As of this writing, I’ve determined to overhaul our guest room this fall. It won’t be an easy project because the floor needs to be replaced as well as the bittersweet work of painting. However, it is exciting to me because the room has become an island of misfit pieces over the years.
In its way, the guest room is charming, an attic of disparate pieces, all storied and meaningful. Nonetheless, as a designer, I also know the value of allowing a guest room to be a simplified take on the rest of the home. This is one of those rooms where you can allow fantasy and beauty to take the lead. Here you are not beholden to the placement of the television set, nor must you consider how a light rug will withstand the march of daily traffic.
So how do you unpack an over-furnished room, laden with mementos from the past, to make it a soothing oasis for guests, even an afternoon retreat from the rest of the house for yourself?
Start with a checklist of needs only. For the guest room, it should be as simple as: settle in; sleep; freshen up.
This would have been merely unpacking clothes in the not so distant past, but today it includes making sure your friends know where to plug in their chargers and have your wifi password. We have guests who need a moment each day to check in on the rest of their world. And while the etiquette-keepers will remind us that in company we should turn off our phones and shut our laptops, I feel that whatever my guest wants to do once they retire for the night is purely their concern.
In the vein of more traditional unpacking, however, it is good design to provide a space adequate enough for a guest to open their toiletry bag and loot through it to their heart’s content. This may be a dresser that is not over-done with accents, or a desk or console table equally uncluttered.
This is not where I opine about bed size or style. The most important thing is to make the bed both cosy and easy to use. After years of “pillowing up” the guest room, I’ve learned that guests want pillows for two things: head support and snuggling. No one wants to cuddle up with a pillow they assume is irreplaceable to you, so opt for comfortable, washable goods on the guest bed. That thread-worn antique bolster is charming, but stressful when a guest is looking around for a place to stuff it during their stay. And resist the urge to put out too many pillows. When in doubt, the perfect sum is five: two fluffy ones for sitting up to read, two sleeping pillows, and a small accent pillow for color and snuggling.
A bed without bedside amenities is as senseless as a dining table without chairs. An important part of enjoying the bed is feeling like you’ve arrived once you’ve gotten under the covers and arranged things just so. This means provide bedside tables and lighting. Even if your room is a tiny New York apartment, you can hang a wall shelf beside the bed large enough for a book or a glass of water. And a wall-mounted sconce will serve your company perfectly if they need to catch a little Jane Austen before sleep.
Another important component to guest room design is knowing that privacy and light control are hugely important to many people. If you have windows in the guest room (and we hope you do), make sure you’ve dressed them to moderate noise and light from outside. There are many shading systems and options for drapery that will not only shut out the glare of a street lamp or the morning sun, but also blanket noise to provide a better oasis.
The best practice regarding “welcome” setups is to opt for less is more. I’ve been placed before baskets so laden with travel-sized lotions, sanitizers, and mouthwashes that I’ve felt more like an impulse buyer at a Rite-Aid checkout line than a guest in a friend’s home. And that pricy lotion you bought at a boutique may please one guest, but turn off another with its posh lavender scent. Trust that your guest has brought their preferred toiletries with them. It is sufficient to lay out clean towels and wash cloths and to show guests where they may find emergency toiletries (out of plain sight) should the need arise. There is a fine line between charming a guest with your attention to detail and overwhelming them with just plain stuff.
Once you start organizing your thoughts around the function of the space, as I’ve outlined above, it’s easy to see that the room really needs simple basics to start: bed, bedside tables, dresser or table top, lamps, and window treatments.
Surely rugs make it cozier, and art adds interest, but lean toward simplicity when adding the decorative elements. The degree of simplicity is determined by your own style. If you’re already a minimalist, our list of basics may be asking you to put more in the room than you might otherwise. Conversely, to the collector of many things, the imperative is to use restraint to keep the room from feeling over-saturated with your sensibility. After all, the guest holds you in high esteem, but this space should give them a little neutrality, a time out from one another. Tone it down just a notch, by curating the collections in this room.
I hope to share before and after pictures in the weeks to come and look forward to practicing what I’m preaching as I renovate the guest room in my home.