Electrical fittings: Socket to the dolly-rocker gang

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The Independent Online
aGangs, Dollies and Rockers sounds like the title of a particularly naff West End musical featuring lots of leather jackets and girls who look like Olivia Newton-John. But, as Rosalind Russell discovers, to the switched-on, this has nothing to do with footlights and everything to do with illumination.

In the jargon of the electric light switch, dollies and rockers are types of switch and the gang is the number of switches on the plate.

If you move into a new house or flat and find anything smarter than a cracked white plastic switch, consider yourself ahead of the game. It is not unknown for a departing vendor to remove all his expensive switches and wall plugs and replace them with the old rubbish he inherited when he bought the place. That's if he is feeling kind. If he's not, he leaves the bare wires poking out from the walls and a pile of plastic in a box on the floor.

"It is likely, then, the seller is in breach of contract," says Jan Atkinson, a solicitor with Osbornes, a London firm. "Switches and plug outlets are deemed to be fixtures, so, if they are removed, it creates a claim for damages. In practice, it's unlikely anything will be done but it's worth sending a solicitor's letter claiming compensation, especially if the decorations have to be made good. If light fittings are removed, the wires should be made safe, not left sticking out of the wall."

When you look at the cost of replacing the switches and sockets (including TV/FM, speaker outlet and telephone) it's tempting to go straight to the nearest lighting department and buy the cheapest there is. Don't do it, advises interior designer Annabel Hall, who runs her Private Lives consultancy in Surrey.

"Good switches and sockets are vital, they're part of the whole look. If you're concerned with doing the job well, you just have to bite the bullet and pay up," she says. "That's the perfect approach, but in the real world there are lots of people who have good decorating ideas but not the budget to match." Then, she suggests, you can try painting white switches with eggshell paint, to match your wallpaper.

"They do get a bit grubby after a while, but give them a good clean with Jif and paint them again."

According to Dulux, sales of coloured paint last year exceeded magnolia for the first time. And almost a third of the UK population has decorated their living room in blue, green, yellow or red. So who needs a white switch standing out like a pair of old stilettos? Forbes and Lomax, a small south London company specialising in unusual light switches, dimmer switches and socket outlets, is on every interior designer's telephone list.

Where else would you find an Invisible Rocker? The invisible range was based on Thirties glass switches and comes with brass, chrome, nickel silver or antique bronze dolly switch or dimmer knobs. They sit flush to the wall with a bevel edged acrylic plate, allowing your wallpaper or fancy paintwork to show through. They can be square or circular and complement the invisible sockets. Unlacquered brass switches and sockets suit more traditional homes and have completely flat brass plates which mellow with time. They can also provide primed plastic switches ready for painting whatever colour you please.

The latest range of brushed stainless-steel faceplates was produced following demand from architects who needed the finish to suit their hi-tech industrial- style designs.

A stainless steel one-gang, one-way toggle (or dolly) switch costs pounds 22.71, plus VAT, an invisible plate pounds 21.84, and a nickel silver plate pounds 26.79. Are you now feverishly adding up the cost of every switch and plug in your home? Don't forget the shaver socket (pounds 72.40 in nickel silver) and a stainless steel cooker socket (to match the latest, mega-trendy stainless steel cookers) at pounds 92.37 plus VAT.

Annabel is not very impressed by the architects' new foible. "Stainless steel ... every fingermark shows," she says firmly.

BhS has just produced its first Home and Lighting mail-order catalogue which includes switches to suit more modest interior design budgets. A chrome plated dimmer switch costs pounds 13, in brass it's pounds 12 and the chrome dolly switch is pounds 12.50. To brighten up the switches you have already, they offer a decorative switch surround at pounds 3.50 for a single, pounds 5 for a double.

Even McCloud, the upmarket lighting and furniture makers, famous for their dramatic Montgolfier chandeliers (pounds 3,470 apiece) and chic wall sconces, can help the humble home designer. They sell plug covers in gilt or silver, shaped like a shell or an acanthus leaf, to fit over an ordinary three- pin plug. Just pounds 16 each.

l Private Lives 01252 850527; Forbes & Lomax 0171 738 0202; BhS Mail Order hotline 0990 247000; McCloud 0171 371 7151.

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