Beyond handpicked - how and why we inspect
A lot of people use the word handpicked these days and not just greengrocers. To be honest, we’ve probably used it ourselves in the past. The trouble is, it doesn’t actually mean anything. Like hairdressers, builders and driving instructors – there are some things you just wouldn’t book without a recommendation, and one you trust at that. We only recommend places to stay that we have visited, and we reject those we wouldn’t stay with ourselves, which is currently around 60% of places that apply.
We could look at a few photos or a website, accept a place into the collection and call it handpicked without a clue how it feels to be there, in fact, it’s a disturbingly common business model. We visit, talk to the owners, enjoy a slice of cake or glass of wine, stroll the halls and gardens, peek in the bedroom cupboards. We find out what pictures don’t show, what visitors can’t describe – even what beautiful little details owners take for granted, and forget to share.
In short, soul. We accept anything from contemporary townhouse apartments to shuttered châteaux, old farmhouses and barn conversions, as long as they have personality. Some people prefer minimalist Scandi design and some prefer cosy cottages with wonky doorways, but we’d all rather be in a place that has been put together, or even allowed to fall apart a bit, with love.
We visit and see how we feel. Ok, there’s a bit more to it than that. We usually spend a few hours at a place, sometimes even stay overnight and take time to soak it all in. We’re checking for the basics of course, like cleanliness and what’s provided for guests, but we’re also looking for those little things that can’t be marketed or sold – an owner’s wry smile and sense of humour, the smell of the wildflower meadow or the creak of the rocking chair to the sound of cicadas at night. If the owners are around, we talk through a few forms for more info, get their background and, hopefully, learn how to tell their story.
This is a tough one. We don’t turn up with a list of things to tick off and there are no hard and fast deal breakers, although massive TVs in every room comes close. We don’t use a microscope to check sheet thread count and we don’t take white gloves to run along the shelves. Our visits are more of a conversation starter, a sensing mission, an emotional survey. That’s not to say they aren’t rigorous, only that the rigour is in finding the things like humanity, character and warmth, which we consider the most important part.