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Article - NZ House & Garden

The Professionals - We talk to unpacking specialist Vanessa Godbaz


vanessa godbazAs managing director of The Finishing Touch Vanessa Godbaz has coordinated more than 2000 unpacking services in the past five years. Running a company that now has sixty-five unpackers throughout New Zealand puts her previous experience in logistics and design to good use. She believes that as lives become busier there is increasing demand for professionals to take over tasks traditionally performed by the homeowner.

"The average move involves about a hundred cartons which can take around 24 hours to unpack and arrange. When people do it themselves they can take up to four weeks to get fully sorted,' she says.

So accustomed is Vanessa to working out what goes where she's in great demand at dinner parties to guess what's contained in certain cupboards!

What does an unpacking service do?

Our teams take over from where the professional moving companies leave off. We open the cartons and put all the items away. We make beds, organise the pantry, hang towels and set the electronic alarm clocks. We wipe shelves, fold and colour coordinate the contents of the linen cupboard, hang and order clothes in wardrobes and arrange ornaments and books. Although the client is often on site we try to use our initiative as to where things should go and not bombard them with questions on what is already

Do you match your unpackers to your clients?

We certainly try to. If we're working with a family we'll send out people who have children and know how to child-proof rooms and assemble cots. When we work with people moving into retirement villages we send unpackers who have experience with the elderly. Depending on the requirements of the job, it can take anywhere from a single unpacker to a team of six. Our standard service involves two people working for eight hours.

What's the biggest challenge on a job?

Running out of space to store things when people move into smaller houses or into houses that have less built-in storage than their previous homes. We'll pack the linen closet more tightly, overflow wardrobes into spare rooms and "telescope" items inside each other but there's only so much we can do. It's a good idea to rationalise your possessions before you move.

What's the most time-consuming room to set up?

The kitchen is very labour intensive; there are around twenty cartons to unpack and many items are breakable. Logic and common sense dictate where things go. The positioning of appliances and power points is a key guide. Coffee cups go near the kettle while dinner plates should be handy to the serving bench as well as the dishwasher. Pots and pans should be stored near the stove.

How are kitchen drawers ordered?

There's a fairly standard formula. Cutlery goes in the top drawer and cooking utensils in the second. Things like plastic wrap, tinfoil and tea towels go in the third drawer while the fourth is for odds and ends such as batteries, string, drawing pins, takeaway menus and anything else that doesn't have a home.

What's the number one rule for arranging objects?

It would have to be clustering - putting like with like. For example, put all the china ornaments in one place and all the glass ones in another. In a pantry all the breakfast foods such as cereals and jams should be stored together and canned food should be arranged in groups such as vegetables, soup, fish and fruit. Little girls' bedrooms tend to have lots of fiddly, sparkly pink and purple things and little fluffy things - but the same rule applies.

What makes a house feel like home?

It's the little things - ornaments placed in an appealing way, family photographs on display, a bunch of fresh flowers, fruit in bowls, bedside lamps lit - and all the paper and cartons gone. in a child's room we place a soft toy on the bed to make it more welcoming. If a client is arriving at night we turn on the outside light and lay out dressing gowns on the bed.

Do you have guidelines for putting the finishing touch to a room?

We aim for symmetry and balance when arranging objects but basically it's just a matter of taking care and paying attention to detail. When unpacking a kitchen for example we keep an eye out for lovely bowls or a utensil caddy that can be displayed on the bench top. There are rules of thumb for finishing a bed; the big euro pillows go at the back followed by standard pillows and then the smaller bolster cushions - and if there's a throw we fold it and place it at the foot of the bed. We hold staff training sessions where we use photographs from magazines to show how to make a room look good.

Do you think people move things around once your team has left?

Our workers are experienced so they do develop an eye for what works and what doesn't but clients fall into two categories; there are those who want their objects arranged exactly as they were in their previous house and there are those who think we've improved on the arrangements. But if people do have a fiddle when we leave that's fine.

Any special hints for a successful move?

Put together a survival kit containing essentials that will be needed immediately such as tea, coffee, a kettle, children's snacks and pet leads and bowls. We also recommend keeping a close eye on things that can be difficult to locate screws and legs for beds, remote controls, telephone and mobile phone charger.

Interview with Shelley Bridgeman
NZ House and Garden April 2004

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