Renovating Tired Buildings

I went to see a house the other day.

Oh sure it was alright, you could move in tomorrow, if you don’t mind the nails some vandal had banged in the walls for pictures long ago discarded, or perhaps the doors that wouldn’t close. Then of course there was the running toilet, the ten years of scale on the bathroom tiles and there was the smell…………

Everything was there and sort of functioning but this house stood with hunched shoulders, as though it had just woken up when it didn’t really want to with that age old declaration “I don’t like Mondays” unfortunately followed by “I don’t think much of Tuesdays either, Wednesdays aren’t much better, and as for Thursdays…….. the week goes downhill from there doesn’t it?”

It was the sort of greeting you get from a passport control officer when, after a 92 hour flight from Swaziland, you step off a plane at Heathrow Airport at 5 am on a dreary November morning.

I looked around, everything seemed alright but why did this house feel as grey as a British Rail tea lady. Some places are like that aren’t they and very often you can’t quite put your finger on why.

I’m a great believer in intuition, gut feel. My father never believed in it, he always said that if you can’t fully support an opinion by clearly stating the facts then your opinion is worth nothing, needless to say he was not an entrepreneurial success story. I suspect many of the world’s most successful people live far more by their intuition, they might not understand it but they do recognise “bowel power,” the sense of the gut, that first instant assessment before logic kicks in and starts talking you out of what deep down inside you sense is right.

We all do it don’t we? Somehow we know the answer but we follow the logic instead then some time later we end up saying to ourselves “why did I do that, somehow I knew what the right answer was in the first place.”

While my father may have thought that believing in intuition is closely related to believing in ghosts, I have to say that I don’t share his view. I suggest that intuition is no mystery.

Have you ever thought about how powerful our subconscious mind is? When we start learning to drive a car we have to think about everything we do, it seems impossible at first but then, as our subconscious mind gains experience, things start to be come automatic, we steer, change gear, use the brakes and indicators and watch the mirror without even thinking about it. Driving becomes easy.

We walk into a building for the first time and in that very first split second while our conscious mind is busy saying “that’s an unusual colour” and starts to ponder where you last saw doors painted purple and yellow, your subconscious has been really, really busy and got the job done. Without your realising it, your eyes have scanned the room, taken a million snapshots of evidence and your subconscious mind has processed the information, done ten million assessments and calculations and come up with a comprehensive conclusion. Being subconscious you can’t actually put it into words, you can’t state what it is, it is more of a feeling, but somehow you know the whole history of this building, that it was built as a total indulgence of luxury 30 years ago but since then the owner had, as many people do, a blind spot for maintenance and a desire to fix problems only when he had to and at minimum cost.

Don’t worry, I’m coming to the point.

What I call building “tiredness” is very common, I see it all the time. It is particularly noticeable In the hotel industry and can in fact mean the difference between survival and bankruptcy. Surprisingly the owners themselves very often don’t see it. They may have an expensive hotel or villa which they rent out for what, logically to them, is the right price but somehow people book, they come and stay but never return. The customers probably won’t say that they’re disappointed, they booked on a website on the strength of a photograph that turned out to be 10 years old and arrive only to find the hotel is a mere shadow of it’s former self. They feel cheated.

Understanding building tiredness is very important for people in the hospitality industry but it can also be very useful for anyone who wishes to renovate their home. Working out what needs to be done, what is important, what isn’t and why can mean the difference between a successful or failed renovation. More importantly it can make a big difference financially. It may be that with only minor cost a major improvement can be made while on the other hand you may be wasting your time and money unless you bite the bullet and do the big job that is needed.

So where do we start. Well the first point is understanding that in fact that “feel” of building tiredness is in fact the result of your mind collecting information and coming to logical conclusions. Don’t forget your guests all have just the same feeling. Some of this may be aesthetic and a little more difficult to define, such as the colour of the walls or the shape of the room, but much will be simple, logical facts.

You can see tiredness in hotels quite often. Next time you are staying in a hotel that has a sort of dowdy feel to it, you might take the time to look around and catch up with all that hard work your subconscious mind has been doing. Consciously follow the process your subconscious did. Study the room, you will need to look at the detail. You might notice the hotel sheets are just a shade off white, there might be a cigarette burn on the edge of a shelf (always a give away), the window is dirty, a button is missing from the front of the television, the toilet seat wobbles, the cups have chips in them. Of course one of the worst things is when the awful smell of tobacco smoke is deeply impregnated into the carpet and furnishings (I suspect the only solution to the smell of tobacco smoke in a hotel room is demolition).

Look closer and you may notice the floor is chipped or worn, perhaps the joints between the tiles are dirty or damaged. Someone has redecorated but used cheap powdery looking paint, the ceiling is thin plywood rather than plasterboard, the taps are a somewhat vintage design and the blades of the fan have sagged just a little bit but enough for that smart subconscious of yours to register and draw a conclusion.

In contrast you might also note that some hotels have been in operation for many years, they haven’t been renovated and yet they still look and feel as fresh and as smart as the day they opened. How can that be?


Smart hoteliers, and restaurant owners for that matter, who know what they are doing understand the value of their asset, they know that tired hotels don’t sell and won’t win the repeat business so essential to building up a steady, reliable customer base.

The secret is to continuously maintain. Well organised hotels consider maintenance as a routine activity rather than reactionary part of their business operation. They will have a rolling programme of renovation. They may plan that every year they will take a certain number of rooms out of service and go through them cleaning, repairing or replacing anything that is not up to “as new” standard. One major international hotel chain calls this it’s CARE programme (Clean And Repair Everything).

To be successful this requires close attention to detail and the setting of high standards. Everything in a room must be looked at.

Some hotels try to do this but fail because they can’t help trying to save money. You will have seen it, they replace a cracked wall tile but couldn’t quite match the original colour. A piece of furniture has a patched piece of wood or a poorly repaired joint. For real success it is necessary to make things “as new” without compromise. Only one shortcoming can spoil the effect and give the game away, we might think it won’t be noticed but, as I have said, that subconscious is pretty smart and most likely will notice.

Progressive renovation is clever strategy, the hotel is never faced with the major financial stress of having to close for months and the huge cost of a full renovation of the whole hotel, the work is spread in many small manageable costs and is payed for as an anticipated routine expenditure.

These same principles can be applied to your house, office or other work. A good strategy I learned from a friend years ago was to identify the worst area in your house and concentrate your effort on that area to turn it into the best. You can cover one room or area each year. When you are ready for your next project once again select what has now become the worst area and turn it into the best. In this way you have an ongoing improvement process carried out in small reasonable sized projects. By improving the worst area you are maximising the overall improvement you are making to the property with each project.

Finally remember that giving that British Rail tea lady a new hairdo is hardly going to change the world.


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