Bay Villa was our first family home. Until we moved there we had lived a nomadic life in rented places, never getting round to making a home because work came first. When Joanna was a baby we lived in one place for eighteen months and when we left we realised with a shock that we hadn’t eaten a single meal in the house, not even breakfast. It was a case of get up, go to work, come back and sleep. Then, in 1994, we sold the lease of our first hotel, the Hill Foot, leaving us with only the Newby Bridge Hotel to run, which gave us a little money and some spare time to make our own home.
Bay Villa was a “restoration project”, a crumbling part of one of the first mansions to be built on the shoreline in Grange, designed by Francis Webster, with rooms grand enough to have been used as Grange’s Library, and a meeting place for the Plymouth Brethren. We spent the next few years doing the place up. My favourite room was the former library, in which I installed wooden panelling, oak flooring and a magnificent marble fireplace. I also made my first garden, in a Japanese style.
After our third daughter, Sara, was born, we decided to look for something larger and when the chance arose we exchanged Bay Villa for something larger up the hill, Yewbarrow House, where we still live.
Fourteen years on, Bay Villa came back on the market, and I couldn’t resist looking round it. It was like walking into the past. I had put my heart and soul into restoring that house and I felt as if five years of my life were still residing there. I had to buy it back, which I was fortunately able to do. The old library was exactly as I had left it. Even the antique gilded mirror above the fireplace, which I’d bought in the Kings Road, was still there. The other rooms needed bringing up to date which, with the help of the wonderful James Mackie and my PA Sally, we have spent the last year doing.
The result is our latest, and most modest, venture into hospitality, a boutique B & B. The hosts are Angela and Pete Haydock, who are doing a marvellous job. Their guests seem to love Bay Villa as much as I do – they have given it an amazing 9.9 rating on Booking.com.