In our new guide, we talk through setting up your holiday cottage ready for guests. Part 1 covers some hand tips around furnishing your property.
Part 1: Fixtures, fittings, fabrics and furnishings
Ultimately the choice of decor will be yours, but do think of your target market when making decisions. It is difficult to be all things to all men, so consider who is likely to use your cottage. For example children and dogs think washable paints, but a romantic cottage for two can be more elegant. Think about colours that will photograph well too. Dark colours can appear drab and lacklustre when photographed (unless it’s a dining room). Light, bright, clean, fresh colours work well. Neutral colours are likely to have wider appeal. Buy more paint than you need so that you can touch up marks left by suitcases and grubby paws (both human and animal). Be prepared to freshen up the decor regularly too.
Choosing linen, towels and tea towels that are similar in colour can be a great time saver for turn rounds as they can all be washed together. When we started out we had white linen but navy blue tea towels meaning two washes! Tea towels are one of the most abused items in a holiday cottage so make sure that you have plenty of spares. Good quality linen can be obtained at reasonable prices from shops such as John Lewis and Laura Ashley during the sales. Ikea too can be good for cheap, “disposable” tea towels. But, wherever you decide to get your linen, make sure that you get plenty of spares.
If your cottage has room for a log burner, it may be worth the investment. It will add extra weeks onto your winter bookings.
Try to resist the urge to kit your cottage out with castoffs from home. We’ve stayed in cottages where we couldn’t find two matching plates! People expect matching crockery and glassware and with supermarket prices so low, there really is no excuse. Buy more than you need for spares and breakages, especially if you are buying end-of-range crockery in the sales.
When buying appliances, think “robust” and you won’t go far wrong. The old saying “buy cheap, buy twice” couldn’t be more appropriate for holiday accommodation. If it is cheap and flimsy it will get broken, and it will break on a Saturday night and, just as you’re sitting down to watch TV, the phone will ring. Buy the most robust electrical goods you can with the fewest number of settings and knobs. Complicated washing machines are also likely to generate late night phone calls from confused guests. Washer dryers are handy too and will be appreciated by foreign guests who pack lightly to reduce luggage weight.
Buy new appliances (rather than second hand), you’ll get a warranty and peace of mind – currently, brand new appliances don’t need to be PAT tested for 12 months, which is useful to know. You may well also find that when things break, it’s easier to just replace them rather than repair them. When you factor in the cost of the call out and repair plus the hassle of arranging the visit (not to mention the disruption to guests), it is often easier to replace with a new item. It is worth considering this when being asked if you want to buy the 3 year extended warranty at the checkout.
If you accept dogs, consider leaving out a water bowel. If the owner forgets to pack their dog’s bowel, you don’t really want your new matching John Lewis bowels to be used!
By far the best investment that we have made to out cottages is the addition of a dishwasher. Before the dishwasher, we would often have to re-wash up crockery that was left ‘clean’ by the previous guests. Not only has the number of “sticky glasses” reduced, but turn rounds are just that little bit easier too.
Old furniture can be uncomfortable and runs the risk of not being fire retardant. So new is best. We tend to choose darker ‘red wine’ coloured settees for obvious reasons. Consider washable removal covers for sofas and armchairs plus an extra set for the odd emergency. Some manufacturers allow additional arm caps to be purchased for a modest fee, well worth it in our view.
Small occasional tables near the sofa will help prevent people leaving glasses of red wine on the carpet. A stock of coasters will also help prevent rings and glass stains. Not everyone will use them, but some will.
Also try to avoid clutter and ornaments. People don’t want to feel like they are staying in somebody else’s house. So, if you find yourself thinking “hmmm I don’t really like that china dog any more, I think we’ll put it in the cottage” – resist!
Guests often expect the facilities to be the same, if not better, than at home. These include modern televisions, DVD and CD players and possibly satellite television and iPod docking. Internet access has become a necessity rather than a nice-to-have and will secure you extra bookings.
Shop about for the best prices when it comes to bed linen and ideally buy pure cotton. Crisp neutral colours such as white or cream look good and remember you will need at least two sets so that one can be laundered whilst the other is in use. It is surprising how pillowcases and duvet covers can get marked and stained, so a washable bed throw cannot only prevent this but also dress the room when not in use.
Pillow and mattress protectors are a must, but try to avoid the ‘sweaty’ waterproof style as they can be quite uncomfortable for guests.
If you can spare the room, king size beds are often desirable with guests. Zip and link beds are useful too as owners broaden their market by attracting families and couples by changing bedroom configuration from doubles to twins.
Ensure guests have adequate storage room and make sure they get a good night’s sleep by providing a comfortable mattress, quality curtains that block out the light and an alarm clock! It is also useful to provide hairdryers, mirrors and plenty of coat hangers.
Many owners provide towels for guests (at least one hand towel and one bath towel per guest), along with a floor mat and again ensure you have spares. Guests will expect to find a pedal bin (with liner) in the bathroom, along with a toilet brush (ideally an enclosed one with changeable heads so you can keep it fresh & clean). We have found that guests really appreciate being left a toilet roll. Nice extra touches also include liquid soap and hand cream dispensers at the sink, cotton wool in a jar and bubble bath for a relaxing soak! It is advisable to leave cleaning products for guests use and shower curtains can get grubby so buy the cleanable kind and keep a spare to change when required.
Grass can be a problem. In the summer it needs cutting every week. Obviously you need to work around your personal situation, but a paved / gravel / decked patio is a maintenance free alternative to grass.
If you can afford expensive wooden furniture then all the better. However, the cheaper so-called ‘hardwood’ furniture sold by DIY stores tends to rot very quickly if left out all year. Places like Argos sell reasonably priced aluminium style garden furniture with either a modern or classic look. We have found these to be rot, rust and hassle free.
Also consider a sun umbrella, BBQ and possibly sun loungers for guests to relax on a sunny day. You’ll probably end up replacing the BBQ every year or two regardless of how much you spend.
Plant tubs brighten up a garden / patio area but remember, they need regular watering during the summer and guests generally forget to do this. Just putting a small potted flowering plant on the garden table can brighten up the patio area during the winter months when everything can look rather drab.