Comfort is key to making guests feel welcome

Late July is the height of vacation season, but instead of a week at the beach or a trip to Europe this year, many Americans are still opting for the staycation or choosing to visit friends or relatives for a long weekend.

Whether you find yourself bunking at your sister's place in San Francisco or are in the position of hosting out-of-town guests yourself, one thing is for sure: You'll soon understand the importance of a well-appointed guest room.

An uncomfortable guest room sets the stage for a memorable visit — for all the wrong reasons. I've been there, and I'm sure you have, too. Squeaky bed, pancake pillows, no room in the closet or dresser for storing your clothes. Such visits often include back pain, restless nights, and days fueled by caffeine and ibuprofen.

So unless you are some kind of sadist, or are looking for a way to discourage future houseguests, you'll want to make sure the space you offer to guests is one you would be happy in yourself.

Which brings me to my first piece of advice: Try sleeping in the bed in your guest room. Lighting, decor, storage and ambience become irrelevant if your guest tosses and turns all night.

"When designing a guest room, the most important thing is comfort," says Marianne Fishman, owner and principal designer of Marianne Fishman Interiors in Butchers Hill. "The mattress should be a good one, and any mattress topped with a feather bed is extraordinary. Use sheets that are at least 300-thread count, and soften them by ironing the pillow case and cuff of the sheets — your guests will love you!"

Comfort, however, extends beyond the bed, and Michelle Miller and Erin Paige Pitts add to Fishman's advice with tips for creating a comfortable and welcoming atmosphere in the guest bedroom — even it needs to double as a home office or kids' playroom when guests aren't in town.

It goes without saying that guests should have a place to store their clothes during their visit.

"The ideal guest room will offer an empty dresser and closet outfitted with good hangers. I like to unpack all my luggage when I arrive; that way, I don't feel like I'm living out of a suitcase," says Miller, a designer with Jenkins Baer Associates in Baltimore.

But if you can't spare empty storage for guests, "consider a nice wood luggage rack," says Miller. "That way your guests don't have to keep their luggage on the floor or shoved in the closet."

"Even a few empty dresser drawers and some extra hangers in the closet will help provide guests a place to store their clothing. A mirror, an empty wastebasket and a bedside table are also key elements when furnishing a room for guests," says Fishman.

To that list, Miller adds beautiful bed linens, reading lamps and fresh flowers. Because a guest room is likely the only room in your house where visitors won't feel as if they are intruding on your space, you will need to outfit the room with more than just the appropriate furnishings and consider the many supplies guests might need during their visit.

"A decanter of water and a glass on the nightstand, some recent magazines or novels, a notepad and a container filled with pens or sharpened pencils will all help to make a guest feel at home," says Fishman. "You may also want to provide scented candles, and an extra blanket and pillows for the bed."

So often, though, such advice is impractical for people with limited space trying to maximize the functionality of every room in the house, and places where guests sleep only once or twice a year are better used as a kids' playroom or home office.

Erin Paige Pitts of the eponymous interior design firm in Anne Arundel loves the challenge of designing multifunctional spaces.

"For a guest room that doubles as a home office," suggests Pitts, "use a smaller table desk rather than a standard desk with file storage. Decorative storage options for office files such as a rattan baskets designed to hold hanging files are preferable to the traditional filing cabinet."

And when overnight company is in town, keep your clutter stowed away. "Private papers, any kind of work, should be kept from sight," say Fishman.

To help hide the evidence of bill-paying, Fishman recommends Restoration Hardware's new Mayfair Steamer Secretary Trunk, set to hit stores in August.

"The unit is a fully functional work station with storage and and computer desk that can be closed and looks like an oversized leather trunk when not in use," says Fishman.

For sleeping, a standard bed that leaves a big footprint in the room just won't do. "I like daybeds with a trundle or a good quality sleep sofa so it doesn't feel too much like a bedroom when being used otherwise," says Pitts.

Miller recommends the Murphy bed for maximizing space.

"Custom Murphy beds are making a comeback as people are creating multifunctional rooms more than ever. Pull them down and make them up in beautiful bed linens, and you have yourself a comfortable guest bedroom."

No matter what type of bed you use, Fishman recommends setting it up before company arrives. "Enhance it with a feather bed," she say. "Dress it as you would any regular bed, add some pretty shams and a duvet folded at the bottom."

And don't forget to make the room itself comforting and serene. "Dress it up," says Pitts. "Make bookshelves interesting by storing books alongside decorative objects, and, of course, everything should be neatly arranged."

"Guest rooms need to do more than just accomodate another person sleeping in your home — they need to make your guests feel wanted and comfortable," says Fishman. She suggests hosts anticipate the needs of their guests by stocking items like toothbrushes, shower caps, soaps and shampoos in pretty baskets in the room.

"Think of what you find in your favorite hotel room, and make these items available to guests," she says. "Your efforts will be appreciated."

Dennis Hockman is editor of Chesapeake Home + Living magazine. He can be reached at