Staying at a sensitively restored historic property should be a pleasurable experience. This was sadly not the case with a recent guest of mine who spent a less than peaceful night struggling to switch on the lights in the spare bedroom. You see, when it comes to the sensitive introduction of services into a 300 year old house, what is good for the aesthetics and integrity of the building can be highly confusing for the uninitiated visitor.
What this particular house guest didn’t realise, as he stumbled around in the darkness cursing my name, was that the table lamps, although plugged in at the floor, all ran off a circuit which was activated from a wall switch. Before beginning the restoration of my 1717 house, I had opted for this system knowing how much better panelled rooms appear in controlled, low level lighting. With a separate five-amp circuit I could activate a number of lamps from a single switch. Great when you know how.
For the hallway and staircase, I stuck to ceiling lamps operated, as in the other rooms, by elegant brass ‘toggle’ switches, made by Forbes and Lomax. The only trouble is that after five years, I still cannot remember which switch relates to which light on which floor. Were I to do it again, I would certainly put the staircase lights together on one switch, so eliminating what has become a nightly brainteaser.
As it turns out, the plug sockets, including those for the telephone and television, are cunningly hidden beneath hatches in the floor. I did not do this to confuse guests, but simply to keep the interiors as free as possible from modern clutter. There are actually plenty of places to charge your mobile phone, you just have to know where to look.
All good in theory, but, as with most of elements of my house restoration, the implementation has not been flawless. For a start, I did not always put the floor panels in sensible positions. There are several underneath door openings, and still more now covered by furniture. I did not make the floor boxes deep enough so, when chargers or adapters are plugged in, I can’t close the hatches and, still more stupidly, I did not provide sufficient lamp sockets, leaving some rooms gloomy even by 18th century standards.
A more serious incident involving the electrics occurred during a dinner party, when a guest overturned a decanter of water onto the table. I watched, mesmerised, as the liquid ran from the table and down the sloping floor (of which I am so proud) and cascaded into one of my ingenious floor boxes. There was a crackle, a small explosion and the lights went out. Unable to restore power, we went authentic and resorted to candles. The house seemed happier that way.
Brass toggle wall switches by Forbes & Lomax (020?7738 0202;
This article was originally published in Country Life magazine, October 6, 2005.