Design Checklist: Guest Rooms

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.

Settle In:

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.

Sleep:

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.

Freshen Up:

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.

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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.

Cheers!

PM

Comfortable Elegance

In the project pictured below, our mandate from the clients was precise: comfortable elegance.  To achieve formal balance, we exaggerated the architectural symmetry of the room through the use of matched pairs in lighting, furniture, and drapery.  Our selections of textiles bore features of elegance, such as embroidery and damask-like forms, but were uniformly soft to the touch and devoid of the pomp glossy finishes might have suggested.

Living Room, Hearth Room Shenandoah Valley

Living Room, Hearth Room
Shenandoah Valley

Using rich, dark woods in flooring and furniture, we suggest the gravitas of age, while allowing that the newly constructed home is of today.  The client’s Persian rug – dramatically figured in chocolate, taupe, and pale aqua – provided us with the basis for a light-handed color palette that keeps a densely-furnished space from feeling cluttered or engulfing.  Custom upholstery allowed us to tailor the sofas for maximum seating.

Lighting, Interior Design Shenandoah Valley, Virginia

Lighting, Interior Design
Shenandoah Valley, Virginia

Perhaps the most pleasing detail of a room filled with beautiful elements, is our selection of four dramatic pendants, a choice that eschewed the architectural draft calling for a single, central chandelier. The quadrant of pendents spreads the overhead lighting more evenly in the space and, resembling to some extent the fixtures in old cathedrals, references the very architecture that inspired vaulted ceilings such as these.  Additional recessed lighting and sconces (not pictured) fill in the lighting gaps, while dimmers on all lighting provide a variety of mood options for any use of the space.

Living Room, Interior Design Detail Shenandoah Valley, Virginia

Living Room, Interior Design Detail
Shenandoah Valley, Virginia

From the large overview to the smallest detail, we enjoyed finding the balance between elegance and comfort.  A lovely project for lovely clients, this one stands out as a memorable recent exercise in thoughtful restraint.

-PM

The Irish House

Here is a book of photographs that inspired me early on in my design career.  The photographer, Ianthe Ruthven, visited homes across Ireland that ranged from palatial estates to wonky little cottages.  Although I loved the mansions in the way so many of us love the sets of Downton Abbey, the character of the humblest homes impressed me the most.  Close inspection revealed all the things we’re schooled to think of as inferior [crude finishes and dilapidation], but the confidence of the interiors was an education.

Image

Rather like the old woman we all love because she still slaps on lipstick and wears outrageous clothes, these little Irish homes wore their colors like a banner.  The homeowners were less concerned about hiding lamp wires and more concerned about surrounding themselves in color and comforts.  It helped me befriend our home, which we called Hodge Podge Cottage with good reason.

These rustic environments seem more relevant now than they did when I first fell in love with them. In the aftermath of the economic melt down, the emerging generation of home buyers are turned off by opulence and formality and more intrigued by simplicity of layout and innate character of materials.  The McMansion seems a relic to young buyers today; certainly it will be a symbol of an era, good, bad or indifferent.

It has been twelve years since I stumbled upon this volume in a Shepherdstown bookstore, but it still teaches me lessons.  Hopefully you’ll check it out and other works by Ianthe Ruthven, like her book The Scottish House.