Cass Farrell: Small Restorations boss

8 Oct

Everyone on Islington Faces Blog has a story.  What would make a teenage tearaway change? Small Restorations boss Cass Farrell talks about how he turned his life around – thanks to his own strong work ethic and two amazing men. It ought to be a movie. Interview by Nicola Baird

Cass Farrell with the Small Restoration joiners: (L-R) Cass Farrell, Terry Davis and Joseph Silva in the workshop.

Cass Farrell with the Small Restoration joiners: (L-R) Cass Farrell, Terry Davis and Joseph Silva in the workshop. Cass Farrell: “Islington’s got better, and we get larger jobs. In the past someone would want to change a window or a door. Now they want to change the whole house.”

“You’ve got to work for your luck – everyone will be lucky somewhere but then you’ve got to grasp it,” says Cass Farrell in the office of Small Restorations, the joinery shop in Blackstock Road that offers the sort of old-fashioned service that Islington home owners want. Local businesses love it too: as a result Small Restorations has helped stamp a unique identity on Blackstock Road by creating shop and restaurant fronts for the Woodbine pub, Gathering Moss, Out of the Attic and more recently for Cinnamon Village 2 as well as Seasons and Blossoms.

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ISLINGTON FACES LIVE – to celebrate islingtonfacesblog’s 100th interview there will be a one-off live event with Nicola Baird at the King’s Head Theatre, Upper Street on Saturday 25 October 2014, from 3-5pm.Tickets are £5 in advance at https://kingsheadtheatre.ticketsolve.com/shows/873523048/events  or call the box office on 0207 478 0160. Tickets on the door will be £6.

Expect to meet local royalty – the Pearly King of Finsbury; a stargazer from Highbury Fields; stunning Ethiopian singer Hanisha Solomon; Joanna Bevan who runs a unique language cafe at Archway, the Mayor of Islington plus others.

This event is to fundraise for King’s Head Theatre.  islingtonfacesblog is delighted that Barnaby’s hairdressing salon at Highbury Barn is sponsoring the show.

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Cass Farrell.

Cass Farrell from Small Restorations:  “Blackstock Road is like a second home to me.”

Cass, now 49, grew up in Holloway off Seven Sisters. “Dad’s still got that place. He was born in Montserrat – he came here in the 1950s and hasn’t been back since because he’s scared of flying.” The family’s island home has long been swallowed by Montserrat’s infamous volcano, but Cass says his 78-year-old Dad still has a brother living there who is 105 years old. “He was one of 14,” says Cass attempting to explain the huge age gap.

The team at Small Restorations are often given gifts from happy customers. Cass Farrell: “It’s usually crates of beer but we’ve just been given this – the label says ‘Buddah will bring you loads of love, health and happiness’.”

The team at Small Restorations are often given gifts from happy customers. Cass Farrell: “It’s usually crates of beer but we’ve just been given this – the label says ‘Buddah will bring you loads of love, health and happiness’.”

Leaning back in his leather office chair, facing a wall decorated with photos and old-fashioned timber saws Cass, who has been a managing partner of the company since it was dreamt up by Colin Small 28 years ago, looks born to it. But he is quick to give credit to the two men who helped him after his Dad gave up on the out-of-control teenage son. “I’ve been lucky twice in my life. If it wasn’t for Colin Small and Tony Davis I don’t want to think where I’d be now,” says Cass.

Cass’s life story is one that movie makers might like.

Growing up in Islington
“I was a typical naughty boy. I liked fighting and kiss chase! My sister dragged me to school at Yerbury Primary school. I feel quite sorry for my mum now I’ve got children,” says Cass who is a father of four and already a granddad.

Cass’s undoing was cars, but in a strange way it was his desire to have his own vehicle that helped him end up at Small Restorations with five employees.

“I was always getting into trouble,” admits Cass who eventually ended up in a Young Offenders institute a long way from Islington. “I deserved it. I was stealing cars – all the police knew my face.”

“I made up my mind in prison that when I came out I’d get a job and not get into trouble. My dad had disowned me, but my mum used to visit in Suffolk and I didn’t want to let her down.”

Although he learnt how to brick lay in prison, his first job back in London was as a driver for a joinery business on Hackney Road. “I got £120 for six days,” remembers Cass. “I’d be paid every Friday and be short by Sunday.” But he worked hard and caught the attention of a skilled joiner, Tony Davis. “I’d finish driving jobs early and report back to the shop and get involved in sanding and priming windows and doors. Tony started teaching me all kinds of joinery. That’s when I knew I wanted to go legit and not be paid in cash. I wanted to use HP to buy a car.”

xx

Cinamon Village 2 – benches and striking shop front created by Small Restorations. This cafe is getting bigger and offers a delicious biscuit with your coffee.

Places Cass Farrell enjoys in Islington

  • xx

    Mustafa for hair cuts.

    Small Restorations takes up so much time – I do seven days a week but Blackstock Road is like a second home to me. I think everybody knows me. And I shop round here – I use Dave at Highbury Butchers (see interview with islingtonfacesblog here) and Wallers for fruit and veg. Mustafa opposite cuts my hair.

  • I jog round Finsbury Park – I like all the trees, especially in autumn.

  • The bars and restaurants on Stoke Newington Church Street are great, but I go a few times a year to Juniper, 100 Blackstock Road, N5. I really like this restaurant.

  • I’m a season ticket holder for Arsenal and go with Metal Mickey – most people know him! I always liked the old stadium, but the new stadium is getting there.

Let’s go clubbing
After a few years one of the company’s customers, Colin Small, asked Cass to work for him.

“It was the 1980s and he used to buy houses and restore them. Colin bought an old van for me too. But then came the house slump and wages were hard to come by. At that age I’d go clubbing, and at the Rocket near Holloway Road [it’s still there just by Daniel Libiskind’s crazy building at 166-220 Holloway Road, N7] I’d help the technician out. I’d been with Colin a few years when they offered me a job at weekends. I’d do clubs, set up sound systems and fix breaks. You must know it. It’s where Mega Dog, Return to the Source and The Prodigy started off. I‘m still there – I’m the longest serving member of staff!”

Colin Small, Cass Farrell and Tony Davis. “I don’t want to think about where I’d be now if I hadn’t met these two guys.” Colin retired in 2008 but lives round the corner from the joinery. Sadly Tony passed away in 2010.

Colin Small, Cass Farrell and Tony Davis. “I don’t want to think about where I’d be now if I hadn’t met these two guys.” Colin retired in 2008 but lives round the corner from the joinery. Sadly Tony passed away in 2010.

Then came the property slump. “Colin and I had always been busy but there was never enough money. So when things started picking up again and Colin decided he wanted to get a joiners’ shop so he could make things for other builders. He found this place on Blackstock Road and said to me I’ll make you a partner in the business. He warned me we may be working for no money, but I’d been working for practically nothing for two years!”

Gradually the economy picked up and Small Restorations’ turnover improved.

Now comes the good bit,” says Cass with pride. “After we were established here Tony said he’d come and work with us. He had so much knowledge, and I hadn’t finished my apprenticeship with him. He worked with us for years. It was a big blow when Tony passed away four years ago, he was like a father to me.”

In an even nicer twist to this story it turns out that Tony’s son, Terry, now works at Small Restorations.

Colin Small with his wife Jacqui and Cass Farrell pose at a house on Richmond Avenue where they’d created a grand Sphinx entrance. “We’ve still got the casts at Small Restorations, they’re different for the left and right,” says Cass.

Colin Small with his wife Jacqui and Cass Farrell pose at a house on Richmond Avenue where they’d created a grand Sphinx entrance. “We’ve still got the casts at Small Restorations, they’re different for the left and right,” says Cass.

Keep it clean
So what are Cass’ tips for coping with building work?

“It’s a big deal having windows or a staircase taken out so some people get worried. You have to remember that you’re going into someone’s house so you’ve got to be ultra clean and not leave the place in a state. Some people really thank us for that.” The only disappointment – for islingtonfacesblog at any rate – is that Cass has never found a mummified cat inbetween floorboards, see interview with Marco Wouters at Angel Flowers, see here. “We’ve found old coins and a newspaper clipping from the 1920s though,” he says.

A few years ago Cass and his team at Small Restorations fitted double glazed sash windows in my house. And they did it brilliantly, so I’ve recommended them to many people. Turns out there are plenty of fans – they’ve even done work for the Sultan of Brunei and the American Embassy. “I’ve worked in 1,000s of houses,” says Cass, “but I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else than Islington.”

  • Small Restorations, 199 Blackstock Road, N5. Tel: 020 7359 9753.
    Email: smallrestorations@btconnect.com

Over to you
Would you like to nominate someone to be interviewed? Or would you like to write a guest post for this blog? if the answer is yes for either please email nicolabaird.green@gmail.com

If you’d like to feature on this blog, or make a suggestion about anyone who grew up, lives or works in Islington please let me know, via nicolabaird.green@gmail.com. Thank you. 

If you liked this interview please SHARE on twitter or Facebook. Even better follow islingtonfacesblog.com (see menu top right). @nicolabairduk

This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z  index, or search by interviewee’s roles or jobs to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola

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One Response to “Cass Farrell: Small Restorations boss”

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  1. 15 places in Islington to repair, spring clean, hack or get creative | Islington Faces Blog - February 25, 2015

    […] Cass Farrell: window maker/joiner. […]

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