Home & Design September 14, 2009

Home Away From Home

When it comes to guest rooms, Mom was right

If it’s the greatest guest room you’re after, there are plenty of Martha Stewarts who can advise about color theory, high thread-count sheets and the feng shui of where to put the silk chair. But if you want a truly happy guest, décor is secondary to convenience. A designer guest room may impress at first, but classy accoutrements aren’t as valuable as table-height spots for suitcases and a choice of fat or flat pillows for tired heads.

The key to being both a great guest and host is simple:
it’s all about the coffee.

Amenities aren’t always of the predictable sort. An old friend in northern Idaho has my favorite guest room of all time. It’s breezy and fresh, and the dog (big, red Boogie) and cat (lazy, orange Roo) are only as happy as I am.

The four-post, iron-frame bed in this Valley guest  room would make any wayward traveler feel like royalty. If your guest deserves such pampering, an interior designer can help. Local designer Jennifer Hoey completed this room’s treatment with a velvet headboard and lightweight wool duvet.

The worst guest room where I’ve been interned was dampish and had a whiff of mold, plus a cat that was only happy if he was happy, which was only when planted squarely on my face. I threw him out the window, but felt fnoofy all night.

The key to being both a great guest and host is simple: it’s all about the coffee. Host: brief your guest about finding and making coffee in case you sleep in, and provide several kinds of milk. Guest: make enough coffee for everybody. And, for crying out loud, everybody leave everybody else alone until after coffee!


Your guest room may be a home-office with a spare bed, a plush guesthouse by the pool, the off-to-college kid’s old room (please, oh please, replace the little-kid mattress) or a properly dedicated bedroom. No matter the space, it’s comfort, convenience, cleanliness and consideration that should be top of mind for both host and guest.

A simple bow, a single wildflower and a small welcome-note with extra towels add the finishing touches.

What modern travelers need most are convenient electrical outlets (a power strip is perfect) for recharging electronic doodads. And wireless Internet, or at least an Ethernet connection, is a must.

(Leave a note with the password to your network, but think about changing it from LOVINSEXYBABES78 to something like MOWTHELAWN17.)

And since so many of us travel with laptops, a surface for comfortable computing is nice. A sturdy, sitting-up pillow is even better. A clean comfy bed, a reading lamp and provisions like a water pitcher and plenty of fresh things in the bathroom—a fluffy, folded stack of towels and shower mat, for example—make any guest happy.

Consideration can be about useful information, like telling your guests about household quirks such as a bathroom door that sticks and the squirrels that sometimes run earthquakes across the roof. Let guests know it doesn’t matter what time they wake up, that raiding the refrigerator is expected, and the word that makes the dog stop jumping is “OFF!”

(I took a broad survey of frequent guest roomers—state politicians, clergy, grown-up hippies and touring Basque dancers—and a surprising theme recurred: they wanted a toilet plunger in the guest bathroom. Who knew? But think about it: having to ask for this item is, well, you know.)

If you’re the guest, think in reverse. What behavior will make your hosts most comfortable? It is suggested you not light incense and commence a mournful chant at 5 a.m. How can you do your part to keep things clean? If your hosts remove their shoes in the house, follow their lead. Hosts appreciate the guest who keeps her things well corralled. And it is advised to hang wet towels on hooks or racks, as opposed to flung over the antique mahogany chair.

In short, and as in most cases, Mom was right. Wash your hands, think of others first, and write a thank-you note from the heart.

And don’t forget the coffee.


This article appears in the Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.