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Windy Hill Farm

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House Guests Part II: The Saga Continues…

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Call in the experts for serious cleaning.

... and I Still Like the Miscreants.

Primum non nocere. First, do no harm.

My last column for Rural Intelligence, almost a year ago, was on House Guests. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then but the cyle continues.

As a frequent ‘borrower’ of friends’ (certain friends’… ) houses and apartments, my ultimate goal is Do No Harm. Besides the obvious enemy – fire – water should also be given due respect.

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Water is the key to life and I’ll bet we have done a million dollars worth of work in our career restoring rooms post water damage. Add in fire and the number goes to multiple millions.

The goal is to leave the house in better condition than you found it. Leave a decent tip for the maid and your cover is less likely to be blown. A decent present for the absent hosts is also key. I cleverly (and generously, I thought) called in the painters once in Palm Springs to repaint the powder room of one borrowed home as my surprise Bread and Butter gift. Granted, that might have been presumptuous, but I still think glossy black walls and ceiling was a good idea. Our hostess was a bit less convinced, but she has since come around.

So the Miscreant Boys had the house for a weekend with ‘their little friends.’ I get a call from the housekeeper mid-week after their stay: “There sure were a lot of house guests last weekend.”  Hmmmm. Wonder what that means?  “And there is a stain in the sisal I don’t know how to handle.” No problem, I would look at it Friday.

Friday came and I was dragging a huge Moroccan rug (Hermes noticeably absent) from the car into the house. It had been at the restorers after a few years of doing hardship duty as our bar rug. FYI, red wine and unsteady octogenarians do not mix.

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We hosted a charity thingy last fall and their caterers served hot mulled red wine. Trust me, for about 100 reasons, do not serve hot mulled red wine.

So I am dragging this dead weight rug into the hot house, panting, head down, when ‘the stain’ enters my field of vision. About 14” in diameter and DARK. And dead center. Maybe you heard my scream somewhere in northern Dutchess or southern Columbia counties? You might have mistaken it for a horribly injured animal. It was sort of like a hysterical seven-year-old girl’s scream, but louder and more hysterical.

Turns out House Guest Boy spotted a little Frankie accident (3” diameter) and decided to help. He Googled “How do you clean carpet?” and landed on ‘club soda.’ Well, be careful what you Google, because carpet is one thing and sisal is another. A big bottle of club soda later, the spot grew exponentially. It morphed from tiny to huge and from pale to jet black. It would (almost) have been worth the damage to see the panic on House Guest Boy’s face… almost. He said he was close to tears. That made me happy.

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Isn’t this wonderful?  This cute ‘boy band’ is named “Blood Stained Carpet.”

Well – I sort of (not really) wanted to replace that (huge, expensive) rug, anyway.

Once we were headed to a friend’s Paris apartment for a week. She called from California and asked me to check the front hall sisal. The French housekeeper told her the people who’d ‘bought’ the apartment at a benefit auction had stained it and would I see if she needed to replace it.

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I googled “man on carpet” and I got carpet on man.

Indeed, the sisal was ruined, whatever the indeterminate stain was, and I called to tell her. “So what is it?”  Pregnant pause. “Did they say what happened?”  Longer pause. “Well actually…” she said sheepishly…. Turns out the man died there (bummer). Dropped dead at the foot of the stairs. Ewwww. When Hermes scraped me off the ceiling (“He died??!! Damn! And she wondered if she needed to change the sisal???!!”) I bolted to Bon Marche and placed the order.

Which reminds me of another carpet stain…

Our first glamorous job was for a Christie’s decorative arts expert. The place was a jewel box. And as we were backing the painters and cleaners out of the space, all looking perfect, I assumed all was happily done. Silly me. 

I wandered out at 3 p.m., leaving the young, pretty housekeeper, two painters packing up, and an exterminator boy – who had nothing to do with me – in the apartment. When I returned at 5 p.m., the client and Hermes were standing in the front hall looking at a greasy circle in the pale sisal. (That damn sisal is fragile!)

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It was such a pretty apartment. Full of treasure. See Leda and the Swan? And a painting of Hermes.

What could it be? Who did this? I rub it and sniff – not paint remover. Not cleaning fluid. What is it? There was much back and forth: “The painters?” “The housekeeper?” “Oh, that’s the housekeeper’s daughter filling in for her mother. An exterminator? What exterminator??” I describe him: hot Hispanic kid.

“I didn’t have an exterminator. That sounds like her boyfriend.” We looked at that stain and the grim realization hit us all at the same moment. The three of us, shrieking, recoiled from the stain and ran for sinks to wash our hands. Jeez. 

Stark Carpet had that stuff up and out in record time.

Now: back to fire.

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It’s never good when you find this note taped to the front door: “PLEASE read this BEFORE you enter the apartment.”

Years ago, I cleverly booked Hermes’ assistant to house/dog sit while we were in India for five weeks. On Week 4, our office manager, Lynne, went to check on something at my apartment. Riding up in the elevator, the house/dog sitter sheepishly said, “I have to tell you something….” as the elevator door opened and a wave of smoke smell enveloped her. Turns out in Week 1 he had thrown a lit cigarette into the trash under the kitchen sink. Happily, per the Fire Department report (!), the flames made the pipes burst and the water put out the fire. He had spent the next four weeks frantically trying to restore the kitchen and clean up and get rid of the smoke smell – way beyond his capabilities. 

It would have almost been worth it to have seen Lynne’s face. Almost. FYI: six weeks later, no smell! 

I could go on and on… Primum non nocere. 

The all-time best advice book for housekeeping is Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House. Brilliant and packed with information. —Carey Maloney

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Posted by Samara DiMouro on 07/24/12 at 07:49 AM • Permalink