In the second of her articles on setting up a chambres d’hôtes or maison d’hôtes in France, Denyse Betts shares her tips and tricks for creating the perfect ambiance.
Of all the challenges that await you in a chambre d’hôtes or maison d’hôtes, designing a bedroom from scratch is probably one of the most demanding. Bringing this room to life can be an exhilarating experience, but it requires some thought before making it feel homelike. Just remember, this is not just any bedroom; it is rented space, which means you have to take several issues into consideration.
Decorating your Chambre d’hote: creating the perfect bedroom
This bedroom is not only about comfort and romance; it also has to do with safety rules and basic hygiene. It is meant to be an oasis of peace and quiet, but at the same time, it has to be kept tidy, spotless, safe and ready for use at all times. The first challenge for the owner is to think about placing the furniture, the bed in particular, so as not to hinder movement when changing the sheets, vacuuming and dusting, all within a small-time frame, about twenty minutes, no more, no less. You also have to put some thought into preventing your guests from tripping over small decorative objects, such as a small ottoman poof or a footstool, that can make a great impression but could cause a problem if a guest is unfamiliar with the surroundings. It is wise to provide a night light (veilleuse) that can be plugged into the wall at night.
Decorating a bedroom means you have to think about scale, colour, functionality, overall visual appeal, and your budget, of course. There are no set rules, but this article is meant to be a helpful guide. Whether you are experienced or not, the first thing to do to get any inspiration is to check out decorating magazines and websites that will spark some ideas and get you started on a theme and how to go about it, keeping in mind that, these days, bedrooms tend to be up-scale. Why a theme? Because this room is also about theatre. You want to impress, and at the same time, you want to create a mood rather than a particular style. Don’t be intimidated, don’t treat it like a chore, and embrace the challenge. With a drop of self-confidence mixed with a hint of swagger and some ingenuity, tell yourself that this can be an enjoyable endeavour.
The following are suggestions on how to plan and realise a bedroom you can be proud of and will look forward to showing your guests.
Plan the layout
First things first: always start out by measuring the room. Plan a layout on paper. Proportion is key. Make a list of things to do and things to purchase so as to avoid costly mistakes. An oversize bed or commode can be intimidating. First and foremost, depending on the configuration of the room, whether it is square, oblong or in an L-shape, you will have to determine where to position the bed. Remember, you will need space on each side of the bed in order to have a side table with a lamp. This will allow your guests to put a wristwatch, a book or if need be, a glass of water. The next thing that comes to mind is where your guests can place their luggage. You will need a bench of some kind so as to prevent them from dumping it onto the bed and risk getting the bedspread soiled needlessly. Many bedrooms in France do not have proper storage. If space and budget allow, built-in joinery can make all the difference. Otherwise, you will have to carve out some space for your guests to hang their clothes. The easy way out and the least costly is to provide a clothes rack concealed behind a folding screen. Installing a large mirror by the rack will be greatly appreciated.
On another note, a great plus is proper seating. Your guests will enjoy comfortable armchairs for reading or should you decide to provide a television set. Think of a floor lamp between the chairs. Floor lamps are versatile. They do not take up much space, and they can brighten up that corner of the room that may seem dark. Some have flexible heads that are easy to adjust and provide the right angle of light. You can always install a dainty chandelier overhead in the centre of the ceiling that can be turned on as you access the room. You can also have a small desk and chair with another lamp and a mirror. The light reflecting in the mirror should provide additional ambience.
Choose your colour scheme
Bringing the room to life with colour is another challenge. If you have the opportunity to visit a hardware store, head for the paint department and the sample colour cards on display. The good news is that today it is possible to purchase echo-friendly breathable paint. You will notice that the colour cards display has a vast choice of shades of white, blue, green, pink, grey etc. Soft neutrals are helpful in creating a soothing and restful environment. Stick some of those colour cards on the wall of the bedroom and see which one is most pleasing to the eye, both in the daylight as well as at night. Unless you are very comfortable with colour, neutral colours work best. You might also want to use wallpaper to cover walls that are not in truly great shape. The choice of wallpapers is truly remarkable. You may opt for a botanical or geometrical pattern that can give the room a crisp look. It is a quick and easy alternative. If the wallpaper of your dreams happens to be over budget, you can always wallpaper two-thirds of the wall right up to the ceiling. You can then give that wall a dado effect by installing a wooden rail (baguette in French) painted in white, nailed and glued horizontally onto the wall, where the wallpaper begins. The lower bottom part of the wall can then be painted in a colour to match the wallpaper. In any case, it does not matter which way around you decide to put the wallpaper. If you cannot make a definitive choice, you can always take a photo of the room and seek professional advice from a store. Finally, unless you are able to wallpaper the room yourself, it is probably wiser to hire a professional for the task.
Floor and window treatment
After wall treatment, flooring will require some thought. Between hardwood, engineered hardwood, carpeting, and laminate, the options are vast; the pros and cons as well. Hardwood is the first choice if you want to give the room a sense of ultimate luxury. But bear in mind that hardwood floors have their pros and cons. Everlasting and easy to clean, they are, on the other hand, noisy and cold. Carpets do absorb noise and help keep your feet warm, but they can absorb allergens as well. They are not as easy to keep clean and don’t last forever. Be aware of clearance for doors when installing wall-to-wall carpeting. A good compromise is the less costly engineered hardwood (parquet flottant) made of genuine wood built in layers that are bonded together. Laminate is cheaper and easy to clean but also cold, noisy and sensitive to humidity. If you choose wood, you might consider using area rugs to give your décor a finished look, especially around the bed. Two small rugs on each side of the bed or a larger one that extends beyond the bed will be welcomed as it will allow guests to rest their feet on a warm surface.
Windows are another important issue. Window dressing is the final touch. It is not only necessary, but it can add glamour to the room. A well-chosen set of curtains will help determine the mood you wish to convey. For romance, you can seek to dress the window with embroidered voile or French lace balloon blinds, fancy upholstered pelmets, or valences. For maximum comfort, consider a combination of shades and curtains. Curtains not only control the light, but they also reduce drafts and noise, help keep the room warm in winter and provide the necessary privacy for this type of room. Remember, there are plenty of options out there to choose from. Depending on the size of the window and their number, you can decide on how to decorate them. An affordable alternative is vinyl blinds that offer light to enter while offering excellent privacy. But blinds have a tendency to attract dust; you will have to wipe those blades on a regular basis. Many French homes have wooden shutters on the outside that can be shut at night, thus offering the privacy and darkness you need in the early morning hours. Curtains can still be added on each side of the window, as they will give a polished look to the room. Make sure they hover above the floor, a sure sign of elegance. If the window is low in proportion to the ceiling height, position the curtain pole as high as possible so as to draw the eye upward and make the room feel taller.
When purchasing blinds and curtains, it is imperative to take the right measurements. As a rule of thumb, the total width of a curtain should amount to twice the width of the window. It is advisable to purchase curtains or drapes that have a design or are textured so as to hide eventual stains that cannot always be addressed as soon as they occur. If you happen to have a radiator underneath the window, remember the radiator must be free of any fabric when it is heating. One solution is to have drapes on each side that you do not pull in winter while relying on a blind such as a roman shade made of thick fabric to shut off the cold and the light.
Give the room a polished look
Last but not least. Furniture. The bed, of course, is a big expense, but the rest of the furnishings do not have to be. Think about quality and size when choosing a mattress. Think of wear and tear; a cheaper mattress will deteriorate quickly. A more expensive one will last. If you decide to go for a large mattress, such as a queen, think of the upkeep, the sheets, the pillows, the blankets, and the bedspread that come with it. It is advisable to go down the traditional route with a box spring. It will give a finished look to a bed and show you are ready to go that extra mile to make your guests feel pampered. Box springs are not attractive and should be covered with a skirt – easy to make if you can sew. Otherwise, there are ready-made ones. Not only does a box spring make the bed more comfortable, but it also gives extra height to the mattress and makes it easier to lie on and rise up from. It also insulates the mattress from a cold floor. Headboards add a lot of class to a bed and are also comfortable should your guests be avid readers at night. Ready-made headboards can be expensive, but they are easy to make. There are plenty of DIY options that are easily available on the Internet. Pillows should also be of good quality and should be protected with a lining as well as the mattress. There are special mattress protectors which are waterproof. They are called alèses in French. To make sure your mattress will always remain absolutely clean, another contour lining, this time in fabric, should go over the waterproof one. The bedspread should be easy to clean; it is best to avoid solid colours because they could easily stain. A cheerful floral print or, if you prefer, a busy geometric design that complements the rest of the decor is the best choice.
There are many brocante stores in France that provide good options at reasonable prices. A desk, a console, chairs, side tables (they do not have to match), a small chest of drawers, ottomans, lamps, mirrors, folding screens, prints, decorative plates, etc., are easy to find, and the prices are usually quite reasonable. Furniture sourced from antique shops and markets has a history, a patina that new furniture cannot offer. They will bring character to a room and give you that edge that makes your décor so unique and charming. Make sure they are absolutely clean and look for small holes that indicate they may have been attacked by woodworm at one point in the past. Nothing to worry about as long as you can be assured that the furniture is devoid of any new infestation. Why not display some books and magazines for your guests to peruse? You can also line drawers and shelves with that extra piece of left-over wallpaper. It will add an elegant look to the bedroom.
One last tip. Try to sleep in that bedroom one night once it is ready for use. Try out every lamp, make sure the blinds work well, and check out drafts, noise, etc. Turn on the television, if you have one. Check out that the channels work as promised. You might find last-minute glitches, or you might find that it all works out well and that your décor is fitting and pleasing to the eye. If you are expecting couples with children, make sure you can provide a roller bed or even a cot. In summer, it is wise to supply an electric fan on those very warm summer nights.
You have turned a simple room into a cocoon, a haven of peace, and you are happy with your design choices. Now, all that is left for you to do is greet your guests and wish them sweet dreams.
By Denyse Betts
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