Building blocks for Whitstable’s future
Kent builder Michael Browne of Browne and Sons Ltd has been keeping Whitstable looking ship-shape for over 20 years. Thanks to his enthusiasm and talent, the town’s wonderful period properties, quaint fishermans’ cottages and atmospheric terraced house have been given a freshen up with the Browne polish. He and his colleagues have ensured that these wonderful Whitstable properties keep their distinctive appeal but are equipped for modern times. No mean feat. So how does he do it?
‘I work with local suppliers and contractors,’ says Mike who mentions that he strives to keep work in the area.
This approach has been handy during these unpredictable times and has benefitted logistics. And despite the virus which has ravished so many industries, Mike’s diary has been full as a local Whitstable builder.
‘We have been really busy during the pandemic as Construction work has been permitted throughout, but we have avoided working in occupied properties this past year as a precaution. Fortunately, we had a few empty properties to work on, and our other clients have been happy to wait until the end of current restrictions.’ Mike says.
We all know that DFLs are attracted to Whitstable for our great way of life and fabulous properties but how can Mike ensure that demanding customers are happy with the finished results?
‘We have a lot of experience of refurbishing the Victorian properties of Whitstable. We generally do a full strip out and re-build with structural alterations, bringing the properties up to current building regulations. Its hard work but very rewarding.’ he adds.
‘We always aim to conserve the period features for many of our clients. For example, we reuse the original skirtings and architraves where possible and use lime-based mortars and renders which are beneficial to the life span of the property. It’s also fun to work on contemporary designs within the older properties, and tying the two together gives great results when done right.’ he says.
These endeavours are not always straightforward. Especially not in Whitstable.
‘The terraced houses in Whitstable are quite pokey, with small rooms and narrow, awkward staircases. The bulk of our work is opening these spaces up and reconfiguring the internal layout so it is more in keeping with modern living. Working in Whitstable involves careful planning as the sites are so small with restricted work areas. I won’t even mention the parking.’ he says.
Many of the fisherman’s cottages in Whitstable date back to the 19th century and although their historic weather boarding has been helpful in keeping them from being battered from the winds, over the years these quaint properties have begun to lose their aesthetic qualities. Mike says: ‘Many of them have been updated with tiling from the 1980s and this does not tend to look good.’
Weathering the storm
Mike has been key in removing these often displeasing additions and updating to a more sympathetic template.
Not every builder throughout history has had to prepare for a pandemic but weather is something that those in the construction industry have always needed to keep a check on. And the weather over the last year has been unpredictable to say the least!
‘I always observe the weather reports and plan jobs around this. Generally, we try and do outside work such as extensions during the dry months and attic conversions and refurbs over the winter.’ says Mike.
If, as Mike says above, he has been working on jobs scheduled for over a year how have the clients been taking this? Have we really been moving towards a slower, kinder ethos due to the pandemic?
‘People are definitely more patient,’ he says and this must be welcome to the busy director. But what of Mike out of work?
‘I come from a strong family background. I was born in Ireland near Cork. We moved in the 1980s to Lewisham in London and then onto Herne Bay,’ he says.
‘We moved just before the night of the great 1987 storm,’ he says of the news flash weather event which resulted in chaos in Kent,
The storm hit Sussex, Surrey and Kent, resulting in many fallen trees and roughed-up houses. Not to mention the caravan parks which suffered hugely. But here Mike understood clearly that building was something of a profitable career move.
‘It was great business for my dad,’ he says. ‘My dad was a builder and plasterer in Kent and I learned a great deal from him,’ he adds.
His dad is now semi-retired but still helps with the business which he established in 1978.
As the sole director of this company Mike still finds time for fishing, music and socialising and is determined to keep his business busy but manageable. Because you can’t build blocks for others without building them for yourself as well.