Meet the dynamic clutter-busters
Cereal bowls under the bed, old jelly moulds and smelly socks will all be banished to bin-liners as this trio overhauls your home, says Candida Crewe
Before moving house last summer, I was ordered by a friend to call in Homestraight UK. Their services are many and varied but include helping people to declutter their old home before they move out and then settle into their new one. My friend assured me it would be the best money I ever spent.
I wondered. Did I need this seemingly rather luxurious extra burden on the already over-stretched budget? But, removal men gone, husband abroad, boxes everywhere and depression rapidly setting in, I welcomed Homestraight’s founder, Julie Riley and partner Kate Hunter, with open arms. The pair arrived with their magic box of tricks containing electric screwdrivers, laser levels for picture hanging, plate stands, sticky labels for the stair and airing cupboards, and so forth. With their sleeves rolled up and their firecracking efficiency and humour, they got stuck in and set me straight in just three days. Beds were made up, pictures (that had never made it to a wall in nine years at our last house) were beautifully placed, cupboards impeccably sorted, and when they were done, there was not a cardboard box in sight. They proved themselves to be a contribution to my sanity that was both unique and priceless and I know I will enjoy the benefits of their legacy for years to come.
Yet Julie and Kate and their partner, Sim Hughes, don’t just help people to settle into their new homes. From descriptions of recent jobs, it is clear that they, as Julie puts it, “help people move on with their lives”. She cites the example of the young widower who, following the death of his wife, needed the house transformed into a more male domain for himself and his son. (Kate and Julie restyled the kitchen and threw out the things they knew would never be used again, such as the Christmas cookie presses and jelly moulds.) They found it quite a harrowing job in some ways, but essential. The place became brighter and more cheerful and efficient so the man and boy could cope without their wife and mother.
Another example is that of the desperate mother of a 16-year-old who called upon Homestraight to address the urgent matter of his bedroom.
“She couldn’t get into it for fear of being attacked by alien creatures or lost,” laughs Julie. “She wanted us to sort and style it so he’d think it was a cool place to be but which wouldn’t cause arguments between them. As we were impartial, we could come in and work with him without it turning into a battle! You can imagine, we found a cereal bowl from last month under the bed, piles of smelly socks and shoes, crumpled homework assignments “eaten by the dog”, layers of posters and Blu-Tack stains on the cream walls. After about 15 bin-liners, which he helped us fill, the desk was found and everything organised into a study zone, music zone and beanbag zone. We put teenage colours on the walls – deep blue, and that cool sort of brown-y sludge colour. The result was a delighted mother, delighted son and an end to all their arguments.”
Julie, 46, is from upstate New York but has lived in England for 18 years. She had the idea for Homestraight UK having noticed a gap in the market, namely interior decoration and redesign but with the added spin of sourcing and styling as well as the allimportant practical support and reorganisation thrown in.
“Not least,” says Julie, “for families moving from abroad who have the job, the house, the school and car but haven’t a clue where to mend a vase or buy a lampshade. They’re in a new country. The removal men plonk their things in the house, close the door and go. A study in the States last year found that the minimum cost of the failed placement of a senior executive is $1 million (£510,000). Of those which don’t work, the reason, eight times out of 10, is that the family weren’t able to settle.”
This statistic was one of the factors which prompted Julie to start the business. She had been a banker in the City but gave up when she had children. She trained at the Inchbald School of Design and decided to do something she had done all her life without knowing it – starting with endlessly rearranging her childhood bedroom, and culminating in setting up Homestraight UK last February. Her co-founders bring their own talents to the business. Sim, a former City colleague, is good with the finances and marketing. Kate, a former Roux-trained chef, doesn’t take any nonsense and has years of hands-on practical experience. The trio discovered with immediate effect that people have been crying out for their all-round service and Homestraight hasn’t looked back.
“There are,” Julie says, “lots of professionals and experts who say paint the walls yellow, who choose your sofa and curtains fabric, and develop an interior scheme but then leave it at that. A room has other things in it that need editing, decluttering, styling. There’s a huge market in the States for ‘redesign’, meaning using what you already have and improving on it from an interior decoration point of view. We all have things that are precious to us, that have memories. I am not an interior designer who likes a client to throw everything away and start all over again. We can start again, but we also very much like to work with people’s things and organise them so they can get on with the business of living. I find it satisfying helping a family to be in a position to, say, cook Sunday lunch without the husband saying: ‘Where the f---’s the frying-pan?’”
This is precisely what she is looking forward to achieving with a recent client. The company received a call from him the other day. He was tearing his hair out because his wife was overwhelmed by her own domestic chaos. He told Julie the house was a mess and not remotely cosy and his wife, who didn’t know what to do or where to start, needed serious help with reorganising, redecorating, and generally overhauling the place.
“The best present I could give her,” he told Julie, “is a gift voucher of you guys. If you come in, even for a few days, it will change her life.”
Homestraight UK charges £60 an hour or £300 a day, per person. They are on 07766 027549; 07766 055118 and 07766 310024 or www.homestraightuk.com
Talented team: from left, Homestraight’s Julie Riley, Sim Hughes and Kate Hunter