This week we speak to David Millington, of Millington Decor. An Essex based painter and decorator who is a self-taught sprayer and offers some great insights on business, spraying and the industry as a whole.
You can find David at www.millingtondecor.com and on Instagram @essexspraying
How and when did you start decorating?
I started decorating by chance, I used to work with bricklayers and when I can back from a long holiday in Florida I lost my job, my flat mate at the time was a painting foreman on site so sort of took me under his wing and showed me the basics. I realised I quite liked painting and stuck with it ever since.
What’s your favourite part of the job?
My favourite parts of decorating have always been the challenging/frustrating jobs, first wallpapering, I’ve been papering for a long time and some days make me feel like I’m still an apprentice when things are not going well or when I’ve made a rookie mistake. These days it’s probably spraying for the same reasons, when I first started out spraying getting the machine fired up and putting the mask on used to get my heart racing and breathing heavily at the thought of how bad things could go wrong.
What’s your least favourite part of the job?
Previously it would probably have been sanding, after all who really wants to get covered in dust and wear your fingers down to the bone, obviously dustless sanding changed all that for me about 5/6 years ago and now I often look forward to getting my electric sanders going. More recently the biggest dread is probably masking before spraying, it just seems to be unproductive time and some days the masking tape or plastic sheeting just doesn’t want to cooperate, it can make it seem like you are just wasting time and effort but the more you do it the easier and quicker it becomes, I think I’ve made peace with it now.
What’s your favourite decorating tool / piece of kit?
The obvious choices would be dustless sanders and sprayers but some recent simple tools I’ve discovered are a hair drier and a fan, sometimes I can’t believe I’ve been managing so long without these tools to speed up the drying time of filler, caulk and paint.
Tell us about your experience with spraying. How and when did you learn to do it? What advice would you offer fellow decorators looking to add spraying to their portfolio of services?
I’m a self-taught sprayer basically inspired by the recent popularity spread by social media, I spent about a year reading posts, looking into the different machine options, finding out about tips, filters and products. My top tips for anyone looking to get involved in spraying is ask questions, read posts on forums, do your research first, don’t turn up at a job with a new sprayer without knowing about tip sizes, filters, pressure etc. When you’ve bought a new machine fill it up with water and have a play about with it in your garden to familiarise yourself with the machine and make sure there are no leaks, then move on to paint, scraps of plasterboard or bits of timber in the garden are perfect for testing out your new machine and seeing how spraying with paint works. You may decide to go on a spray painting course this would be the sensible option and will potentially save you a lot of mistakes however self-teaching can be more exciting if you like a challenge. Once you have started spraying and are feeling confident mention it to everyone you meet, you need to promote it constantly, the more you spray and the more you promote it the more spraying work you will get.
Tell us a funny/memorable story about a job:
I suppose the funniest times I’ve had in decorating is when I used to work on big building sites in large groups, the banter between work mates and the characters you meet stay with you in fact I often miss those days now I currently work on my own, on the rare occasion I get to work with other decorators it can be a great laugh decorating can be a monotonous job at times and winding each other up on site definitely makes it a more pleasant experience. I will never forget we were snagging the communal area’s on a block of council flats in south London and the police had kicked in a drug dealers front door the day before, the usually very serious site manager gave a snagging sheet with “fill and touch up damage to front door” on that particular floor bearing in mind the door was mangled, the two of us young lads were stood there scratching our heads trying to figure out if this was a serious snag or was he joking.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made on a job? The biggest ‘oh sh*t’ moment?
Biggest mistakes I’ve made at work would have to be messing up wallpaper, 99% of the time its fixable and the customer doesn’t notice but when it does go wrong it can be expensive, hanging several rolls of expensive wallpaper upside down was probably my biggest mistake and cost me hundreds, now I check with the customer or look on google for an image if I’m not sure what way the pattern is hung.
If you won the lottery tomorrow, what would be the first 3 things you’d do with the money?
Probably the obvious things like buy a nice house and a sporty car but other than that I would travel a lot to sample culture in countries like Morocco, Cuba, or maybe do a tour of certain continents like South America or South East Asia.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?
I loved Superman when I was a kid so being able to fly and super strength would be fun.
If you weren’t a decorator, what would you be?
Good question, probably the only other jobs I considered was electrician or electrical engineer but electrics make me nervous, I did train as a tiler several years ago but I wasn’t quick enough and found it very hard on my back and knees so gave that up. I know I couldn’t work in an office with the same people round me all the time, I love variety in my working life and running a decorating business is full of variety and challenges, I often say to people one of the things I like about my job is I get to work at a different locations and meet someone new every week sometimes several times a week.
If you could change one thing about the industry to improve it, what would it be?
People’s perception of decorating has probably the biggest problem in decorating often perceived to be low skilled and easily carried out by unskilled people, however I do believe we are in a golden age of the trade and decorators are earning more money than ever by bringing the standard of their work up and marketing their businesses more professionally. This has been made possible through social media, decorators showing off their highly skilled work inspiring others to follow suite, customers seeing images of amazing high quality work leading them to seek out the best quality tradesman they can afford, decorators investing in machines to help speed up processes and improve quality also play a big part in this. It’s an exciting time to be in the trade that’s for sure and I’ve been in it for 25 years so far.
What do you get up to when you’re not on the brush? Any hobbies?
I try to keep fit as much as possible either from running or doing weights at the gym, although I’m finding the weights post age 40 a bit tough on the joints and have occasional flare up’s so might stick to the running for now, the way l look at is I rely on my body to carry out my work effectively so Its crucial I keep it in good shape after all I may need it to function well until 65-70. I also help out with my sons grass roots football team and it’s something that has given me great pleasure over the last 5-6 years, although it does take up a large portion of my weekends and the weather can be unpleasant at times.
If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice to make you a better decorator, what would it be?
I often wish I had started out working for myself sooner in my career however the reality is I probably wasn’t ready for that step yet, by the time I went on my own I had burnt all my bridges with the other firms I used to subcontract to and had really run out of other work options. I think when you are ready to make the leap the biggest bit of advice I could give is not to worry about quite periods things always pick up, winters can be quiet in decorating but look back at previous years and remind yourself that things always worked out ok then so they will be fine this time. Something I once heard was If you always do your best work no matter how stressful or how long it takes you will never be out of work, great advice for a novice but once you are up and running stick to your time scales, don’t spend 7 days on a 5 day job but don’t be afraid to finish a job a day early as it will compensate for jobs that run over. Also supply your own paint. Not doing this is a massive rookie mistake loads of inexperienced decorators do, you will make more money and you won’t have to worry about what cheap crap the customer has left for you to use. Finally we are currently spoilt for choice with different brands and specialised products, test paint at home for adhesion, opacity and durability you can contact manufactures for samples then test in your house either in a room or on scraps of plasterboard or timber in your shed this is crucial to avoid expensive paint failures in people’s homes.
Thanks again to David for answering my questions.
Remember you can find David on the following social media links:
Instagram @essexspraying https://www.instagram.com/essexspraying/?hl=en
Remember, I am looking to talk to as many decorators as possible over the coming months so we can share knowledge and hopefully raise the profile of the industry as a whole.
If you would like to feature in ‘An interview with a decorator’ please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org , DM me on social media or via the contact page on my website.