grander – but no idea where to start, they’re a guiding light. There’s an archaeology arm that does ‘standing surveys’, telling you how your house was built, often uncovering fascinating secrets and long-hidden features. Some customers go for the whole project manager refurb option, others just want to consult on period details such as what sort of shutters will work or how to handle those stone stairs. They’re true history geeks, approaching your home like detectives, with an uncanny ability to see things you’d never notice. From stonemason to joiner they always know the best person for the job. They’re based in Edinburgh but have worked all over the UK and even abroad. Tell them you want to rip out the original sash windows – it’s a hoot to watch the colour drain from their faces…

www.simpsonandbrown.co.uk / 01315 554 678

4. BAND OF BROTHERS: CHARACTER BUILDERS (DEVON)

It has the makings of a parable. There were four brothers: Matthew, Thomas, Samuel and Simeon. They were carpenters, stone masons, joiners. They built a house together. And so on. Except these guys are for real and making waves down West Country way. It started 18 years ago when they took on odd building jobs to make some holiday cash. They were so good and hardworking they earned themselves a good rep locally and never stopped. With all their master craftsmen know-how and heritage expertise they’ll tackle everything from knock-down-and-build-from-scratch jobs to churches and big old National Trust buildings. Most of their work is around Dartmoor where they’re from but they’ve worked as far away as Bristol and even London. And what a lovely bunch. They’re big on work-life balance so book ‘em in quick as they’ll not be working all hours for you or anyone. It’ll be worth it.

www.characterbuilders.co.uk / 01647 231 734

5. SAFE AS HOUSES: GEORGE STONE (SUSSEX)

How could you not trust a builder called George Stone? Stone will take on anything. They do their fair share of ¾ million quid barn conversions but they’ll also take on a bog-standard, extend-out-back terraced house. “We’re not snooty,” says George. Your standard loft conversion, extension over the side return and so on are their bread and butter. They also work for the National Trust, helpful if you have a large stately (unlikely) but also if you’ve any kind of period property as they’re au fait with all the period features, details, and stipulations that come with that. These guys are flexible so you can hand over full architectural plans and they’ll get cracking. Or, if you have no idea what you’re after, they’ll help navigate your way towards a structural engineer, architect, building regulations and all – it’s your call. Their stomping ground is from East Sussex to Brighton and Rye up to Tunbridge Wells. Oh and they’ll do more hum drum maintenance work on your place too.  A real find. They’ve been a family business for 60 years and built half the area they’re based in. Solid as a rock.

www.georgestone.co.uk / 01424 436 166

6. LEGENDARY LOFTS: ATTIC LIFE (BRISTOL)

If you want a loft conversion but dealing with builders brings you out in a sweat, Attic Life is for you as they manage the whole shebang. They’re so big on ownership they won’t take on an existing loft conversion (unless you let them rip it out and start from scratch), nor will they work from architect drawings you already have. But if you’ve a job other builders won’t touch, these guys will rise to the challenge. From a small terraced house to the grade 2 listed mill and a large manor house, there hasn’t been a project they haven’t been able to conquer. Better still, everything is in-house, from the architect department right down to the last plumber. Which cuts out any dodgy contractor disputes. They’ll sort building regulations and consent. Yes, even the form filling. “I personally make sure everything is running smoothly,” says Steve. True, you’re paying more for this lot than what the bloke down the road paid for his 2-week dormer loft job, but you’re getting top notch design and craftsmanship and having someone else manage the nitty gritty… (which means Attic Life Steve’s lovely West Country burr on the phone throughout the project).

www.atticlife.co.uk / 01761 239 156

7. PURSE STRING PIONEERS: GRALINE CONSTRUCTION (BIRMINGHAM)

One (not rich) Midult is a bit of a sucker for whistles and bells (carpenter craft period-style oak shutters in all the window recesses, why not?), but poleaxed when the budget balloons. Which is why she loved the pricing portal this lot uses. When they start a job, you have access to the portal which gives a running financial statement so you can keep an eye on costs and say no to things you don’t want (can’t afford). Because, as our Midult has found, it’s easier to scale back the extravagance when the maths is staring you in the face. Graline is a family business, going since the 70s and the younger generation are running the show now, though Dad still checks things over. They go as far as Warwick, Stratford upon Avon, Worcestershire, doing extensions, garage conversions lofts, bathroom and kitchen refurbs and most of their tradespeople are on staff. You’ll get loads of advice on why you’d be mad to want this or how that will never work. A really great, hardworking gang.

www.gralineconstruction.co.uk / 01564 822 675

8. OLD SCHOOL GRAFTER: JD CONSTRUCTION (MANCHESTER)

Properly old school this lot. No fancy website. None of your project management guff. Just a good solid builder who charges competitive prices and has a good local reputation stretching back years. They do everything from extending your kitchen out back and converting the loft, to building you a whole house from scratch if that’s what you’re after. All the key jobs from ground works to bricklaying, roofing and joinery are in-house so you know what you’re getting, and if you’ve any problems the buck stops with John and he’ll help you sort it. You can probably find a cheaper builder if you’re tight-fisted enough, but cut corners and good luck to you because as soon as you meet John, says our Midult, you know he’ll deliver.

www.jp-construction.com / 01612 231 666

9. THE QUIET ONE: JEZ STONE (LONDON)

If you like your builders clever, funny and trustworthy, as well as good and fair with the pricing, then Stone is your man. He may be shy and retiring but he always answers his phone – let’s face it that’s a miracle. The work is great, in fact he is so popular in one corner of North West London that he has practically extended the entire neighbourhood. Plus, says our Midult, a big fan, “he talks to his clients rather than just making decisions without consulting in that infuriating builder way. Oh and he listens.” He’s also got a fantastic sense of humour, which is useful when the shit (through no fault of his own) hits the fan. Which it occasionally does. Generally people get him back to do more – and you can’t get a bigger compliment than that.

07970 887 404

10. BRISK BRICKIE: GO GONDOLIER (LONDON)

The Ikea of loft conversions says one Midult about this lot. In a good way, rather than a build-it-yourself, wonky drawer sort of way. Reliable, stylish, good value for money. If you’re after a Renaissance-style orangery, maybe not, but if you’re in a terraced house and want a good loft conversion done in 4 weeks or the whole open plan side return kitchen thing, they’re ideal. They’ve been going 20 years and have a reputation for always delivering a good result and on time, which is a godsend when you’re all camping in the spare room because you’re too broke to move out. Why the name? “A gondolier is the guy in Venice who steers the boats in the canal,” says lead builder Simon, deadpan. Ah, so you’re Italian, we ask? “No,” he says. Fair enough. We plough on. Have you done any memorable jobs, curious ones, building nightmares, we ask? “No,” he says before clamming up for good. His building skills are better than his chat, we promise. Plus you won’t need to cringe your way through your builder banter.

www.go-gondolier.co.uk / 0203 602 3885

11. TOP FOR TERRACED TOWNIES: SIMPLY EXTENSIONS (LONDON)

Keith visits your gaff. He talks through options and plans get drawn up. Once the deal is agreed, you never see Keith again. Unless things go wrong. Which, for the couple of Midults we know who’ve used them, they haven’t. On the chosen date, the Kosovans arrive. First Bakim the builder, then Vladimir the plumber: all cheery, talkative characters who arrive punctually each morning and do a good job. More than jobbing bricklayers, they’ll suggest improvements on the original plans based on their broad experience. All of these ideas turned out to be a godsend that this burnt-out Midult would never have thought of. And if there are any major problems Keith steps in, talks, strokes, mediates. A good option if you’re in, say, a London terraced house, you want an extension, it’s a fairly bread and butter thing, you don’t need massive project management and are fine about talking to the builders on a day-to-day basis. What it says on the tin.

www.simplyextensions.co.uk / 0208 392 9505

12. LEADING LADIES: THE LADY BUILDER (LONDON)

One Midult we know was so scared of her builder (her mother saying he looked like Fred West didn’t help) that she let him build her an outdoor shower. In Balham. Should’ve gone to the Lady Builder. It was set up by Sue in the 1980s in London when she saw a gap in the market for a gig run by women. As 4th generation Yorkshire building stock and an interior designer, she knew the trade inside out and saw how many people are intimidated by this game. Builders speaking in jargon and not giving a stuff about finishes like light fittings and decorating. It was a hit from the start. Sue’s daughter, the delightful Claudia, is now at the helm and speaks our language more than any builder we’ve known. “We take a practical approach,” she says. “We ask how you’re going to use the space – you say you want this or that, but what happens when you come in with a muddy dog? Lots of builders aren’t interested in that. They just want to crack on. People are worried to tell their builder they’re not happy. With us you’re calling us and we’re having those awkward conversations. You won’t have much contact with the builders, it’s all with the project manager.” Music to our ears. Straightforward language. Regular photos on WhatsApp. Constant updates. True they’ll never compete price-wise with a solo Polish builder rocking up on the cheap, but you’ll get what you want with less stress.

www.theladybuilder.co.uk / 0207 402 9937

13. CONSTRUCTION KINGS: MANCHESTER BUILD (MANCHESTER)

There are no limits with these guys. If you can imagine it, they can build it. Sure they can remodel your kitchen or bathroom, open up the loft and even dig down deep into a mega basement. But they’re also good on the bigger picture and get excited by the idea of building you a house from scratch. If you have a plot of land kicking about, obviously. Or a house you’re keen to knock down first. Which is less of an option if you’re in central London, more if you’re up north. Amazingly the build-your-house-from-scratch option is much cheaper than what some builders charge for a loft conversion in the big smoke. From £5,000 to £300,000 they say. We’re slightly suspicious of the £5,000 option (bike shed with bed perhaps?) but it’s something we’d never thought of. Their website is amazing, especially if you’re in the Manchester area (they also do work all around the UK) because it has loads of local knowledge about housing prices, planning permission and so on. They also have a landscaping arm which is great if you just want to go for broke and do the whole shebang in one.

www.manchesterbuild.com / 0161 410 0526

14. THE BATH BOMB: ROLY WOODWARD LTD (LONDON)

So charming is Roly Woodward. “Utterly delightful,” says our Midult. He trained as a photographer but was always fascinated by architecture – so in between jobs he ‘started doing little building jobs, working for a smart bathroom company’. And liked it. Now he and his team specialise in residential refurbs in West London and offer a brilliantly tailor-made service – Woodward is not interested in just putting in the same old details every time. He is also a bit of a trouble-shooter – loves a problem – so come to him if you’ve seen somewhere you want to buy and he will sort all the reports out for you as well as the build itself. His company also provides a handyman service – which is incredibly handy.

info@rolandwoodward.co.uk

15. OLDEST AND BOLDEST: R DURTNELL & SONS LTD (KENT)

You don’t end up being the UK’s oldest building firm (since 1591 thank you very much) by being crap. No. You survive by turning out century upon century of beautiful, long-lasting, imaginative buildings. And over the years they really have tried their skilled hands at it all. Durtnell works on everything from schools to swimming pools, from private homes to grand heritage projects. Which is a plus as there’s no way you’ll end up getting a one-size-fits-all cookie cutter style extension job with this lot; they’re so diverse and skilled they’re always going to push the boat out to try and give you something a little bit different. Yes most of their projects are high end but if you’re lucky enough to have a healthy budget for your work or if you’re planning to build from scratch, these guys are definitely worth calling as the work they turn out is second to none. They’re decent, fair and don’t rest on their laurels. Plus the first house they ever built, a whopping 427 years ago is still standing, even after being bombed in both World Wars. Proof of the pudding and all that.

www.durtnell.co.uk / 01959 564 105

16. WELSH WONDERWOMAN: THE FEMALE BUILDERS (CARDIFF)

It was an accident really. Sure, Philippa’s grandfather and father were builders, but apart from helping out on sites as a teenager she’d never thought of it as a career. A high-powered school led to a business studies degree but when faced with an assignment of devising a business plan, she hit on a female building company. To survive in such a male industry you need to know your stuff. And she really does. She thought her clients would be women and old people but it’s anyone and everyone. Particularly men who can’t bear withering looks from male builders (can’t you do it yourself mate?). Based in and around Cardiff she tackles anything from a small maintenance jobs to a full kitchen refit. If it’s a massive knock-your-house-down job she won’t take it on but she’ll recommend someone who will. She’s quite busy, did we mention she’s captain of the Welsh women’s rugby team? Though she’s due to retire next year and will grow the business then. Oh and watch her videos on her website, the one on how to stop a leaking tap is mesmerising. Who knew?

www.femalebuilders.co.uk

17. THE SUSSEX LADS: CREATIVE BUILD (SUSSEX)

Craig Durrant and John Peall are passionate about perfection – which is a relief when dealing with bathrooms, right? They are pretty geeky about everything in fact – obsessed with extracting the potential for every type of home. So think extensions, kitchens, wet rooms, conservatories – all approached with huge enthusiasm and energy. Plus they are both family men and therefore very in-tune with how disruptive the whole process can be. Tonnes of experience, buckets of politeness – a concrete choice if you are Sussex-way.

www.creativebuildltd.co.uk / 01243 266 920

18. POLE-WIELDING POLES: POLISH BUILDERS (LONDON)

True, not all British builders are wolf-whistling tea drinkers with jeans halfway down their arse, just as not all Polish builders are hard working and cheap as chips. But Polish Builders has built a successful company on the stereotype and their lads live up to their reputation. Terraced houses in town are two a penny for them, but we’ve also heard they’re to be trusted with something a bit more full-on, like the large detached home they’ve just finished refurbing in Dulwich. They work all over London in areas as diverse as Stratford, Clapham and Kingston. They pride themselves on finishing every job on time and never, it seems, say yes to a cuppa so you get to eat all those hob nobs yourself.

www.polish-builder.co.uk / 0207 476 6648

19. BOSS BUILDER: FOSTER & CO (LONDON)

Well and truly bossing it in Barnet’s building scene. Built up by Nick Foster over the last 20 years, he’s cornering the market with beautiful extensions, conversions and renovations that are a notch above your average neighbourhood builder but don’t cost too eye-watering a sum. Better still your main point of contact (and throughout) is with the office. Think of them as the buffer. So you have your initial meetings with the office and architects and so on and if you’re not sure about anything once the work has started you can tackle it via the boys back at base rather than risk any hostile or awkward conversations with the guys who are pulling down your walls. It’s a small thing but as anyone who has been too scared to tell their builder they’ve changed their mind/don’t like it knows, it’s actually a really big deal.

www.fosterandco.co.uk / 0208 441 3144

20. NORTH LONDON NICE GUY: BIG PAUL & SONS (LONDON)

Nothing is a problem. He and his band of six will take on any job, from a small painting number in a flat to a big renovation in a north London mansion. If you want to live in while he renovates, no problem. If you’ve no idea what you want and need him to suggest designs, no problem. If you need a job doing quickly and have a sad little budget, no problem. “We can work something,” he says. A carpenter, builder, painter rolled into one, if there’s something he can’t do, he’ll know someone who can. His native tongue is Hungarian so you’ll both have to work to understand each other when it comes to the final detail but he’s so conscientious there’s no fear of things going wrong. Our Midult who uses him regularly says, “He turns up when agreed, finishes on time, is reliable and fairly priced.” Which as a checklist of what you’d want from your builder, just about ticks every box.

www.bigpaulpainting.co.uk / 07402 886 969

21. ROOFS & REFURBS: HARDING ROOFING (LONDON)

Harding earned himself a watertight reputation as a roofer, which led to loft conversions, and now he’ll throw himself at any renovation big or small. Unusually for a builder, he’s about to open a shop, a quirky old thing, he says, which will be a showcase of their work. So rather than commit to a builder on a chat and a prayer, you can visit the shop (which will look a bit like a high-end estate agent), see examples of their work and talk through ideas with architects and designers over a coffee. “It’s about building trust with our clients,” he says. Comfortingly old school but then he’s never advertised and his website is 15 years old. But if the phone keeps ringing, why change? That said, he’s just taken on two young things who tell him he needs to get social media savvy so he’s trying to get his head around Instagram – watch this space. #lovemybuilder

www.hardingroofingltd.com / 08456 448 755

22. HIGH-END HOUSE DOCTOR: CHARLES ALEXANDER (LONDON)

Henry Shiffner is that rare thing, his business is high-end but he’s far from high and mighty. That said, they don’t do much under £100,000 and they don’t stray far from central London (they just did a big job in Dulwich, but with a £1.5 million price tag it was worth going south of the river for). The selling point here is quality and something a bit more imaginative. Henry who is an all-round good egg, has advice a-plenty. The most important thing is that you’re honest about how much you can spend, he stresses. “There’s no point agreeing to all sorts of things, then after all the plans are done you say you can’t afford it. And make sure you get on with your architect and contractors. Crucial. You’ll be spending a lot of time with them, it’s an intimate thing.” Anything else? :One more – don’t go for the cheapest builder you can find,” he warns. “If they’re remarkably cheap they’re going to be bad.” He’s a bit of a star is Henry, and worth every penny.

www.charles-alexander.co.uk / 0208 930 2736

23. STRESS-FREE SOLUTION: TRUSTED BUILDING SERVICES (LONDON)

Jonny Nicolet doesn’t come from a building background which, weirdly, is his selling point. He worked in TV and only set up Trusted when he saw a gap in the market for an un-buildery builder. “People want someone leading their project,” he says. Someone who speaks your language. Who can send a clear email update every time something new is agreed on or when costs change. “Not that thing where the builder scribbles down extra costs on the back of a fag packet and at the end of the job the client doesn’t have the cash to pay for it…” Jonny shakes his head. “That’s where the stress comes from. I’m all about good communication. That’s my USP, to keep the customer updated.” Most of his jobs are upwards of £70,000 and he’ll go all over Greater London (“Though if you were offering me £2 million for a job in Sussex I’d send a crew down to live in a caravan…” he offers).

www.trustedbuildingservices.co.uk / 0844 357 4490

24. THE MUSIC MAN: QUEENS PARK DESIGN AND BUILD (LONDON)

South-London born Nathan Leeks is all about ‘Solutions, not problems’. So it’s no surprise that he’s become Queen’s Park construction king. He started out in the music industry, and is a brilliant entertainer – funny, smart with enthusiasm by the bucketload. But as the music business became less and less fun, Nathan needed a change. After an experience with a terrible local tradesman and hearing about all his mates being turned over by builders, he thought, “It just doesn’t have to be like this.” And so he had the novel idea of building a company that came in, did a good job and went on to the next. Queens Park Design and Build started “11 years ago with just me and a paint brush” and now he’s always got at least “6 big jobs on the go, 4 on the park right now”. Plus an architecture firm QPAD. Leeks uses a Polish team who are all friends and family from the same town in Poland and is passionate about providing a proper service: “You cannot drop the ball, good news spreads fast, bad spread faster…”

www.queensparkdesignbuild.com / 0208 960 2809

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