In our new ‘Insiders’ series, we are speaking to interiors and hospitality experts who are sharing their tips, advice and inspiration themed around niche topics. Ahead of the festive season, we caught up with Olive Guest, who runs beautifully designed Devon guesthouse, Glebe House with her husband, Hugo. Olive shared her expert advice about how to prepare your home for guests ahead of the festive season, drawing on her experience of hosting for guests, as well as friends and family.
Glebe House draws inspiration from Italian agriturismos – small farms that offer both accommodation and farm-to-table dining – to create a cosy and welcoming house where as much emphasis is put on the food as the bedrooms. Olive worked with Alexandra Childs of Studio Alexandra to redesign the house (which had previously been both Hugo’s childhood home and a B&B run by his parents), creating an interior scheme that is inspirational, whimsical and impeccably stylish while also feeling comfortable and homely. It’s the kind of place that invites you to kick off your shoes and curl up on the sofa in the communal living room getting to know the other guests, following a delicious four-course dinner cooked by Hugo using ingredients from the garden. Book a stay or dinner at Glebe House here.
Prepare for guests well ahead of their arrival.
Make large batches of any seasonal drinks or preserves in November, ahead of the festive season. For example, we forage Sloes in late autumn to make our signature sloe-groni winter cocktail made from sloe gin.
Whilst we don’t have as many garden flowers in the house during the Christmas period, we try to maintain as much natural colour and life in the house as possible by using indoor bulbs such as fragrant paper whites and giant amaryllis. They don’t require too much maintenance and you can pop them in lots of different shaped pots and containers for a great impact.
It might sound obvious, but we never regret stocking up on logs, kindling and natural wood/wool firelighters. Also candle ends can be used as great firelighters if necessary, wrapped up in old newspaper. If you’re feeling extra festive and crafty, old candle ends can be melted down with things like bay leaves, pinecones and cinnamon sticks into muffin tins to make fragranced firelighters.
Add home comforts to guest bedrooms to make them feel instantly at home.
We give our guests homemade chocolate buckwheat cookies upon arrival, to welcome them into the house. Also guests can leaf through a hand illustrated walk book with our top five local walks. We have a welcome pack with wi-fi codes and all other information in our guest rooms. Also, we leave selected creams and fragrances in rooms for our guests to sample.
Encourage your guests to make themselves at home.
We like our communal living spaces to feel open and comfortable, like you could happily chat to other guests, but also find your own space to get lost in an inspiring book or interiors magazine. In the evenings during winter, we light scented candles and the fire is roaring in the sitting and reception rooms.
Try to have as much natural fragrance as possible in the house.
I make things like citrus and cinnamon garlands with the kids to have around the house. We always have plenty of bay and rosemary diffusers from Cornish candle makers St Eval, and we use their festive range of candles - for example Inspiritus has been a real crowd pleaser. Guests can also sample Ffern fragrances which change every season. The winter selections are gorgeously herbal and smoky.
Prep as much of the cooking as you can do in advance.
Dinner is served in our green and white striped dining room that looks out onto the valley. Apart from the obvious preparing as much as you can the days before, we try and use as little ingredients that require prep on the day as possible and celebrate one particular ingredient and do it quite simply - for example, a whole fish to share. With drinks, we recommend opening a bottle of red wine before guests arrive and popping it by the fire to warm.
Create your own traditions with the food you serve.
We look forward to rolling pasta on Christmas Eve when it's become a bit of a tradition to have a pasta course like ragu. Usually on Christmas Day we have a whole fish to share, like brill or turbot. Throughout the season, we also enjoy cooking with local game such as pheasant and venison from our friends and neighbours. As well as the aforementioned sloe-groni, Dorset-based vodka company, Black Cow make a Christmas spirit which we add to sparkling wine for a delicious spiced festive drink.
We run a festive day of bauble painting and dried wreath making with Rosie Harbottle and Grace Allardyce of Metier Studio, and combine with our seasonal lunch at the end of November/beginning of December. It always gets us feeling really Christmassy and crafty, and excited about our Christmas and January break.
Discover more about Glebe House.