Meet Sian Astley: The renovation queen

A Woman’s Touch

12.07.19

Sian Astley is one of the most recognised lady builders in the UK from her work on programmes such as BBC’s “Getting the Builders in” and Channel 5’s Half Built House”. Luke Thomas chatted to her about her route into bricks and mortar and what she loves about renovations

How did you get started in the building industry?

I studied law at the University of Manchester. When I graduated, I quickly realised I didn’t have the funds to become a solicitor or lawyer. Instead I ended up working for a cavity wall tie company called Wall Tie 2000.

From there, I managed to secure a grant from Prince’s Trust to set up my own company, Home Checker. I then purchased my first house with a 100% mortgage for £1 – you used to be able to do that. Working on the property made me realise that the building industry was absolutely where I wanted to be.

Does success mean so much more to you because you’ve made your own way in what has traditionally been a male-dominated industry?

When I started out, I didn’t really consider the fact that women didn’t typically work within the sector – I simply saw myself as a female entrepreneur running a profitable business.

I think that if you embark on something expecting a negative outcome or that you don’t belong, then that’s exactly what will happen.

I firmly believe that if you’re good at what you do, recognition will follow – it’s all about knowing your subject matter.

What aspect of your career do you love the most and why?

The variety. I rarely end up doing the same thing two days on the trot. On one, I could be plumping cushions and on the next I’m damp proofing a renovation. Development and restoration work constantly challenge you. I love it.

You’re notoriously very hands on – do you think it’s important to be fully immersed in a project to influence the build?

I always tell people that whether you’re a project manager or a homeowner, you have to take the reins – be an influencer in the renovation process and lead from the front.

If you leave builders to their own devices without prescribing your own ideas and taking decisions, they’ll make them for you – they’re not mind readers.

Has your TV work influenced the way that you go about projects?

I wouldn’t say that it’s influenced my work. I’ve always been very headstrong and I’m committed to my own ideas of how things should be. But you certainly meet people that you want to work with again and again. I met a fantastic builder called Nick on the programme Half Built House eight years ago, and we’re currently discussing a brand-new project together.

It’s funny how life seems to bring you back to working with the same people – especially if they’re good at what they do.

Tell us about Moregeous Mansions.

My husband and I bought the property as a rental in 2006. We were buying and flipping residential units at the time and happened to move into the property while we were working on it. I unfortunately suffered a bad car accident during this time where I injured my back, so we ended up living there while I recovered, and we’ve been there ever since.

It’s a lovely traditional building, but it’s in the student area of Manchester and needed lots of work, which we had to do alongside our full-time jobs.

We’ve gutted it and taken it all back to brick. Once the kitchen is installed later this year, it will finally be finished. We’ve worked with AirBnb Experiences to host ‘How to Renovate’ courses at Moregeous Mansions – the first in the UK. They’ve been very popular – I thought we’d only get people from around the Manchester area, but we’ve had visitors from all across the UK.

Once we’ve completed the renovation, we’re hoping to host pop-up seminars, as well as art exhibitions. I’ve loved the journey we’ve been on with Moregeous Mansions. It’s important not to be frightened when renovating – don’t worry if it’s not done in six months, the best renovations take time, money and heaps of patience to get the optimum results.

Renovation is your passion. What sets it apart from new builds?

I worked on new builds in the noughties - they’re easy to project manage as you know pretty much what you’re going to get.

I now far prefer renovations. They’re much quirkier and more challenging; facets which are often designed out by perfection obsessed architects in new builds. A good renovation is all about celebrating a building’s imperfections.

What advice would you give to Abode2 readers who may be considering a self-build project?

Firstly, you have to be completely invested in what you’re doing. Don’t just hire a project manager and leave them to it, you have to be involved from start to finish.

It’s important that people understand how vital the planning stage is too. Don’t be afraid to make decisions, and if you’re nervous to do so, investigate. If you do your research and identify a style you love, then you won’t be disappointed.

Knowing what you want makes decisions easier. It also means that important aspects of the project won’t be left to the last minute.

Always source material samples. You need to see how differently they play together which guides that all-important palette which is integral to the outcome of the project. I’d also recommend using reclaimed materials. They add character and depth in a new build project that might otherwise end up being somewhat soulless.

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