Friday, 15 June 2012

Be a memorable host for all the right reasons


Yesterday, I said I'd post a bit about hosting guests, a topic I wrote about last week in in the Independent on Sunday and something I'm trying to do well right now myself.

Even if you only have a sofa, little details can really make a person feel welcome. And happy guests make for more relaxed hosts (and may even reciprocate in the future)…In the paper, space was limited, so here's the piece with added tips... (And I'd love to hear other people's tips too – best and worst guest/host experiences or ideas?)

In the tricky, open-plan living room, sofa bed situation, a room divider can create privacy (and the right one will look lovely propped against a wall when not in use too).
AA inspector Simon Numphud knows just the details that matter: “The two things most important things are a welcoming, comfortable bed and cleanliness – particularly the less obvious areas; shower curtains, pillows, plug-holes.” 

Numphud also advises “not presuming your guests’ tastes”. From number of pillows to breakfast, lack of say can feel overbearing even when kindly meant.

On which: know that thinking “it’s fine – it’s only been slept in once” is a niche attitude. Also pillow protectors (and clean pillows), plus the scent of fabric softener are more welcoming than the faint whiff of someone else’s unwashed hair, even if you're really close.

On the bed front, even if it’s a front-room fold-away, make it feel luxurious with – suggests Numphud – guest-only, high thread-count, crisp white linen, rather than the threadbare, weird coloured spare sheets gathering must in the cupboard. And have somewhere to stash bedding when not in use so you're not all sitting on the sofa looking at your guest's crumpled linen: those giant laundry bags are good (and you don't need to do Pound Shop check, they come in different designs like these).

Still on the front room bed: it doesn’t need to feel like a student sleep-over. As in a bedroom, have a lamp reachable from bed, and surface for a glass of water and a book (and ideally not just the coffee table). A chair will do, or the very portable (and beautiful) Hay DLM side table (above, left), from Nest, £140, or Ikea’s cleverly-shaped Stockholm side table (above right), £72. Clip on an Ikea Fas clamp light (above, bottom) £12.99 and you’re set. 

Room dividers, which can be folded away when not in use, are good for boosted privacy with living room sleeping – but can cost a bomb. Amazon has a decent, affordable range (or adapt an ugly one with nice wallpaper). I love the one above, made from old pallets, via Modified Originals. A decent carpenter, or enthusiastic DIY-er could knock one up easily. Find them by turing on your pallet radar, they really are everywhere. Or try eBay – here are some in Kent, UK, for example, for free.

Spare keys make a huge difference to how free even a weekend guest may feel, allowing them to nip to the shop go for a walk while you’re sleeping/showering/faffing. And, sounds obvious but it's easy to forget to mention the key for the window locks, or the knack for shifting a stiff frame – sleeping in a room without windows that open can feel very claustrophobic.

Beach lilos make excellent, cheap, emergency beds. Especially for children.

With older guests, offer a choice of blankets and sheets. A certain generation (yes, Dad, you) are very touchy about the former for their “lack of temperature control”. 

Atomic stove-top coffee maker, £259 (photo via Tim Blair)

Missing the right morning drink can make guests feel at your mercy. I prefer tea over coffee so never have the latter in stock, just hardly touched, stale packs languishing in the fridge, opened when the last coffee drinker came over – until a (frustrated) friend bought me some single serve filter coffee sachets. Meaning good fresh coffee. And in reverse, espresso heads – buy milk. I forgot I had one of these beautiful Atomic coffee makers, above, gathering dust on a shelf – acquired from my parents, who said they never used it (I just liked its curves as, sadly it doesn't seem to make Yorkshire tea). Then my brother spotted it and got it down to use... and reminded me he'd given it to the parents as a present. Oops.

Roberts Rambler radio, around £100

Bookish types will bring their own; for others – so they feel comfortable to retreat for an hour or two – new magazines, a TV, radio or wi-fi laptop are good things for mutual sanity, especially with longer-staying guests.

Nothing says pleased-to-see-you more than flowers. Or, in the case of my visiting family right now, a fridge full of beers...

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