As we near the end of 2021, the company's 20th year in business, we bring our focus back to our roots and to Unique Homestays founder and director, Sarah Stanley.

From growing up on a farm in a quiet corner of Cornwall, to high-end private chef, to years spent travelling the globe, Sarahís journey to create a luxury self-catering homestay company has been the perfect mix of experiences, both on a shoestring and from behind the scenes of dinner parties frequented by fashion designers.

This month, Sarah tells us what she thinks makes the perfect homestay, both at Christmas and throughout the rest of the year, along with sharing some insight to her new home and project in the Cornish countryside.

Tell us the secret to what makes the perfect homestay?

For me, itís all about providing guests with an authentic and inimitable holiday experience; a stay in a home that they simply couldnít have access to elsewhere. Within our portfolio there are homes which are filled to the rafters with historical interest, push architectural boundaries or are awash with daring artwork, but most importantly, I think the perfect homestay exudes character and soul.

What makes a Unique Homestays break special over Christmas?

Itís the individuality that each and every owner brings to the festive season at their home that sets them apart from other properties. We love to bring the outside in at all times of year, but especially over Christmas when even a discarded branch in the garden can be turned into magic.

Can you tell us about your private home?

I moved into Coswarth in the summer of 2020. It's a beautiful, Grade II-listed manor surrounded by four acres of gardens, which is where I spend most of my time when it's not raining. The main house is English elegance with a touch of rusticity thrown in, while the grounds encompass a walled garden, ivy-clad railway bridge and raw outbuildings which we hire out as shoot locations.

I have done minimal work on the house over the past 18 months or so, and so have learnt how it sits within the seasons, how the light shifts across the rooms from sunrise to twilight and how my family and I use it in everyday life. The kitchen is really the heart of the house and a space that we all tend to congregate in, so creating a larger, characterful space where functionality combines with comfort will be key here.

Embracing and enhancing the original features throughout is integral to the whole scheme, we have already uncovered stunning original floorboards in the bedrooms and removing wallpaper has revealed an authentic aged patina that weíll undoubtedly retain in areas.

Iím looking forward to creating a classic yet eclectic look through the house; unearthing the varied collection of furniture, tapestries and taxidermy that I have collected over the years to showcase. The adjoining part-derelict cottages are beautiful in their rustic state, when the time comes to renovate these it will be a case of preserving as authentic an essence as possible.

What will Christmas look like for you?

Christmas is all about family for me, and where I now live is the perfect house for a sociable celebration. Thereís the cosier dining hall, with its low ceilings and woodburner, which is atmospheric for a memorable festive feast and that then flows into the high-ceilinged drawing room; as perfect for a smaller group as accommodating dancing feet as the celebrations progress.

Weíll likely use the barn when it comes to New Year; this is where we tend†to all head for a proper knees up! We are a foodie family, so itís of no surprise that the pantry will be well-stocked for any impromptu visitors.

When it comes to the dťcor, Iíll be in the garden foraging and it will all be very nature-led. Iím of the opinion that you can never have too many fairy lights; theyíll be sparkling in the courtyard to welcome guests as much as throughout the house. I love atmospheric lighting year-round, not just at Christmas!