Notes from a Home Critic: The Secret Tells of a Great Host
So, what does it mean to be a great host? Here, one of our London home critics explains all.
A great home, with great design, and a great host is what we're all about. Sometimes there are stand-out features that make our job easy - say, a free-standing roll-top bathtub in the master bedroom with a perfectly framed view of the garden. Sometimes it's less tangible and subtler than that. Here at Plum Guide, we love the stand-out design moments, but we’re equally interested in the thoughtful touches and attention to detail that separate a good host from a great host.
When I visit a home, I put it through the Plum Test. That’s 150 questions designed to break down the attributes of great design and great hosting, and check they’re up to scratch. After thousands of tests, us home critics have found that when it comes to hosting, there are actually a small handful of very tangible things that can quickly tell us we’re in the home of a meticulous, generous and truly great host. I call these things the signifiers - they’re not the most obvious things, they’re the next level down. They’re the things that show a deep level of care and attention to detail, down to every last teaspoon. And they’re the things that show a host has really put themselves in the shoes of their guests and thought through the full experience of someone staying in their home. Here are 5 of these signifiers that every great host excels at:
Hangers that treat your clothes with respect
Whenever I catch up with one of my fellow home critics, hangers are definitely part of the conversation. There isn’t a debate about which material is best (wooden wins easily), it’s more that we are always so surprised and sad to open a wardrobe and find a lonely wire hanger inside. Or an eclectic selection of plastic hangers from clothes shops that no longer exist. Have you ever tried to hang your winter coat on a wire hanger? I did. Once. It ended up like a half-formed Alexander Calder sculpture and my coat as a pile on the floor. When I open a wardrobe, I’m hoping that your clothes will be treated just as well as everything else in the home. Our great hosts have wardrobes filled with generous collections of neatly lined up matching wooden hangers (or velvet covered hangers, they’re good too!). And if you open a drawer in these homes, you might even find it lined with paper that fits with the overall design of the room as well.
Kitchen cupboards that will make Marie Kondo proud
Tom Dixon copper pendant lights hanging over an Italian marble kitchen island look wonderful. Lacanche range cookers and everything Smeg are a delight. But the inside of kitchen cupboards matter just as much and great hosts know it. When I look around a kitchen I’m hoping to discover well stocked and immaculately clean cupboards. I’m also hoping to stand in front of a hob, reach out my hand for a pan and find it neatly stacked in exactly the cupboard I was hoping to find it in. Whether you cook one meal or one hundred during your stay, using the kitchen should be as seamless and enjoyable an experience as everything else. In the homes of our great hosts, you won’t find a sole scratched pan, or too few dinner plates for your family. These hosts truly take Marie Kondo inspired levels of joy in the layout, organisation and maintenance of their kitchen cupboards.
Curtains that are fit for the job
Mattresses, pillows and bed linen are all crucial parts of a perfect night’s sleep. Blinds, shutters and curtains matter just as much. Sometimes I find bedrooms with thin blinds that won’t keep out the light. Or living rooms with sofa beds that have no curtains at all. And very occasionally I find curtains imitating fashion’s current trend for cropped trousers by hanging two feet above the floor. Our best hosts have given every sleeping space equal consideration, and if a window is a little taller or a little more unique than others, they’ve given it the personal attention it requires too.
Dirty windows get in the way of a great view. When I see layers of grime on a window, it plants a little seed of doubt in my mind. It’s the same with lightbulbs. If I walk around a home and room after room find lightbulbs that need replacing, that doubt starts to grow. You definitely shouldn’t be spending your valuable time looking at patterns of dirt rather than the view of St Paul’s Cathedral, or traipsing across the city searching for an elusive type of lightbulb. Our best hosts take maintenance very seriously so the very word ‘maintenance’ should never even enter your mind during your stay.
Home manuals that are works of art
When you’re staying in a home, you should be able to watch a film or relax in the hot-tub, rather than waste your time trying to get them to work and give up in frustration. A host’s Home Manual is the icing on the cake of a great home. The great hosts have really understood that every appliance and home operates in it’s own unique way, and they have gone to great lengths to make sure that technophile or not, it will be an absolute breeze to use everything the home has to offer. What’s more, they also tend to have the same high standards of design applied to them so look wonderful too!
Most of these elements are easy and inexpensive to fix. And if a host has paid attention to them all, you probably won’t even notice them during your stay. But invisible or not, they all add up to create a sense of care and thoughtfulness that permeates throughout the home. And that’s pretty memorable.