Imagine your house or flat looking as fabulous as you could make it it — if you could finish all the projects you’ve been planning and the house is clean, tidy as well as looking and smelling its best. You’ve read Marie Kondo like I have and, like me, you’ve implemented her precepts and you’re on your way to a calmer, more organised and joyful life. And then imagine that you could show your handiwork to people all over the world whom you then get to meet and who actually pay you for your efforts. This is what happens when you’re a five star Airbnb host. I wouldn’t have signed up for this platform had I not been able to host the way in which I wanted — so my inspiration is taken from some of my favourite hotels, including the Hotel de Russie, Rome, The Four Seasons, Chiang Mai, and Borga Alveria, Sicily. These three are elegant, contemporary but not minimal and all provide perfect service — welcoming and just the right amount of chat. That’s what I try to emulate in my very small way in my little patch of southwest London.
1. The Room
What I love about this room are the original Victorian sash windows, the mouldings on and height of the ceiling and the colour scheme. And for my guests, there must be high thread count white cotton sheets and chic soft furnishings — my favs are actually from M&S & TK Maxx. In this Airbnb space, fresh flowers are not optional.
2. The Tea Table
Whether one has travelled from Shanghai or Sheffield, I always prepare the tea table for my weary travellers. This includes a selection of teas (including loose tea), coffee, matcha, hot chocolate biscuits including shortbread and Kew Gardens specialities and, or course, homemade cake — this week it’s ginger with white chocolate and cinnamon. And in my house, the tea table is available all day and all night. It’s a teatable of one’s own; if Virginia Woolf had been an Airbnb host, I like to think she’d have a table laid out like this.
3. The Bath
Airbnb rather fantastically allows travellers to have a glimpse into the lives of others, if only briefly. When I moved to London in 1990 I hadn’t had a bath since I was a small child as Americans prefer to shower than to bathe. Now I find the full experience — in a roll top Victorian-style bath with candles and perfumed toiletries to be the height of low-tech luxury and an even more relaxing experience than a posh spa. I hope my guests feel the same way.
I provide a simple, healthy breakfast with British and Continental baking — this includes fresh fruit, yogurt & granola, cereal, fresh juice and scones, pancakes, hot cross buns, Belgian waffles, Welsh bakestone, croissant, brioche, pain au chocolate, British seeded loaf for toasting, homemade cinnamon pain perdu, and as a nod to my American roots, sometimes bagels with cream cheese and smoked salmon.
5. The Little Things
What impresses me about my favourite hotels, restaurants and cafes are not just the ‘essentials’ that you expect them to get right, but when a hotelier, restaurateur or shop owner makes the experience just a little more lovely than the norm. That’s why I’ve given my Airbnb a name — Windsor Road Retreat — as well as a logo that I’ve designed myself that’s in a similar style to the branding I use for my photography business. I provide the Windsor Road Retreat cards, a welcome jar of homemade biscuits & fizzy juice as well as complementary photo greeting cards on the desk in bedroom. I also provide in the sitiing room a small collection of books on Kew Gardens as well as local newspapers and magazines. If there are children as guests, they always receive a little goodie bag when they leave (thanks for that tip, Hotel Russie!).
When we moved to Windsor Road in Kew back in 2011, I really felt that I wanted to be a part of the community of our road. One of the ways I did this was to start a Facebook page — just for us. I’ve kept it going for the past seven years, providing notifications from the council and our MP, events happening in our area as well as cultural things to do in the Richmond area and London generally. I leave a card with the link for this site for my guests in the event that they’re looking for ideas for days out.
One of the best aspects of booking hotel rooms or restaurant tables today is the ability to read and share reviews of actual experiences. And this, I think, has been the main reason I’ve been so busy with my Windsor Road Retreat micro business on Airbnb and been completely happy doing so. I’ve received so many kind words from my lovely guests and I just wanted to share one of the many that have given me a great feeling of contentment.
“Mary’s house is the most beautiful, cleanest and stylish house I have ever lived. My family and I have a wonderful experience in Mary’s house. The bed is comfortable. The room is so insta-style and so cool! Especially the healthy breakfast, it is so traditional British old fashion which make my parents and I feel like we are in the movie!!! Meanwhile, Mary is really nice and friendly. Her house makes me open my mind about how beautiful a house can be. She also makes me think about how to discover beautiful things and to appreciate the beauty. Mary creates a wonderful Airbnb experience to my family and I which I definitely recommend to everyone! ”