Updated: Jan 31
As B&B owners we realise that guests are buying a slice of our life just as much as physically staying in our house. As such they are often intrigued as to why we transformed Breedon Hall into a B&B, and how, and to that end we produced a photo album, updated every few years to show the progress over the years (we’re now on the 5th publication).
But for those of you who have not seen this much-thumbed journal, here is a potted synopsis of the why’s and the hows.
At the start of 2011, Charlotte and I were perfectly happy in our smallholding farmhouse, not in the least contemplating a move … until Charlotte’s father dropped in and mentioned had we been around Breedon Hall yet? Why, we asked? Because it’s for sale, saith he, and I think it’s cheap! So, more to satisfy curiosity than anything else, we arranged to view. I was particularly disinterested, I’d grown up in a big, leaky, cold house and knew all about the drawbacks as well as the horrendous costs to keep them up. On arrival, I was even more keen to get it over with as I had a pressing business meeting and I was already late.
Waiting for the agent to open on our first visit Jan 2011.
Driving up to the house I noted the dilapidated ancillary buildings – the former coach house and badly converted stable blocks either side of the approach drive – and the thickets that comprised the gardens. The Hall itself put on a brave face on first glance, but as soon as we got inside we could see that 4 years of empty neglect had produced a strong odour of damp and the startling austerity of the interior: the former owners had converted it into a ‘modern’ office, unhelpfully removing all decorative features such a fireplaces, ceiling coving, and sadly the original mahogany doors. Instead a repetitive litany of carpet tiles, suspended aluminium gantry lighting, brushed aluminium door, light switches and window furniture, much use of studded partitions, acres of floor-to-ceiling filing cabinets, intranet trunking on all skirtings, and acres of white emulsion replaced what had been a handsome Eighteenth century interior. Oh, and no bathrooms except for a suite of male/female toilets and a small staff kitchen!
A few shots to show the general state of the house in 2011.
I stumped off upstairs. I was determined to call off this wild goose chase, and the quickest way to do this was to inspect the roof. Ten minutes later, I returned downstairs dumbstruck … what I had found in the eaves was a gem of a new roof, which had clearly been commissioned with no expense spared! It was later explained that the quarry company, who had been the previous owners from 2000, had found a disaster of a roof and the MD of the day had ordered the whole thing replaced, including restoration of the substantial series of chimney stacks, at the vast cost of £800,000!
From that moment on, I knew that the house’s Achilles Heel was OK, and that what we were in fact looking at was (just) a straightforward restoration job. I was later to reflect on my ‘what could possibly go wrong’ sentiment because old houses more often than not have the last laugh (or laughs)!
Dealing with the ivy and the overgrown garden 2011.
But the project was feasible, so Charlotte and I, filled with the optimism and foolishness of people who should know better, took the plunge of purchasing it, BUT with the proviso that the house had to work for its living and that although we would be creating a home, we’d also create a B&B – even though neither of us had any experience in that line of hospitality.
How we did it was slightly unconventional. Instead of appointing a main contractor on a fixed price over a period of time, we used local handymen on day rate, madness in some people’s opinion. But the problem with old houses is that one problem is usually linked to another, and then another and so on, making nonsense of any fixed price contract. So you have to roll with the punches, and yes a day rate approach is not as cheap, but it sure is super-flexible and ultimately sanity preserving when deep in a full-on restoration project when everything is not quite as it seems on closer inspection!
It took nearly 6 years before we had completed 90% of the house, creating eight en-suite bedrooms, three of them for ourselves, the remaining five for letting out to guests. In the process I kissed, and rejected, no less than eleven electrical contractors, five plumbers, two heating engineers, and three sets of decorators! The trouble with the building trade is that they are still a breed unto themselves, even nowadays with mobile phones and a plethora of means of communication, yet many still persist in being uncontactable when it suits, unreliable, do sub-standard work, and are often wasteful to a criminal degree. Hence my high turnover of contractors until I eventually found guys who were professional, had high standards without being usurious, and were reliable/communicative. CheckaTrade is my tip!
Next time in ‘Getting to Know us Part 2’, I’ll shine a light on what we did before becoming proprietors of Breedon Hall & Mews!
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