We know it's only DIY, but we like it - House & Home - Property - The Independent

We know it's only DIY, but we like it

Do-it-yourself home improvement - from sad weekend pastime for the tasteless, to the new rock'n'roll. Richard Phillips on one of Thatcher's more unlikely legacies

Do-It-Yourself is the new rock'n'roll, proclaims a colleague. He has just returned from a Saturday spent patrolling the vast recesses of one of the DIY superstores that now pepper the outskirts of our towns and cities.

If his tongue was slightly in his cheek when he said this, his words still have more than a grain of truth. DIY seems firmly on track to follow in the footsteps of other previous claimants to the title, such as foodism, alternative comedy and New Labour's pitch for street cred with Tony Blair's credentials as guitarist in a college rock band.

But why DIY? And why now?

For one, television is waking up to its appeal in a big way. There are a host of programmes and series - planned or already on air - devoted one way or another to the home and ways to make it a better place.

Part of this reflects the legacy of the Thatcher years and the retreat from community into our individual homes. Quality time became time spent at home, and what better way to spend it than on home improvements? The struggle with Polyfilla, or errant curtain rails, chimed perfectly with the Thatcherite emphasis on self-help and self- reliance. DIY is a leisure and a lifestyle activity, as much as a way to save on bills.

But the economic imperatives have also become more pronounced. Sandy Mitchell, deputy editor of Country Life and presenter of Hot Property, the new Channel 5 programme dedicated to home improvements, notes: "If you buy a home in need of modernisation, you ask a builder in, and he might quote you pounds 15,000. If you can do the work cheaper, and to the same standard, it can take the sting out of a big mortgage."

This newspaper's resident property expert, Jeff Howell, who also appears on Hot Property, adds that the problem of finding a good builder in the first place has also encouraged home-owners to take matters into their own hands.

The archetypal television DIY figure of the Sixties, Barry Bucknall, presented a programme which would have explained how to make a bathroom cabinet. Things have moved on since then, explains Howell. "The emphasis of the new home-improvement programmes is on much more practical aspects of home maintenance."

Commerce has led the way to a great extent. The vast, out-of-town warehouses have attracted a stream of people who, 20 years ago, would never have dreamt of going to their local builders' merchant.

At these new temples to DIY you can buy every conceivable item you may need to tackle a range of tasks at home, from replacing a tap washer to building an extension, many of which are incomprehensible to novices.

B&Q, the biggest DIY chain, had 283 stores spread across the country at the last count. Its last results showed the group taking pounds 1.46bn in sales, with profits of pounds 97.2m - not bad growth for a group that started off with its first store in 1969.

Most of its stores are so-called supercentres, but in the last two years, it has introduced the warehouse concept - even bigger sheds, where customers are guaranteed to find the items they want. Instead of between 15,000 and 20,000 products, a warehouse will stock a range of 40,000 products, with over 200 staff, opening at 7am. There are demonstration theatres, with experts on hand to guide the nervous beginner through all the options available to them. The warehouses also cater to the growing convergence between interior design and DIY.

The strongest proof of DIY's enhanced credentials is its encroachment into the world of the middle classes. Only middle-class approval can ultimately confer the authentic stamp of new rock'n'roll-dom on anything. This is a distinctive move away from the field's original proponents - skilled workers from the building trades, or people who had worked on building sites in their youth - to a time now when lawyers, accountants, and doctors are just as likely of a weekend to be found pulling out the Black & Decker or mixing up a bucket of cement.

The news stands, too, bear witness to DIY's new status. There are magazines devoted to all aspects of DIY, from the lifestyle pages of Country Living - definitely for the aspirational end of the market, where DIY tends to sneak in surreptitiously but is definitely part of the appeal - to the more downmarket titles such as Practical Housebuilder, very much part of the old bathroom cabinet tradition. In fact, this month's edition explains how to build a vanity unit.

DIY can be a cheap way to acquire the designs promoted in the glossy lifestyle magazines, which are otherwise out of reach for most readers. You can still show the best taste, and boast that "it cost hardly anything".

Higher up the social scale, says Sandy Mitchell, changed attitudes towards working with your hands are emerging in the shires and among the old land- owning families. This partly reflects the seizure of the crafts movement by the upper classes. Once it used to be the destiny of a second son of the gentry to become an army officer, with the third son entering the Church. Now, the second son is more likely to be found working as a gilder or picture restorer, while the third son will be a carpenter.

Lorian Coutts, spokeswoman for B&Q, says that since the stores group was launched, the profile of its customers has come to match the social profile of the nation as a whole, rather than being concentrated among the working classes as it was. Now 5 per cent of its customers are among the higher-status professional classes. "Practically everybody comes to B&Q, and the middle classes are far more comfortable with the concept now than they may have been 15 years ago."

DIY also allows men to affirm their masculinity in a world where their roles have experienced dramatic transformation. But, as Jeff Howell notes, the property revolution ushered in by Mrs Thatcher also saw a vast rise in the number of women home-owners. "Many of them dislike the idea of employing a builder, and for that reason they're quite happy to give DIY a go." His comments are backed by rising numbers of women choosing careers in the manual trades, from plumbers to electricians.

So, it's good for the bank balance and good for the soul. But DIY is also good for personal fitness - yet another of the recent candidates to be the new rock'n'roll.

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Suggested Topics
News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition attracted 562,000 visitors to the Tate Modern from April to September
art
Life and Style
Models walk the runway at the Tom Ford show during London Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015
fashionLondon Fashion Week 2014
News
Kenny G
news
News
peopleThe black actress has claimed police mistook her for a prostitute when she kissed her white husband
Life and Style
techIndian model comes with cricket scores baked in
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Energy Markets Analyst

£400000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Energy Markets An...

Junior Web Analyst – West Sussex – Up to £35k DOE

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

Nursery Manager

£22000 - £23000 per annum: Randstad Education Bristol: We are currently recrui...

Web Analyst – Permanent – Up to £40k - London

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week