Housekeeping… without the hassle
As the Duchess of Cambridge sets up home in Kensington Palace, author Caroline Taggart offers some (very humble) lady-friendly advice on how to get an immaculate home – the easy way
My alter ego, Her Ladyship, would not necessarily use this expression when addressing a duchess, but her first rule of housekeeping is: ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff.’ So if you don’t have time to do everything, or it’s the maid’s day off, here are a few tried and tested short cuts.
WHEN LESS IS LESS
There may well be instances in which less is more, but when it comes to dusting, less is less. Simply possessing and displaying less ‘stuff’, unless you keep it in a glass cabinet, will cut dusting time enormously. Remember also the maxim that ornaments that remain dusty remain whole. Display precious china on a high shelf and no one will notice that you haven’t dusted it lately.
What the eye doesn’t see… Polishing a metal or glass ornament or vase until it gleams and using it as a centrepiece on a coffee table will distract a visitor’s eye from undusted bookshelves.
If you can’t be clean, be tidy. Put things away when you are not using them. It’s impossible to have too much storage space, so make use of often overlooked spaces, such as nooks and crannies under the stairs or in corners. If kitchen cabinets do not reach the ceiling, use the top of them as a shelf to store ‘once in a blue moon’ items. They will probably need to be washed before they can be used but, given the infrequency with which blue moons occur, this shouldn’t be too much of a hardship.
When the chips are down, cheat. When the central heating is on, spray or wipe the radiators lightly with goodquality polish. This will permeate the house with the pleasing aroma of beeswax and give the impression of a home that has been recently and lovingly cleaned.
There’s nothing worse than a dusty chandelier. Once upon a time a housemaid would have taken down every droplet, washed it, rinsed it and patted it dry. Nowadays, when even a duchess doesn’t have many housemaids and her diary is full of official engagements, Her Ladyship recommends an easier option. Cover the floor with newspaper and, avoiding the electrical parts, spray thoroughly with an indispensable and readily available product called ‘chandelier and crystal cleaner’. Both dirt and excess spray will drop on to the newspaper and the droplets will dry to a sparkling finish without anyone going to the trouble of polishing them.
Dealing with nasty stains: if you spill red wine, don’t throw white wine over it, not only will it not remove the stain, it is a waste of (presumably) good wine. Instead, blot with paper towels and – assuming you have a siphon handy – sponge gently with soda water.
By all means keep ironing to a minimum, but good-quality bedding cries out to be immaculately smooth. Polyester/cotton emerges from the dryer or washing line in an acceptable condition, but using it denies you the considerable sensual pleasure pure cotton and linen provide. The brushed polycotton of Her Ladyship’s youth should be avoided by anyone whose idea of sensual pleasure does not include a mild electric shock on retiring.
HAVING A DOMESTIC
Engaging domestic staff requires common sense and tact. Her Ladyship recommends a day’s ‘trial’, without commitment on either side, to establish whether you like and trust the person. After all, you are likely to give a cleaner your house keys so she can come and go while you are out. Imagine trying to explain to your insurance company – or grandmother-in-law – that you gave your keys to a complete stranger, went out with a promise not to return for eight hours and came back to find the silver and jewellery missing.
When inviting friends for dinner, don’t be over-ambitious. Only the most dauntless cook tries out a complicated new recipe on an important occasion. Friends and family are generally happy to be victims of your experiments; if your guests include a visiting diplomat or a demanding elderly relative, make something familiar to you and about which you are confident.
Don’t serve anything that is going to be problematic to eat. Foods such as snails, oysters or globe artichokes may flummox someone who has never eaten them before. If you choose to serve anything like this, make sure you have mastered the technique so that guests can follow your lead.
Even the most hospitable of hostesses sometimes finds herself longing for her guests to go home. An offer of more coffee when the cups have been sitting empty for a while will often provoke the desired response of ‘No, thanks, we ought to be going’, and when one person says this, others often follow suit. Solicitous questions such as ‘Are you happy with your babysitter?’ or ‘May I call you a taxi?’ are useful if the time has come to abandon subtlety. Only as a last resort should a hostess start yawning and telling people about the gallery she has to open the next day; and only when that has failed should she disappear into her bedroom, return in her dressing gown and bid her guests a fond goodnight.Her Ladyship’s Guide To Running One’s Home by Caroline Taggart is published by National Trust Books, priced £8.99.
Daily tip from the lady archive
“HEAVEN forbid that we should go back to the days when beauty was under suspicion and plain girls were assumed to have angelic natures.”The Lady. With Prejudice. 28th April 1938