Meet Louise Oldfield. Trail-blazing B&B landlady, via Sheffield, Florence and now Margate.
You have made quite a journey before making it to Margate? Tell us about that.
We moved in to Margate between 2007-2008. Before that we’d been living in Hackney since 1999. We had moved to East London from Florence in Italy where Liam and I met. It’s going to be 20 years this year. I am basically from Sheffield, I left and went to live in Berlin when I was 18 and then to London to finish my degree in politics and German language, and then to Florence.
What brought you to Margate?
It is a combination of things really. We had gone to see a very old Georgian town house that hadn’t been lived in for about 50 years and then we went to the auction to see what happened with it, just out of curiosity. And at that auction there was somebody buying a house in Margate. It went very very cheaply but it looked like an amazing house. And at that time, in 2007, we were being priced out of the centre of Hackney where we wanted to live – we like those old-fashioned European-type city dimensions. We don’t really like living in the suburbs. I like to be able to walk into town. I like to walk to a shop any time. I don’t like to do a weekly shop. So Margate seemed like a good option.
How did you come how with the idea of opening a B&B?
The idea actually came from having the building itself. We bought the building and then decided what to do with it. The previous owner of the place used it as a bedsit; it was Grade II listed Georgian town house and it was not renovated. We wanted to do it up and realised it is a five storey house and that there is a desperate need for guest accommodation in Margate, especially for the so called boutique end of the market… We opened in 2009, which is just the year before Turner Contemporary came along.
Was it very difficult setting up your business here in Margate?
When we moved here, Margate had a lot in front of it, where they’d invested in forward planning. They knew that the Gallery was coming… They said things like there is going to be a great gallery, there is going to be a train service – at the time they said it would take an hour to London – and of course there was this investment in the old town. They were renovating the shops etc to bring stability.
A yet when we had first moved and we had already bought this place and we’d said “ok, what about the guest house thing; the B&B?” we’d ring up the council and they’d put us through to private sector housing and they thought we were making enquiries about emergency housing for homeless people. If you put B&B into the council website, that was what came up… it did not come up as tourism.
It was a difficult time. So when we first opened there were concerns about ‘what were we doing?’ rather than ‘great! what are you doing?’ It wasn’t that they were being negative but we were the first people at that time to say that we want to open an upmarket B&B and all of the advice around at that time was not being able to tell us anything. They said that nobody had done something like that before and that they thought nobody can get more than £100 for a room in this area.
So how did you come up with the name The Reading Rooms?
Around the 1800’s when the house was built, people started coming to seaside towns for leisure. Also around the same time, there were a lot of reading rooms in Margate where people could go and read when the weather wasn’t that great. Also Liam’s mother who passed away only two years ago, Magdaline Nabb, was a crime writer based in Florence and was also a children’s author. So he grew up around books and writers.
The Reading Rooms also invoked the atmosphere of that it’s a very private place and we designed it in a way that you could do things in your room. We realised that the communal dining experiences in B&Bs isn’t that great so we do room service. That way you can eat without overhearing other people’s conversations. It is a really a very private place and that is how we came up with the name The Reading Rooms.
Can you describe The Reading Rooms in 3 words?
Private, bespoke and discreet!
If you were a client in your own B&B, what would you order from your menu?
Well we press all our juices so I would probably have the juice and we also do really good fruits. And one of the things that is popular that we brought from London from our local cafe, is cream cheese, cinnamon and honey on toast, which is really good. You only need a small one! Oh and Coffee!
What do you do for fun or to unwind?
When you run something like a B&B, you are very free but you are not. You have to be there for the customers all the time, especially when I offer food all day long and it’s cooked fresh.
But one thing I have to do everyday is taking my dogs out for a walk. It is part of my day and I absolutely have to do it and I enjoy doing that.
Any advice for aspiring B&B owners?
You have to put all your heart and soul into it and it is not a thing to do if you are retiring. It is not for the faint-hearted at all. One of the things you need to know is that 80% of the people when they arrive, they are in a bad mood after a long journey – and it is not to do with you. It is your job to turn them around and make them happy and relaxed. Understand your client’s needs and live up to their expectations and beyond.
We are celebration International Women’s Day around the world, but we know that we have a long way to go. So in that sense, what do you think is the biggest issue women are facing today?
In a successful industrial nation like England, we still lack respect and what is causing us to not get paid equally as men, or we still have inequality in terms of political representation. It is the equality, it is still severely lacking.