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Mistakes you make when preparing your guest room | Home Front

Jul 14, 2016

It’s summer and people are on the move visiting friends and family. We had such an interesting reaction to Jura Koncius's recent piece on "Six mistakes that will make your houseguests wish they had shelled out for a hotel" that we decided to have a chat about it.

So many of you reached out on social media and emailed additional suggestions on how you could make your guest room more welcoming. (Perhaps a nightlight in the bathroom or new pillows?) Let’s talk about your guest room and what do you like and don’t like about it, as well as guest rooms you’ve stayed at in the past.

Every week, Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. Jura is always happy to whip out her paint chips, track down a hard-to-find piece of furniture or offer her seasoned advice on practical living and decluttering. For more than ten years, Home Front has been an online conversation about the best way to make your home comfortable, stylish and fun. We invite you to submit questions and share you own great tips, ideas and gripes. No problem is too big or too small, send them over.

Good morning everyone. Today, I'm here to chat with you about guest rooms. I wrote a story recently about The Six Mistakes That Will Make Your House Guests Wish They Had Shelled Out for a Hotel. The story attracted a lot of interest and 202 online comments from readers, some of whom shared some other great tips for guest rooms. Some of you also said that you don't want visitors to feel too comfortable so you are not interested in making the spare room too nice. Clearly, there are a lot of opinions about what makes good hospitality. So let's talk about this and anything else on your mind related to design, decluttering and entertaining.

Our guest room overlooks a beautiful forested area. We don't want to cover the windows. I'm pretty sure guests who are not early risers won't appreciate that, even though the direct morning sun doesn't hit that side of the house. Any suggestions?

Yikes. I think you are right. Guests won't appreciate the rays of dawn hitting their faces when they really want to sleep until 9 a.m. Although it isn't cheap, would you consider installing blinds that fold up into a very small size at the top of the window? Honeycomb blinds are a good choice. That way, you would not need to use them unless a guest is there. Otherwise, you could put up a slim curtain rod and just stick up some fabric panels when a guest is in residence. They will appreciate it. 

We have a small TV in our master. Should I transfer it into the guest room when we have visitors - at least for the people I know have TVs in their own guest rooms? My husband balks at the transfer since he falls asleep to TV. But I'm assuming many guest do also. Thanks!

Definitely not. I would say that your guests are there to relax and they can read a book before bed. Leave them some nice current magazines on the bedside table.

Clock radio in the bedroom. Nightlights in the hallway and bathroom.

Yes. All good ideas! Thanks.

I do appreciate when people leave some fresh reading material on the nightstand when I am staying over. I always try and leave some for my guests.

Yes. I really think that is a simple and not expensive way to show your hospitality. Also, go out into your garden and pick a few flowers - or buy a bunch at a farmer's market - and put them in your guest room. It warms up the room. Other suggestions in our comments section included providing a flashlight in case of a power failure and keeping an extra hair dryer in there.

My mother was a frequent long stay guest at my lower level guest room. She was "thermodynamic " as family members nicknamed her and so I always had a fan and one of those tall , thin electric heaters on hand for her so she could have control over her room. That type of heater can be had for $50 and even has a remote. Handy and nice to offer a guest.

Ha Ha. I can totally relate. Having an inexpensive fan and small heater can make a long term guest feel more at home in your guest room. And they won't try and mess with your thermostat when you're not looking!

is it okay to ask your guests to remove the sheets from the bed and then put the comforter/quilt back on ?

Yes totally. My husband and I usually ask the host whether they would prefer that we removed the sheets or just make the bed. Usually they are very grateful. Then we put the comforter or bedspread or coverlet and pillows back on the bed and make it look as nice as possible when we leave the room. We will take our towels and sheets into the laundry room area before we depart. We also empty our guest room and guest bath trash into the kitchen trash can or the outdoors super can.

I'm putting in a shout-out for our House Calls column. Have a room in the DC area that needs a little help? Submit a description of your design challenge and a few before photos to and we may use your space for a virtual makeover with a professional designer in a future House Calls column. Here is today's makeover.

Hi Jura, how many pillows should I provide on the bed for my guests in my guest room? Should they match or have coordinating pillow slips on them? Thanks.

Good question. Some people hate it when there are like eight pillows on a bed. There is often little space to put them when you sleep. Sometimes hosts put four full size pillows on a bed and maybe one small boudoir size pillow. They don't have to have coordinating slips at all, Mix it up.

I have stayed in some lovely guest rooms, where there was little unused surface area. Makes it difficult for guests when there is no place to put anything.

That is so true. If your guest room is usually your home office or dressing area, it would be nice to clear off a couple of surfaces for guests. It would be nice to provide some small trays for them to organize their pocket stuff and makeup, etc.

I try to have travel-size toiletries on hand and put some in the bathroom. Inevitably, people arrive finding they forgot something. It seems like a nicer experience to give them a new travel-size bottle, than hand them a half-used bottle of my own shampoo!

Yes. That's a nice idea. Putting out a toothbrush, shower cap, shampoo and conditioner and other treats is a lovely amenity.

Strip the bed of sheets on the last morning, or leave it up to the host? We had a guest do this once, and we were a bit taken aback (although the guest was my sister, who is a type-A personality clean nut).

Yes. That's why it's nice to ask your host what they would prefer.

My question relates to the bathroom my guests use. We are considering having a professional reglaze the ugly tile to a nice white finish, and installing a new vanity (toilet and tub are newer) and other cosmetic updates. Have any chatters had this done, and do they have any feedback? Wondering how it looks when complete, how it holds up, etc.

Good questions. Throwing this out to the crowd.

Water glasses and a carafe of water

Yes! Great idea. I have one very thoughtful and elegant friend who puts a carafe of ice water in my room just before bedtime. Love going there!

In my guest bath, I always have a small basket or decorative box stocked with travel size necessities, such as shampoo, soap, razor, toothbrush & toothpaste, feminine products, etc. It's also nice to provide hooks for bath towels in the guest room if there isn't space in the bathroom or if it serves double duty as a bath for all house occupants.

I love all these ideas.

I learned the hard way to do an extra-thorough sweep of the room after a guest departs, after my dog chewed up some markers my house guest had likely dropped and rolled under the bed (part of the coloring-book craze!). Also, we don't eat in our bedrooms, but some of my family members do, apparently. So it's always worth giving it a check under the desk, bed, etc. after a guest leaves.

Ha Ha. You are so right. I also make it a point to check the room before my guests check out. I open all the drawers, inspect the closet and look for phone chargers that may still be plugged in. I have found whole drawers of clothes and lots of little things guests have forgotten. Don't forget to check your coat closet too. Saves you from having to go to the Post Office the next day with their forgotten items.

who doesn't offer to strip the bed?! you need better guests :) re: sheets - I keep nicer sheets for my guests, but then they get old or wrinkled and I rotate them to us... what are your favorite sheets for guests? it's just a queen fold out- lazyboy foam mattress the is pretty comfy to me.

I am lucky that I often get to drive to Massachusetts and visit the Matouk linens factory store in Fall River, Mass. These are really fine linens that you can find there at much lower prices, and their towels are sensational. I like to treat my guests to nice things that are affordable. The Martha Stewart linens at Macys are also very nice and crisp. I'm doing a story now on a Bethany Beach house done by designer Jodi Macklin  and she loves the sateen sheets by Jaclyn Smith at Kmart and has used those in all the bedrooms. Check out that story on July 28. Do you all have any other brands to suggest?


When I'm a guest in others' homes, I find I miss three things most often: a box of tissues, a small wastebasket, and a nightstand or small shelf on both sides of the bed (I wear glasses and need a place to put them!). And I would argue that a clock radio isn't necessary, since everyone has cellphones.

You are right! Clock radios make me nervous as I always fear I have set them wrong and they will start blaring at 5 am.

I have a power strip next to the bed, which includes a couple of USB ports, so they don't need to hunt around for the wall outlets. Also, I downloaded a template for a little sign that has the WiFi name and password for them to use.

You rock!

I wanted to put in a good word for our weekly email newsletter At Home. It's sent to you free every Thursday full of links to our fab Washington Post coverage of home, design, decluttering, gardening, remodeling and more.  Sign up here.

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Forty years is impressive and a number to be proud of. Thanks for your columns and great advice!

Thank you so much! It is very kind of you. I did celebrate my 4oth anniversary at the Washington Post this week on July 12. My editors threw me a wonderful cake and champagne reception and I was so touched by everyone's well wishes. I love what I do and I am excited to do the chat each week and get to connect with all of you.

our guest room is a spare room and we are not very organized. ie there are still boxes from a move last summer :( it's supposed to be an office someday, but the whole house needs makeover. I know that's bad, but what's your best declutter recommendation?

Sounds like you don't have a lot of storage room. Any chance you could install some under bed storage boxes to keep stuff out of sight? A couple of filing cabinets could hold office stuff and serve as nightstands. Do the best you can and if possible don't have cardboard boxes visibile in there. Maybe you could hide them under a skirted table!

I vote for a water bottle instead of a drinking glass and a carafe of water at the bedside. I have knocked over glasses of water, then I have to jump out of bed and clean it up.


Or at least something that can let guests see if their hems are straight... Even if it's a temporary "hung behind the door" mirror. If you can't clear a closet to hang clothes in, a very solid over-the door series of hooks AND some empty hangars.


I don't think I'm "thermodynamic," but sometimes when I'm a houseguest, the room I'm in is less than comfortable. I struggle with how to bring this to the attention of the homeowner. I've found that in a lot of cases, there is a problem the homeowner is unaware of (the vents to the room have been closed off, for example). In other cases, it's just a preference issue. In the ideal world, the host asks about my comfort the next morning. But if they don't, and I was too hot or too cold, is it terribly rude to bring it up?

This is such a good question. As a host, I feel that I would want to know if my guest was too hot or too cold. But some people would say you should be grateful to have a nice room to sleep in and don't complain about anything! You could also provide extra blankets in the closet and a portable fan so guests could come to the rescue themselves if they are not comfortable. I think at a close friend's home, you should definitely mention if you are really uncomfortable. What do you guys think?

What do you think about a host (close friend) who leave instructional notes posted around the bathroom? E.g., hang bathmat on this towel bar, wipe the sink down with rag, afterward put here, etc. I find it really annoying! Meanwhile when this friend visits me he leaves dishes wherever they are when he's done with them, won't return my sink scrubber to its caddy (leaves it wet in the sink). I never say anything to him. Should I? He's very perceptive about everything else; maybe I should let it go....

Yikes. I don't think leaving notes around is a good idea. If there is a particular problem with the bathroom like the shower leaks if you turn it up too high or if you don't close the shower curtain fully, then you should mention these things to your guest. But don't write them down. I might make a crack about leaving the dishes around if this friend is a frequent guest. But I think you should suck it up about the sink scrubber.

Pillows - especially the ones you sleep on, seem to get really gross really quickly. I used pillow covers in addition to pillow cases, but that doesn't seem to make them last that much longer. What's the normal time frame for replacing pillows?

Since decent pillows can be bought for $9.99 at Marshall's and TJMaxx and such, I would say replace them every year or two.

I don't need the radio part of the clock radio (I never listen to the radio or watch TV in my bedroom) but I need a clock with alarm. And I don't have, nor do I want, a cell phone.

I think a small battery powered alarm by the bed is a nice idea.

I'm planning to retire in about 4 years. I love the idea of a cake and champagne reception! Love it a lot! Congratulations to you and thank you for the idea!

My pleasure. Cake and champagne is always appropriate.

My beach house has a small laundry room so there isn't a lot of room for dirty sheets. When we have guests they all want to strip the beds when they leave, which is considerate of them, except that I don't have a good place to stash the dirty sheets if I'm not planning on spending the next few hours doing laundry. I've suggested they leave the sheets on the bed to be changed later by me but I feel like that casts doubt on the cleanness of my guest room. I don't want guests wondering when they arrive if I really did change the sheets after the last guest. Suggestions for what to do?

Honesty is the best policy. I would mention on the last day of each guest's stay that although you know they would be happy to strip the bed, you would appreciate it if they wouldn't due to the lack of space in your laundry room. You can say that you will do it the next day to indicate that you have it on your radar!

My family of four recently went on vacation and here is the advice I gained if you are hosting a family: 1) If you have air mattresses, make sure they don't have a slow leak by testing them over the course of 3+ days (both air mattresses we used were fine the first night, then deflated on night 3 - no one wants to wake up on top of a deflated mattress) 2) If you have a wardrobe or dresser for your guests, make sure it is completely empty (if it's full, it just takes up space where your guests are going to want to put their luggage) 3) If an infant is involved, have your guest bring their pack-and-play (or have one yourself) 4) If a preschooler is involved, consider investing in a cot; alternatively, consider a crib mattress that can be placed on the floor (it can be stowed under a bed when not in use), or an inflatable twin mattress 5) Consider placing a fan in the room that the guests can set to their desired level of coolness 6) Consider installing hooks that the guests can hang their bath towels or wet swimsuits on (either in the guest bedroom or in the bathroom, depending on where you have the most space); also applicable for winter coats and sweaters when the weather changes 7) Consider doing just a fitted sheet and a freshly laundered duvet (no top sheet, no bed skirt) – it will make it easier for your guests to easily make their bed in the morning (cramped spaces always look better with a freshly made bed) 8) If you have a problem with something your guests are doing (lifestyle, etiquette, habits, whatever), consider bringing it up as soon as possible - waiting until the end of the trip gives the guests no time to adjust their behavior, nor any time to make alternative lodging arrangements for the duration of the trip if the behavior cannot be helped


Does anyone have any specific tips when your "guest room" is an air mattress in your living room? For example, I never really do what to offer for a bedside table since they are sleeping on the floor. I live in a one-bedroom, so the living room is the only option to give them any privacy at all, but there is no door, so it's limited. My mom suggest I buy some screens but storage becomes an issue. Would love to know what others do!

Yes we don't all have big houses with guest rooms. Sometimes you must have guests sleeping in your living room. Here is a story I did with great tips on Welcoming Guests on your Sofa or Sofa Bed. Screens are a wonderful idea and I love that your mom suggested them. One of the most important things is to find a place for your guests to store their bedding during the day and also clearing off a spot for their toiletries and phone charging.

My local public library has an ongoing book sale. People donate books and they are resold for $2 or $3 as a fundraiser. I selected a few best sellers and classics for the guestroom bookshelf and let my guests know that they are welcome to take one with them when they leave. They are most appreciative.

Love this idea!

I usually leave a copy of one of my favorite books "West With the Night" by Beryl Markham on the nightstand. A return guest is here this week and I swapped it out for "Lost In the City" by Edward P. Jones, short stories set in DC neighborhoods. He just mentioned this morning that he had picked it up the other night and the stories were the perfect length for night-time reading and a window into the real Washington!

You are so creative. Love this.

Yes, please ask before stripping the bed! I'm one of those people who is mortified when guests strip the bed without asking. You are my guest - I don't want you to do housework. That's the nice excuse. The real excuse is that sometimes the mattress cover or something has a stain on it that isn't anything to worry about - it just doesn't look great. I'm not made of mattress and pillow covers, so I don't really want to replace them every time they get a mark on them. So I'd rather you just let it alone and let me take care of it.

Thanks for sharing this.

Hello! One of the things I always find helps when I am a guest is some interesting reading material for bedtime, so I always make sure my guests have a good convenient nightlight as well as an eclectic selection of magazines and books. I usually make a special trip to the store to get current editions too! There is nothing more frustrating and rude than giving guests four month old magazines to read! It is also nice to provide some material for private pleasure time.

Yes you are so right about old magazines. They are not welcoming! Good for you.

Our friends have a lakeside cottage, with frequent guests of family and friends. They leave a laundry basket in the room. House rule is to change the sheets before you leave, and leave the used sheets in the basket. Makes it easier for the owners, as the room is always ready for the next guest.

This is brilliant!

1. Did we mention a bedside lamp? I read before I go to sleep and it's much nicer to turn off the light and doze off than have to trudge across the room (especially if it's in the UK and chilly midwinter - Brit's heating generally goes off overnight). 2. Tissues - an American friend pointed out that Brits are tissue obsessed and Americans don't tend to have tissues (grab wad of 'loo roll'?). This is true - I have allergies and tend to like tissues. This is a personal prefernce. 3. I think some sort of a clock by the bedside is helpful. Often one charges up the phone overnight ... and the only outlet is across the room. Doesn't hurt to have a clock on the bedside table and might even help. 4. Have different forms of cover available - eg duvet and different thickness blankets. How much cover one wants when asleep is personal. I've sweltered and frozen.

These are all wonderful. Thank you!

After staying for about a week with a family member who lives out-of-town, we returned from an outing and while we had been out, the family member striped the guest sofabed, folded it back up into couch form (so no taking an afternoon nap for us!), and also striped and deflated the air mattress our son had been sleeping on. She did this without asking (we'd have gladly stripped the beds ourselves right before actually leaving). Was this polite and courteous on the host's part? As in, merely trying to help us hit the road sooner and give us more space for unpacking? She also packed up our stuff that had been in the kitchen. Or, was this actually unwelcoming, and more like a "get the heck out!" type of behavior? Sincerely, the Puzzled

Well there may have been an underlying message here! Or maybe you are right, she was just trying to make more room for you. But it would have been nice if she had said that and that you wouldn't have to speculate that she was ready to have you leave after a week's stay. Have you invited her to your house? Maybe it would be nice!

If I can't provide an empty laundry basket, I just ask they pile them (don't bother folding them) on top of the bed... IF and ONLY IF they ask. I don't ask guests to strip their beds. When I lived in the UK, and US friends were stopping enroute to other places, I'd send them off with extra washcloths... depending on the country, not all hotels provide them.

Thanks - good thoughts and love the washcloth tip.

My husband and I put a lot of thought into buying mattresses for the guest room. We didn't buy luxury or top of the line, but we bought ones we'd be comfortable on (and that we hoped our guests with the greatest needs would be comfortable on), and we slept on the mattress for a couple nights to make sure. Many mattress companies offer a return policy, so you can do that these days. I know it's expedient and cheap just to use an old mattress for the guest room, but if you wouldn't sleep on it, why would you expect your guests to do so?

I so agree with you! It's really important to try out your guest room some night by sleeping there. There are some mattresses that I have slept on as a guest that must be 30 years old!

I think a book or good short stories is best, as they might not want to start a book they can't finish.

Great thought. Thanks.

I love the poster's tips except this one. I see how this would make it easier to make the bed, but I personally dislike this setup. I just experienced this on a trip to Europe, where all the hotels had just a duvet. Often, it was too warm under the duvet. The only option was then just to sleep uncovered, on top of the fitted sheet. That just feels weird to me. I've always thought that the top sheet and comforter/duvet option was better because it gives the sleeper more ways to get comfortable.

I'm with you! You need the option of just a top sheet.

As much as it pains me to admit, one of my guest rooms has a television. (This arrangement is for the benefit of my elderly aunt who is a sports fanatic.) After adding the TV, I realized something she needed was missing. On "her" bedside table is a laminated guide from my cable provider that details all of the available channels. This addition to my household now helps me prepare the Tgiving meal as I have extras for all of the TVs. No more interruptions for "what channel" questions from other family "fans" who are watching the parade and/or sports!

This is very helpful. On a recent trip to the Hudson Valley, a friend had a wonderful laminated sheet in the guest room explaining exactly how to operate the TV using the two remotes. They also listed their WiFi code.

I liked some of the comments in your article about how you helped them how to ensure that guests don't overstay their welcome :)

Yes. Do check out the comments after the article. Here's another link to it. There are definitely people who will do all they can to limit their guests' stay. There are many definitions of hospitality!

I just have to say, I love the tips here. It's clear that many people put a lot of thought into how to give their guests a nice experience. It must be wonderful to stay with them!

You make a good point. Being nice and gracious doesn't have to be about money.

And also have a spare blanket folded up at the foot of the bed. I often wake up shivering, and an extra blanket is handy!


Hello! I was wondering what your thoughts are on design and the minimalist style. I prefer very clean lines and very minimal things on tables, open spaces, etc. My dream home would be lots of white with art on the walls being the main focus. However, as a person in my mid twenties with no much money to spare and a renter, I can't afford a lot of art and nice furniture that goes with the minimalist designs. How do you suggest I create a clean, uncluttered space that doesn't look like I just moved in and haven't decorated yet?

Go with what you love, even if you have a small budget. Scour Craigslist and thrift shops for furniture you find interesting. Ask your relatives and friends if they have things in storage they aren't using and would love for you to use. Buy some inexpensive frames at Ikea or Michaels and put photos in them from places you've traveled or cities you love. Create an art wall or gallery. Make it personal.

1) provide bathrobe/s 2) discuss guesstimate times folks are getting up and when everyone's asleep. 3) concur on towel hooks... but perhaps a carry-basket if the guest bath is as tiny as mine! 4) don't over-apologize, just deal with it.

You are so right! Don't over-apologize, just deal with it. That is the best advice. Really something we should all remember! A bathrobe is a great idea - make it really XL and white or black so everyone can use it. I recently asked a house guest what she liked for breakfast and I was glad that I had the things she was used to. All it takes is a small gesture to make your friends and family feel welcome.

Provide a flashlight, too!


Were you sleeping in a common area, like a living room? If so, that's an awfully long time to have someone taking up that whole space. If I were in a common space, I'd ask the host what they wanted me to do - fold the bed back in (we had a sofa bed that could be folded in and out easily, with the sheets on it), put the mattress to the side, etc. I don't think you'd be able to do that each day, but I could see for a night or two to clear the space so everyone could play games, or sit on the couch together and watch a movie.

So true.

Wow. I really enjoyed this and you all had some wonderful ideas and comments on the topic of guest rooms. I'm going to make some upgrades for sure. Thank you all for your great questions and comments and we'll be back next week, same time, same place, for more conversation. A shout-out to our producer Alexa McMahon who makes this chat go so smoothly each week.

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Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily twitter feed @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering, organizing and DC retail.

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