Newsletter Steven Ferry

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, February 2019, The Butlers Speak

Steven FerryThe Butlers Speak

by Steven Ferry

Construction Crews

Judging by the number of responses, construction projects—renovations or new-builds—are not a large part of the modern butler’s/HMs/EMs brief.

When such projects are engaged upon, the butler generally monitors the identity and numbers of workers and ensures they remain in their designated areas—the challenge being when there are many such workers in the house—and ensures they do not use the facilities as if they were guests. As one respondent said, “My Principle does not want to look out of the window and see six construction works sitting on the outside furniture meant for their family, friends, and business associates, enjoying their lunch. Some decide to sit wherever they want until caught—their foreman’s duties are to keep their workers on task; my job is to make sure the workers do their job and that they do not create more work for the staff.”

Useful hints:

  1. Sign-in-and-out sheets are helpful
  2. An initial rundown on rules and regulations when in the home is vital, which includes:
    1. Do not wander around looking in areas that you are not allowed to be or ask questions about what they see, as this is a private home, not a public space;
    2. No food or drinks inside, only eat in designated areas;
    3. Use the designated toilet;
    4. Shoe covers on (and providing extra-large ones to cover the boots inevitably worn by the workers is a smart idea);
    5. When the employers or staff are in residence, no loud music or loud talking;
    6. Anticipating that the workers do not speak English, type up a list of rules in their language;
  3. Have a copy of the work order and schedule, so you can monitor progress and know what areas the workers are meant to be in;
  4. For renovations, placing furniture in a POD is a good idea, making sure to take photographs of all the rooms, interior closets, and marking each individual drawer content, too.
  5. For properties with valuable paintings and artwork, best to hire an art curator and crew to box frame the art work, unbox and rehang when the work is done.
  6. As with all renovations, “you do not really know the extent of let’s say wood rot, until work begins. This type of issue throws a wrench in the timing of a project. I have seen small projects turn into a nightmare when black mold was discovered.”
  7. There is no substitute for keeping an eye on what the crews are doing and being willing to stick your nose in and not assume they know what they are doing. Case in point: The contractors installing a window with 8 panes in a room and right next to it, installing a window from another building on the property that only had 6 panes—extra expense, extra time based on the lack of observation.
  8. What works best for staying on top of construction projects is communication, and a prodigious amount of knowledge, too. One HM grew up with father and brothers owning construction companies, so knows to ask for a brief overview with the project manager covering the planning and permits; financials with the lawyers, depending on the scope of the project; what questions to ask the foreman (time frames, targets for the day), and to keep worksheets with projected dates of completion.

Whatever may go wrong, and something often does, the homeowner seems to think the butler/HM can resolve it with the wave of a wand, when in actuality, it requires many phone calls and remaining calm in the eye of the storm. One example of such a situation that a HM is experiencing right now is the weight of accumulating snow and ice pushing in newly installed windows on three porches that are ten stories up, and causing water to come into the condominium. Obviously, shoveling snow onto a busy pedestrian walkway 100 feet below is not an option, so what to do?

The Institute is dedicated to raising service standards by broadly disseminating the mindset and superior service expertise of that time-honored, quintessential service provider, the British Butler, updated with modern people skills, and adapted to the needs of modern employers and guests in staffed homes, luxury hotels, resorts, spas, retirement communities, jets, yachts & cruise ships around the world.