Beautiful Mistakes

Louise Tomlin chats with the man who rescues things that have been discarded by society and with skill, care and attention, they become treasured again – it’s a formula that can apply not only to broken chairs but to disadvantaged people too!

One of the best TV shows around in recent years, in my humble opinion, has to be the Repair Shop. It’s what I call ‘gentle telly’ and is thoroughly good for the soul. It’s been described as an antidote to today’s throwaway culture, which sums it up beautifully. This televisual masterpiece, where experts revive all manner of distressed, damaged and timeworn antiques, revolves around returning them to their former glory. The fascinating process of how these items are lovingly given a new lease of life and the lengths the very talented experts will go to, is part of what makes this show highly addictive viewing, as are the touching tales that are the back story of why the piece is so important to the owners. The reveal, when the cherished piece is reunited with the owner, has the feel-good factor going off the scale in most instances. Very satisfying.

© Jay & Co

One of the mainstays of this great program is Jay Blades, an unassuming man who pours his heart and soul into the restoration of treasured heirlooms, who in the last few years has brought his considerable renovation skills and unique brand of quirky creativity into this and also another TV hit, Money for Nothing.

These are skills that Jay has honed over the years. He says he is mainly self-taught but was incredibly lucky to have had the guidance of some masters of the art of restoration who have been his mentors. Originally from Hackney, he left school at 15 with no qualifications and experienced hard times, but eventually managed to get back on track studying for a degree in criminology and philosophy at Buckingham University.

© Jay & Co
© Jay & Co

Having built up his expertise in ‘upcycling’ and furniture restoration, he now has his own business, Jay & Co. He carries out private commissions and regularly visits local auctions and charity shops looking for items to transform into highly sought after designer gems. Jay has developed his own individual style, employing exciting colours and rich fabrics. Picking out a single leg, seam or button in a stray colour is his signature. This distinguishing quirk came about when he made what he calls a ‘beautiful mistake’ by using an unintended colour on a restoration job. Instead of correcting the mistake he recognised that it added a zing or accent that brought the piece to life, this has become something of a trademark in the work of Jay & Co. Clearly his restoration work is very much in demand, as are his TV presenting skills, having multiple series of both Money for Nothing and The Repair Shop under his belt. He’s also been a contestant on Celebrity Masterchef this year and has scooped an award in the Screen Nation Media Awards.

Giving something back to society is vitally important to this ‘humble restorer of furniture’ as he refers to himself – having had his fair share of hard times where if it hadn’t been for the help of other people, he would have been out on the street, Jay has in turn helped steer disadvantaged young people away from crime, by enabling them to learn the skills to make a living restoring furniture or other items, rather than turning to what so often is seen as the alternative, drug dealing or other criminal activities.

He was the cofounder of an award-winning social enterprise scheme called Out of the Dark and has spent many years working with community programs like Street Dreams, passing on his skills and teaching young people to become resourceful and to think outside the box.

© Jay & Co

His up-cycling ethos – making something that has been thrown out by society into something valuable, is an integral part of Jay’s philosophy in his work with people and with furniture. The parallels are there and this sensitive, creative guy is incredibly sincere in his need to restore a balance to society, where he says we shouldn’t be afraid of failure, by understanding what went wrong and learning lessons this can hopefully steer us away from failing again.

We could do with more inspiring people in the world like Jay Blades to help us see the hidden values of people and objects that are sometimes just under the surface – perhaps we just have to look a little closer?

You can find out more about Jay Blades and his work at

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