Tuesday, 2 August 2011

The Guest Room

...the 'chamber appointed for her nightly rest' 
in which it should be evident that 
the mistress of the house herself must have been here.
With her own hand she must have
placed upon the table the favourite toilet-cushion
worked by a friend who was alike dear to herself
and her guest.

With her own hand she must have selected the snow-white linen,
and laid out, not in conspicuous obtrusiveness
a few volumes calculated for the hours of silent meditation,
when her friend shall be alone.

From The Women of England 

by Mrs Sarah Ellis 1839.

(I shall return to the matter of a well-chosen book trough.
 I know our Japanese guests like William Morris, 
but I am not sure about their reading proficiency.)

One hundred years later the voice is much the same.
It is our firm conviction that...
the touch of the mistress is always distinguishable
from that of the maid.
Even if you do not usually attend to your own house-keeping,
you should examine the guest room before your visitor arrives
and make sure that no detail that can make for convenience
has been overlooked.

From The Pleasure of Your Company 
by June and Doris Langley Moore 1933.

We would almost lay it down as a rule that
a good hostess should occasionally spend a
night or two in her spare room, so as to acquire
a little first hand knowledge
as to the amount of comfort it provides.

It is better to err on the side of excessive consideration
than of negligence.

From Our Loving Duty 
by June and Doris Langley Moore 1936.

A few years into World War II a brisk 
and somewhat bossy tone is adopted.
And here are a few more Do's and Dont's
The four B's - Blankets, Bottle, Books and Biscuit Box.
We repeat again: Remember that other people's beds
are never as warm as your own,
so give them blankets galore and bottles in cold weather.
Give them aspirins too in case they cannot sleep (!) because
a) Your bed is too lumpy
b) Your bed is not as lumpy as the one they are used to at home.

The tin of biscuits is always useful if they cannot sleep.
The chewing of its contents, someone explained recently to us
will change their blood currents, or change something-
-or-other, in case the blood-or-something
is in the wrong part of their body-or-something,
thus preventing sleep.
(We hope this is not too technical for you.)
Give them writing paper in their rooms.
It is very awkward for even the most hardened sinner
to write and abuse you to their friends
if they are eating your salt right under your nose,
or sharing a chesterfield with you in the drawing room.

If you are entertaining older people and have no fitted basin
in the room, do give them a toilet set.
One's mothers and aunties hate rushing along cold passages
to the bathrooms with their teeth out
and their hair screwed up.
It is no romance to them to meet the owner on the way
however beautiful their kimono.

To look in vain for a waste -paper-basket,
to find cigarettes but no ashtray or matches,
to open drawers and wardrobe
and discover that they are filled with
someone else's belongings,
to wake up thirsty in the night
and find the carafe empty,
are common but exasperating experiences.
You will also supply a table or desk
well stocked with writing materials,
a good reading lamp, an armchair
and a small choicely filled bookshelf -
such luxuries are neither elaborate nor costly,
but they give physically and mentally,
a sense of ease.
(They haven't finished yet.)
The inkwell should not be dry, the pens must write,
the blotting paper clean, the rattling window wedged,
the key must lock the door, curtains wide enough
and heavy enough to keep out light, 
a wax candle provided for the wakeful or nervous guest
if your electricity goes off at night.
Place lavender sachets under pillows
and in linen cupboards.

From The Family Weekend Book by Beryl Irving 1941.

And finally from Jane Eyre 
by Charlotte Brontë 1847,
preparations for a house party at Thornfield:

Thursday came: all work had been completed the previous evening;
carpets were laid down, bed-hangings festooned,
radiant white counterpanes spread,
toilet-tables arranged, furniture rubbed,
flowers piled in vases:
both chambers and saloons looked as fresh and bright
as hands could make them.


  1. 'One's mothers and aunties hate rushing along cold passages
    to the bathrooms with their teeth out
    and their hair screwed up.'

    Made me laugh. I hope you have provided your guests with all that they might need at night?

  2. This was hilarious... it got funnier as it went on! Perhaps you should frame these and hang them on the walls?! Thanks for the smiles. Jane Gray

  3. The place looks utterly charming. The juxtaposition of Milly Molly Mandy and John Betjeman is perfect, and I'm glad to catch a glimpse of your black and white Etchings & Roses. May we all visit once those important Japanese people have gone?

  4. Your guest rooms look like havens of comfort and tranquility. But, I am so thankful we have no room for guests.

  5. I'm still worried about that "toilet cushion". Has it been properly sterilised?
    Have you not heard of E. coli? MRSA?!

  6. Wonderful post - now go and fill that inkwell!

  7. No wonder they had no teeth if they spent the night eating biscuits...

    Coo, how life changes. I can't quite fit a writing desk etc into my spare room, alas.

  8. Now I feel inadequete, although my guests do get their own bathroom!
    What a delightful and amusing post, must make sure the room is stocked with biscuits and cigarettes before the next visitors!

  9. Charming, funny, lovely! Loved this post!

  10. How beautiful your guest rooms look and what impressive efforts you have made to ensure that they are comfortable and welcome.

  11. Thank you. I should just say that my tricksy photography has given the impression of a lavish suite of guestrooms. In fact, there is only one.

  12. I'll admit I swooned at the quote about overseeing your guest room's details even if the servants do the cleaning and arranging. As I look around my house I think I could really use a housekeeper and am glad not to be expecting any guests just now.
    Your guests are sure to love your room. It looks incredibly inviting! (I'm tempted to send this post to my mom, who is expecting us on Monday. Would that be cheeky?)