Building contractor George Jablonski has worked in the construction industry for 15 years. At Poulsom Middlehurst we’ve worked with George on several residential extensions, including this project in Clapton, so he was just the man to ask about working well with your contractor.
George, could you tell us about GJ Design and how you started out?
I started working in building and construction in 2003 and launched GJ Design in 2009, so next year will be the 10th anniversary of the company. I didn’t train as a builder but I studied building machinery at technical school so I knew how to draw and read technical drawings.
Living in London in 2003, there was scaffolding everywhere, so I realised there must be money in construction! Then I watched a TV programme about Polish builders in Victoria Station who had lost their passports and money because someone had promised them a job and taken their documents. I said to my friend, “why don’t we help people like them?”, and so we started a building company. The first jobs were small; painting fences and changing gas, but now we’re building new houses and doing refurbishments and so on.
What do you think has made the company a success?
I think that whatever you do, you should do it right, as if for yourself. That’s my attitude and what I keep telling people. Some people have got low standards or just can’t be bothered so that’s what we have to keep an eye on. My background in technical drawing and design means I have an eye for detail and I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I’m not a designer but I like good design, so I don’t look at the architect’s plans and say, “that’s impossible.” I like challenges.
Do you usually work through an architect or directly with clients?
Sometimes we work directly with clients but mostly with architects, it’s the smaller projects without architects where things can go wrong.
Why is that do you think?
Because often the client provides only planning drawings and wants the builder to work off those, but that level of drawing doesn’t include the detailed design. That can work if the client trusts me to give them the end result and doesn’t worry about the detail, if they are happy to leave that to me. The problem is if the client is looking at the work and saying, “Oh, this should be different,” and “that should be different,” but there is no detail on the drawings to follow. If the client doesn’t provide detailed drawings then obviously I want to do it a quick, easy way which works for the client and for me, but I’m not a designer, that’s not my job, so it may not be the most beautiful design.
if you were to give some advice TO HOMEOWNERS on the best way to work with a contractor, what would IT be?
First of all they need to check the builder’s work by speaking to past clients and seeing as many projects as possible. You may find a very good builder who is a horrible person – they’ll do a beautiful job but you may get a heart attack by the end of it. So, be careful about how you pick and once you’ve chosen the contractor then trust them to do their job.
What’s the biggest problem for you on site?
Everything should be decided before we start. All the paint colours should already be chosen. Light fittings, electric fittings, sockets, the kitchen should already be designed. Everything should be in the tender document so the builder can just follow it.
There will obviously be changes, there are always changes, but as soon as we don’t have decisions we can’t carry on at the same speed. I’m losing money and the client is losing money.
Do you think that clients underestimate how much time it takes to make all their decisions?
It is difficult, there’s a lot to do, but sometimes changes are avoidable. One of my clients changed her mind about paint colours and decided to get an interior decorator involved, which caused a big delay. We had radiators and other fittings sitting around that we couldn’t install, while we waited for them to do renders and visualisations that could have been done before. I understand that when you see the new space your ideas may change, but not every single room!
What’s the best situation, from your point of view?
The best thing is to have an architect who does a full design and specification, including everything from the colour of the bathroom fittings to the flooring. It’s all there. I’m happy for clients to do the ordering, as long as it arrives on time.
Can it save the client money, to source and supply fittings themselves?
If I have to source everything then it’s more work for me and so there is an additional cost for the client. Most of my clients don’t have time, so they provide links to shops on the tender documents and samples for me to follow. To be honest, I prefer it if most items are client supplied because they can deal with any broken items or returns which takes time.
Do you have a vision of what a finished project will look like in your head or is it often a surprise?
I like it when it looks as exciting as it was on the visualisation at the beginning of the project. If it looks the same, then it’s a success!