Mount Pleasant Farm: A little bit of heaven

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Jem Brownlee

Sawday's Expert

5 min read

We caught up with Daisy, owner of Mount Pleasant Farm in Somerset, and talked treasure hunting in reclamation yards, the joys of designing your space from the ground up, and making a space her guests, and she, could enjoy.

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So, Daisy, what’s the story of you buying the house?

It’s a house that my mum and I had always loved, it was on the school route, and we’d always drive past it – a lovely white house on the hill. Many years later, I returned to Somerset from Leeds, where I had been working for a bank. My granddad had become really poorly and I wanted to be here just in case anything happened. Whilst I was at my parents’, I came downstairs and my mum was looking at the house on Rightmove. I didn’t really think much of it and then a few hours later, my dad said:

“You know banking is not really very you, Daisy, why don’t you just run it as a business? Why don’t you start a bed and breakfast?”

This light bulb just went off in my brain and I think, from that moment, it then took 11 days for me to go back up to Leeds, talk to an estate agent, and put my house on the market. It just was like the snowball effect, literally nothing stood in our way.

Was it just that, ‘when you know, you know’, kind of thing?

Yeah, so we came to view it and it was very old and rundown. The owners had been living in it for 54 years and they hadn’t really decorated since probably the 70s, there were a lot of carpet squares, like multicoloured…

Lots of orange? Orange and brown?

Orange, dirty brown, sludgy green – all the walls were covered in tongue and groove, all the ceilings were really, really low. I just remember coming in, viewing it, and my mum and I kind of looking at each other like, you know, we can definitely do something here. This could be magical. And my dad came out and said, “Phwoar, I’m not sure about that, girls.” Before we knew it, we had decided that we were going to buy it as a joint venture.

Those older buildings can need a lot of work, they’re often quite dark.

Upstairs we literally removed every single wall. All the ceilings – the ceilings were so low that in some of the rooms I could have hit my head and I’m only 5ft10! But once we raised the ceilings, and put skylights in, immediately it just changed the whole place. The way the house is set up, I live downstairs, and guests live upstairs, and I’ve got my own entrance. They’ve got their own entrance. I think that’s really important. You give so much of your everything to guests, your world, you let them come into your home, to your garden, you do need a bit of space too.

I think guests appreciate that division as well, rather than thinking, “oh, we shouldn’t stay in here, I’m in your space now”, and they feel a bit…

… Definitely, because I’ve been to a bed and breakfast before, and we had to walk through someone’s living room to get to the kitchen, and you’re like, “oh, sorry, sorry”.

Where did the stylistic vision come from then?

My mum is really, really creative. She’s a potter, she’s designed our family home, she was always picking up a paintbrush when we were kids. She’s always got Country Living magazines or Interior Design magazines. So, I guess from watching her do things, I’ve picked things up as well. And we just decided to take the project on together. We went to reclamation yards, Frome Market, Frome auction houses. I remember my dad walking into the barn during the renovations, and the builders were still here, and mum and I had been squirrelling things away. And he came out with his hands on his head saying: “What are you doing? None of that stuff matches!” We were like, “Wait and see” and everything sort of fell into its place.

I like home comforts with a little bit of pizazz, I guess, I love the fact that I’ve got a lot of old and new mixed in together here.

Yeah, I can see the thinking in every room. There’s a colour accent right through the room. But it’s so subtle. It’s a lovely way of doing it.

It’s a really nice way of bringing old and new together, and I think we started with the wallpaper. We went to an interior shop in Winscombe, and spent hours looking through books of wallpaper. Once we got the wallpaper for each room, we thought “right, okay, this room is going to be sort of dark and gold, and this room is going to have lots of vibrant oranges in it.” And then we kind of went from there really, it just sort of all fell into place.

Have you got a number one favourite find from all the jumble sales and reclamation yards?

I think probably our favourite find was the banister upstairs. I think it’s come from an old Indian stable. My dad and I went out to the reclamation yard together, and we thought, “right we need to try and find some kind of banister.” We looked all over and we were just about to go home and my dad sort of leant on something and was like: “Oh, Daisy, we’re never going to find anything” and with that, we both looked at what he’d put his hand on, measured it, and I am not joking, it fits the space perfectly. We’ve had to do no alterations to it whatsoever.

Do you think that’s a huge part of what guests love when they come? I love it when you go somewhere, and things have a story, and you’ve really got personality in a place. It’s so, so important.

It definitely is. I think, generally speaking, my website is quite transparent. It shows a lot of the personality of the house, there’s lots of photographs, so you can decide pretty much before you arrive whether it’s going to be for you. And almost instantly people really, really get the idea and the vibe that I’ve tried to create here. I had a couple of German guests stay last week, and she said at breakfast: “you know everywhere I look there’s somewhere new, it’s such a feast for the eyes.”

When I left banking, I did a course. I typed in, “how do you run a bed and breakfast”, this lady’s course came up. She’d been running one for 15 odd years and she did a two-day course on everything from breadmaking to marketing, all sorts of things. I thought, “well, £250, I’ll do that.” I remember her talking about the rooms, and saying that you need to be really neutral with your colours, there needs to be a lot of grey and beige.

Oh no! Really?

Yeah, “you’ve got to appeal to the masses if you’re doing something like this.” I remember sitting there thinking: absolutely not!

Just say “this is me and this is my place.” And the people who come will love it. Because if you make a neutral place, a lot of people will stay there and go. “Well, it’s alright…”

Yeah. I love the garden. I’ve never gardened before I moved here but, especially throughout the lockdowns, it’s really become something that I really love to do. But I say on the website, you know, it is a wild and rambling garden. It’s an acre of space and some parts of it are wild and there’s loads of lovely nature around. I remember one set of guests actually never even came in the door. They phoned me from the car park, well, actually as they were leaving. They were like: “we can’t possibly stay there. Your lawn isn’t manicured and your garden isn’t perfect.” And I just thought actually, you know what, this isn’t the right place for you. If you’re worried about the garden not being perfect, you’re not in the right place.

Wow. Oh, it’s so… that has to hurt. I’m told the garden attracts quite a lot of wildlife though?

There’s a barn owl that lives in the house next door, it lives in the rafters! Quite often, when I’m watering the garden late, late at night, and it’s just coming to dusk, you’ll see him silently sort of fly over the field next door. It’s amazing. There’s deer that roam in the fields around the bed and breakfast. I’ve had a hare living at the bottom of the garden. We’ve got swallows that come back every year, we’ve got newts, we’ve got bats. It’s just a plethora of wildlife. So, I think it’s a little bit of heaven.

What about the breakfast bit? Did you cook a lot before? How is it turning over breakfast for what, 10 people?

The maximum would be eight. I’ve always loved cooking. It’s always been a passion of mine and I’ve always found that foodie people are my kind of people. But I’ve never really done a lot of the things that I have to do for breakfast. I’ve never really been a bread maker, never made my own marmalade, done any of that. But my mum used to send me weekly tasks. She’d say, “come on Daisy, everyone’s going to expect a really lovely home cooked breakfast, you’re going to have to make your own bread, start making your own jams.” I remember my first few breakfasts, being really, really anxious and nervous, thinking, “oh my God, this is gonna be a disaster!” But now I could probably do it in my sleep.

Have you set it up in a kind of communal way? Or is it just that the tables are close enough together? They can talk if they want, that sort of thing?

Yeah, there’s a communal set up for tables if I have groups of guests, or if they know each other then I can put them together. But they’re only about a metre away from each other, so people can talk. That’s what I really missed during COVID. People would come down, sit at their table, just you know, “this is my food and then I’ll go straight upstairs.” It wasn’t until probably, autumn last year that people started to talk to each other again, and actually engage, and we had laughter in the house again.

Doesn’t sound like you’ve ever thought longingly of Leeds again, since you left?

No, I thought I would because I was a real party girl. I loved going out all the time. I loved working for a big office. There would always be something going on or someone to chat to you or you’d see someone that you knew and there was such a lovely buzz around the office. I thought: “oh my God, I’m gonna miss working with people.” But now I guess, my guests fill that role, and I like the chats we have instead.

Do you have lots of guests that come back?

I’ve got some really nice repeat guests. I’ve built up a really lovely network of them. And when I see certain names pop into my mailbox, I get a really lovely feeling, it’s just something nice – like having friends over. You don’t have to worry about that initial stress, wondering what they’re going to be like, you just know. Last weekend, I had three lots of all repeat guests, so I didn’t have any surprises. I just knew everyone. I knew what they’d want for breakfast.

This house seems like such a family affair. You’ve got your mum’s pottery and your sister’s art all around the house too, haven’t you?

Mum helped me renovate, dad was always on hand when there were any DIY disasters and then we’ve got a studio in the barn full of my mum’s pottery and my sister’s paintings. The paintings are dotted about the house, too, and there’s pottery in all of the bedrooms with a pot plant in it or something. The pottery and paintings are really popular and it tends to be Sawday’s guests that buy things. Sawday’s guests are always very, very arty, very nice, very polite, very kind.

I am definitely one of those kinds of people. I love a proper souvenir.

Yeah, or someone will have come, and they’ll have stayed here. They’ll have looked at the pottery and they won’t have any place for mum’s pottery, and then I’ll get an email from them six months later: “we’re going to a wedding. You had this thing that was perfect. Can you post it?” So, I’ve had quite a lot of people sort of come back and buy things on the back of that. So that’s been really nice.

You haven’t got your mum churning out breakfastware for you?

No, no, all of hers is hand built. It’s all quite a lot, I wouldn’t trust myself to wash it!

You hear a crash from a guest behind you and think, “Oh that’s gonna take a month to replace…”

Yeah. Although it’s all a sort of mix and match of things I bought from car boot sales. And people seem to like it.

I do, I like an unmatched table. When you go to a place, where everything’s too perfect. You feel like you need to be so careful about absolutely everything, and you think, “I can’t touch anything.” It makes me really uptight, those places.

Feels like a show home. And it makes you feel tense, you’re not relaxing. And that’s one of the things I love about this job, is, I greet people at the car park. And they’ve had maybe a really long or difficult journey. Or they’ve just had a month of stress at work. And you can see it in their face. They look shattered and a bit angry. And then they spend two or three nights here, and they go away and they’ll either hug you goodbye, or say something like “this has been so lovely. This has been just what we needed.” And it’s such a buzz, knowing that you’ve helped create that feeling.

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Jem Brownlee

Sawday's Expert

Often found purposefully lost in the wilderness, Jem is our junior copywriter. Hailing from a tiny village just south of Bristol, he uses his experience editing books, writing articles and running bars and restaurants to write whatever he can get his hands on. He’s happiest complaining about, but secretly loving, being sent anywhere and everywhere in search of something new. If it comes with rolling hills, creatures great and small to befriend – you might just find him there.
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