Don't buy, do DIY

Inspired by Geri Halliwell and Kirstie Allsopp, Annie Deakin rediscovers Blue Peter.

Last week, Geri Halliwell was spotted browsing the aisles in Homebase in North London. The curvy redhead was the second buxom lady to inject glamour to DIY this month. A few days previously, former FHM pin-up and presenter Kirstie Allsopp was on TV blowing glass, sewing a cushion cover and throwing a pot. Talk about girl power.

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The downward spiral of the property market has created a boom in DIY. From Royals and celebrities to the hoi polloi, the outlook on decorating has changed. When people would have typically hired professional tradesmen, they’re doing the work ourselves. The iPod generation is buying up sewing machines, power tools and paintbrushes. John Lewis has announced a 14% rise in haberdashery sales and B&Q recently opened a vast 159,000sq ft flagship store in Surrey. Within 40 days of business, it became the best performing store in the history of B&Q.

Sales are soaring at London’s premier boutique for ribbons and trimmings. ‘I can’t believe it,’ Annabel Lewis, MD of VV Rouleaux told me yesterday. ‘Our sales are sky high at the moment. Instead of spending a lot of money on new furniture or curtains, people are adding little touches like tassel fringes and wide grosgrain ribbons to their interiors during the credit crunch.’ And instead of calling in the decorators, they’re doing it themselves.

Geri Halliwell isn’t the only pop star taking up the DIY helm. The Scottish singer Lulu, who is penning a book on interior design, frequently stocks up on ribbons from VV Rouleaux to adorn her house. Earlier this year, Lewis personally delivered feathers and ribbons to Princess Michael of Kent who has re-launched her interior design company Szapar Designs. ‘People are actually spending quite a lot of money on a £98 a metre fringe.’ Lewis has noted, ‘But, compared to buying new curtains for thousands of pounds, a little crystal fringing will make you feel better about a room.’

Kirstie Allsopp, member of the design board and co-presenter of Location, Location, Location, agrees, ‘People are feeling short of money and a bit blue. But you can brighten up your house for not a lot.’ To prove her point, she has learnt 15 crafts in six months; how to knit, spin, quilt, sew, weave, upholster, throw a pot, blow glass, arrange flowers, ironmongery and make candles, soap, stained glass and mosaics. ‘Cushion making was nostalgically lovely because it reminded me of lost skills.’ Says Allsopp, ‘So many mums had sewing machines; sewing is like riding a bicycle.’

She has been on a mission to renovate and redecorate a derelict house entirely with handmade or recycled furniture. Last May, Allsopp’s boyfriend Ben Andersen bought the tumbledown property on the North Devon coast. For 37 years, nobody had lived in it; the cottage needed a new roof, re-wiring, re-plastering, re-plumbing and total decoration – all on a shoestring budget. Channel Four filmed the renovating process for Allsopp’s new five-part series Homemade Home.

Like Allsopp, homeowners are increasingly reluctant to splash out on decorators. I, for one, am a classic case of the DIY boom. Forget tracking down a builder via facebook, I’ve discovered that grouting tiles and painting walls is unexpectedly therapeutic. Inspired by the current obsession of IKEA hacking and Allsopp’s TV series, I painted white tired-looking bedside tables and glued Portuguese tiles to the surface. Hey presto, good as new – and cheap as chips. The recession is creating a lifestyle change for all. A former city trader friend Tommy, who was made redundant, has painted the entirety of his four-bedroom house in Hammersmith. After years in the rat race, he described the manual work as his most rewarding work yet – and to our bemusement, now plans to launch a design firm.

Falling house prices, rising remortgage rates and home improvement TV shows promote Blue Peter-esque renovating on the cheap. It’s either that or the prospect of finding a Spice girl in Homebase.

Annie Deakin is Editor of

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