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Meet our Members – David Borthwick

Meet our Members – David Borthwick Posted on 2 May 2024

Borthwick foreman Kamil Fus painting the ceiling of the Royal Lyceum Theatre

In our regular feature, we find out about members of the Scottish Decorators’ Federation. This time, it’s David Borthwick Jnr, from Borthwick Decorators Ltd, which has offices across central Scotland.

Whats your background?

My dad (also David), started Borthwick Decorators back in 1959. As a teenager, I knew I wanted to get into the business, so I started my apprenticeship in 1990. At that time, we had a London office due to the volume of work we had down there. It all came about because we were working in a lot of high-end Scottish properties. A few of our customers had flats in London too, so they asked us to decorate those. It snowballed from there and we ended up with so much work, it made sense to open a London office. I actually served most of my apprenticeship in and around London, interspersed with jobs in Scotland and one in Frankfurt, Germany.

We were mainly decorating to a very high standard in London and southeast residential properties, but we also did a fair bit of commercial work too. We worked on the Museum of London, Westminster Cathedral and Louis Vuitton shops. We had contracts in Ireland, France and Germany too. We would drive out, take our equipment with us and buy the paint on site. When our second son (Robert) was born in 2011, I decided to stop working away from home and I took over the running of the company, concentrating on working throughout the central belt. Since then, we have expanded rapidly. My dad still has a keen interest in the business and occasionally he prices up a job or two, just to keep his hand in. 

Whats your speciality?

Borthwick Decorators specialise in high-end decorating, but when Covid-19 hit, we needed to diversify. A significant part of our business involves working on new builds, but we also do a lot of factor work, where we are pitching for large housing estates, painting windows, roughcast, communal stairs and exterior railings etc. We also do commercial work for private schools, hotels and restaurants, and we count the National Trust for Scotland and Historic Environment Scotland as clients. 

We can do pretty much anything, but we are particularly proud of our wallpaper hanging skills.
We once had to redecorate a listed building in Kent, where the homeowner had stripped off the (also listed) hand printed William Morris wallpaper dating back to the 1880s. It all had to be reinstated! Luckily it was still being manufactured – at £490 per roll. We hung £11,000 worth of that paper in a day and a half. It looked absolutely incredible. 

When did you join the SDF?

The company joined the Federation about 10 years ago. We wanted the accreditation, but also, it’s all about the Scottish painting and decorating industry. It’s one of the oldest trade membership organisations in Scotland. There is a code of conduct that you need to follow, and we liked this approach. 

What’s the best thing about the Federation?

I use the advice line a lot. It’s great to just be able to pick up the phone and ask for help. We are also entering one of our jobs into the SDF Painting and Decorating Awards. It’s the first time we’ve done it and I have my fingers crossed! It’s a job we are very proud of – the renovation of the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh. The decorative work that we did there is second to none. 

How has the Federation changed?

I am glad to see that the Federation is doing a lot more on social media. 

What’s been the biggest challenge in your career?

This is an easy one – 100 per cent our biggest challenge is finding, recruiting and keeping quality staff. 

There is a huge shortage of new people coming into the industry for a start, so that means there is a huge lack of apprentices available. We used to have five apprentices on the books, but we only have two now. One left to work in another business while the other two have left the trade altogether. One of the main issues that I encounter is the lack of willingness to travel. We have offices in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Crieff, with outlets in Perth and Stirling, so we have to move people around where the work is. When I was coming up through the business, if you got a job, you just took it. We thought nothing of travelling 50 plus miles and if you had to stay overnight, then you just found digs and got on with it. We recently advertised for an estimator, but we didn’t get a single response. I’ve decided to promote from within the business, as at least I can trust that the person I train up will stay. 

What’s been your favourite job?

Oh, that’s a tough one – I am going to have to have a top three, sorry. I already mentioned the work we did at the Royal Lyceum Theatre – the main ceiling is something to behold. We had to colour match the historical paint colours which was no easy task! In particular the gold paint was tricky, but we got there in the end. When I was working down south, there was an amazing private residence we decorated in Kent (the one where they stripped off the listed wallpaper). We worked with an interior designer on that job and some of the colours were very bold and looked great as the rooms were so big. There was a lot of ornate plasterwork there too, as well as some expensive wallpaper. Although Westminster Cathedral was a while ago, it sticks out in my memory. The scale of that building was pretty incredible too – the ‘long corridor’ as they called it had panels picked out in four different colours, including gold, so it took your breath away. We got a view of London that no one else can see from the tower. When my dad handed the invoice over, they wrote the cheque there and then – that must be anyone’s favourite job! 

What would be your dream job?

Ah, now, if I could start an office in California, New England or New York state, that would suit me fine! Seriously though, we have worked on some great projects, so it’s a tough question. Maybe Number 10 Downing Street? I mean, it’s so iconic. The only thing is, I think I might be disappointed with the interior…

What are your long-term plans for the business?

I am looking to expand the business further and increase our portfolio of clients. Above all, we need to keep doing what we do well – delivering high-quality decorating. 

Tell us about life beyond work

I am married to Eliana, who is Scottish/Italian. We have four children David (13), Robert (12), Emily (10), and James (8). They are all home schooled, so that keeps us busy! My wife has a teaching background, and my dad gets involved too. We have specialised tutors for some subjects. For example, their history tutor is based in the USA, so those lessons are done online. We make sure they do loads of other activities too, so they go to the Italian school in Edinburgh on a Saturday morning where they learn Italian. They are also practising the drums in the local pipe band and they go to Taekwondo. I think we will have four black belts in the future. David is showing signs that he would like to come into the business when he is older, so that’s interesting. That would make it three generations of Davids in Borthwick Decorators! Robert is interested too. Eliana is also a director in the company. Her father’s family is from Bologna, and we have friends in Tuscany, so we try to visit as often as possible. However, our favourite holiday destination is the USA. In 2007, I ticked off 50 states and the rest of the family is not far behind with 40 states under their belts. We try to go twice a year, with California, the Southwest states, New York state, Illinois and New England being favourite destinations. Maybe I should work on opening that office in America after all!  


Picture shows foreman Kamil Fus adding the finishing touches to the ceiling of the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh.