AkzoNobel Dulux and Show Homes paint brighter future for women decorators

New looks are her business and for decorator Steph Howles that means creating forever homes for customers and transforming the industry by advocating for more women traders.

Part of AkzoNobel Dulux’s professionally approved Select Decorator Scheme, Steph’s Show Homes enterprise scooped its top awards for the use of colour and exterior work last year.

A prima donna of painting, wallpapering and putting clients at their ease, she takes clients right through the process, from navigating the wealth of design, colour options and flows to a super stylish, mess-free finish. 

“I help them be confident and positive so they celebrate their own choices and don’t get lost in a fog of tester pots and swatches,” says Steph. “Start with your favourite colour is my advice and there’s always scope to create greater variety, for example with fabrics and accessories.”

Working independently in Warwickshire with one apprentice, her grandson Joel who is taking upskilling Dulux Academy courses, the average commission for a Show Homes’ project ranges between £1,880 to £2,000.

Clients find her through referrals and social media. “They are very effective so there is no need for me to have a website and sales remain strong – no cancellations,” she explains. Turnover is forecast for £45,000 plus this year.  

The number of women working in construction is edging up with females now 15.8 per cent of the workforce, and Steph is seeing an even gender split these days at trade shows. But when she began four decades ago they either didn’t exist or were consigned to invisible background roles. The story of her development encapsulates the obstacles women traders have had to contend with over the years.

Wanting to follow in her decorator dad’s footsteps, she told a careers officer at school who promptly dismissed it and directed her in to catering and unhappiness. 

“I couldn’t even boil an egg, but I did meet someone who needed a house decorated quickly. I offered, did it and it all took off from there,” she recalls. “I worked to gain as many qualifications and skills possible and found I really enjoyed having my own business.” 

As well as that taking her overseas and appearances on TV’s Changing Rooms, that initial disregard of her dreams also spurred her to take up a wider role, speaking up for women and advocating change that would benefit the industry. “Being a woman has helped with some customers for me, the perception is we’re reliable, tidy and take care over details,” she adds. “I’ve had six apprentices who have gone on to start their own businesses and do all I can, such as public talks, to encourage more young people.”

Most requests she gets are for staircases and halls – jobs requiring ladders, and wallpapering – something some decorators shy away from. A big fan of Graham & Brown’s paste-the-wall wallpapers, as well as the glorious patterns offered, the paste addition has helped her productivity.

The turning point however for Steph’s business was making the grade 20 years ago to become a Dulux Select Decorator, a high standard accreditation scheme with rigorous vetting that now includes 450 firms. “It put me on a professional footing backed by a big brand, I wouldn’t have progressed as I have without it,” she declares.

As spring approaches and thoughts turn to sprucing up walls and ceilings, softer hues such as Dulux’s colour of the year, its gentle blossom pink Sweet Embrace and warm neutral Wild Wonder are tipped as top choices.

“Blues can change with the light so always need care,” advises Steph whose liking for Mother Nature’s hues, is well served by Dulux’s heritage Veranda Green. 

Going forward Joel will ensure Show Homes’ succession and Steph aims to take on another apprentice. But one major difference to Show Homes growth would be a reform of the VAT threshold for sole traders.

“This needs to be more flexible for small businesses, customers won’t accept the charge so it does stop expansion, we all really need that incentive,” she explains.

Ever practical, her prize money will be spent on tools: a dust-free sander and a sprayer that paints stair spindles, normally painstaking, lengthy work, transforming them in a trice.“My passion for decorating is as strong as ever,” says Steph, “and so is my desire to show others what a great career it can be.”

Find Steph’s Home Solutions on Facebook, 

Painting a Brighter Future is a new initiative from Dulux that brings together women from across the trades to discuss how to attract more females into the sector and deliver better support. 



This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.