Q&A: Decorist's Jessica Ann McCarthy on guest room refresh tips for the holidays

Jessica Ann McCarthy
Dec 13, 2018

Jessica Ann McCarthy is the creative director of Decorist, the digital design firm that connects interior designers to clients. All the design work is done digitally. The company helps consumers find decorating help to reflect their personal style, all within their budget. Jessica’s Decorist projects have been featured in Architectural Digest, Elle Decor, People and Vogue Living. She’s known for her glamorous approach to design and unexpected touches of vintage. She’s a firm believer that design rules are meant to be broken.

Every week, Jura Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. She and weekly guests, whether Martha Stewart, the Property Brothers, Marie Kondo or Nate Berkus, answer your decorating, design and decluttering questions. 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 organizing. For more than 20 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 your own great tips, ideas and gripes. No problem is too big or too small.

Jessica Ann McCarthy is the creative director of Decorist, the digital design firm that connects interior designers to clients. All the design work is done online. The company helps consumers find decorating help to reflect their personal style, within their budget. Jessica is known for her glamorous approach to design and unexpected touches of vintage. She’s a firm believer that design rules are meant to be broken.

Morning all! I’m Jessica McCarthy, the Creative Director for Decorist. We’re a leading online interior design service that makes decorating easy and affordable. We have over 400 professional interior designers at Decorist who can help decorate any room in your home for a low flat fee.  I’m so excited to help with any of your design questions!

Some of my relatives expect a full set of drawers and ample hanging closet space when they visit. What do you think is a reasonable amount of storage space in a guest room?

Hi there and thank you for your question! I think you should always provide at least one drawer and 5 hangers for your guests. You can even buy hangers that you can hang multiple shirts or pants/skirts on.  I love these from Bed Bath Beyond!

The closet in my guest room is packed with all my off season apparel. Should I try to make room for my guests' clothes in the closet - or do you have any clever ideas as to where my guests can stash their things?

I think in general it is great to store off season apparel under your bed in bins rather than in drawers or your closet where the space is really valuable. You can get many different sizes and shapes for under-the-bed bins and that way they are out of sight & out of mind during the rest of the year when you don't need them! 

Our guest room is pretty bare (it's neglected most of the year, and I'm afraid we're scrambling with the holidays coming up to make it presentable). What are some extra touches you would recommend to make guests feel extra welcomed or comfortable - extra thanks if it's fast, easy, cheap, or all three!!

When I designed the guest room for the Real Simple Idea Home I made sure to have a glass/carafe on the side table- it's a must.  I also love fresh flowers and a few of my favorite books for my guests to enjoy. I also am always sure to provide my guests with fresh linens, towels and robes. None of these items are expensive but will instantly make your space feel like a luxury hotel :)


I’m looking to paint my guest bedroom. I want something gender neutral and impactful. Can you recommend some of your favorite paint colors? And should I paint all four walls or focus on one wall only? Thanks for your help!

This is a great question! With guest bedrooms, I always recommend tones of grey, blue or lavender to create a calming feel for your guests. If you’re painting your entire space I love the soothing paint colors that Farrow & Ball offer specifically Elephants Breath, Cornforth White and Lamp Room Gray. If you choose to go for a deeper or darker tone, I recommend one accent wall behind your bed to create impact without overwhelming the space.

Is there any way to update wall to wall carpeting in a condo (the color is light rose), short of completely replacing? I like carpeting, and am hesitant to spend all of that money on hardwood flooring. To save money, could I just replace the carpet in the two bedrooms and put in hardwood in the living area? Obviously, am confused on the best solution.

This is a question I get asked a lot - I always recommend replacing wall to wall carpet when you can, especially if it's old and dated. Rather than spending the money to replace carpet with more carpet, I recommend an area rug instead! You can get a large sized area rugs (9x12 or 8x10) at great prices these days. You can even layer an area rug over your existing wall to wall carpet if you are unsure what the flooring underneath is going to look like. With area rugs, you are not stuck with wall to wall carpet and can replace them easily over time when you want to change up your space or if they get dirty. Hope this helps you! 

A bedside light! To me it seems normal, but I'm surprised by the amount of people who don't provide for reading in bed. Doesn't everyone read in bed before they go to sleep?!?

Totally! This is something lacking in many guest rooms. Thanks for pointing it out.

I want my guests to feel right at home. What are some of your favorite personal touches for a guest room?

I think providing smart technology around your room is a great way to make your guests feel at home. Phone chargers on either side of the bed, a sound machine to drown out noise, an air purifier or even an ipad for your guests to check emails and browse the internet when they wake up. 

So if I'm a guest, when I leave should I take the sheets off the bed, make the bed or ask my host what to do with the sheets?

This is a great question and I think we all have faced this when staying as a guest. I always strip the bed and leave the bedding on-top of the mattress. This is also a good lesson when creating a guest room to avoid confusion, always provide your guests with a hamper - I'm loving this hamper from Cost Plus World Market! 

Make it easy for guests to access WiFi in your home. And think long and hard before they arrive about sharing your devices - not just your internet access. Guests who want to check email, post pics to Instagram etc. will ask to 'hop on for a second' at the sight of your desktop or laptop. Where your taxes, medical info, bank records and more are stored. I had a guest reset my laptop to factory setting, wiping out years of files, by 'mistake.' I think they snooped and then tried to backtrack. If guests left their devices at home, they'll want access to yours. Keep an older tablet on hand for web surfing, instead of sharing your main devices. Or 'accidentally' leave yours at work or in the shop...or in your trunk.

This has a lot of good warnings in it. Be careful with technology that you share. Thanks for the cautionary word.

I think a luggage rack is a MUST in a guest room. Otherwise you are rooting through your suitcase on the floor and it's a mess. Do you have any good sources for good quality luggage racks?

I completely agree with you! I love the idea of a stylish acrylic luggage rack, a multi-functional luggage rack or a unique vintage luggage rack. Your guests should love any of these :) 

Miss Manners says confirm you should strip the bed - 'I'm going to strip the bed, ok?' sometimes there are stains on the pillows etc that the host would rather you not see.

Well, perhaps you left some stains on the pillowcase from a hair product that you'd rather not let the host see! It's complicated!

Also provide access to an outlet near the bed to charge phones. Sometimes they are far away (happens in hotels too).


Also, you can often set up a guest entry on a computer. This lets someone use the computer but not access your files.

Thank you.

My mac is password protected and I have this nifty 'guest' user option so that they can use my computer and not have any access to my stuff.


What if you don't have a "guest room"?

Even if you don't have a guest room, there are ways to provide your guests comfort anywhere in your home. For example, purchasing a sleeper sofa for your living room and providing your guests with fresh sheets and towels! 

Yes, please ask your host first! If you left a pile of sheets on top of a bed in my house, it would instantly become a cat nest!

Oh my!

I'm having my in-laws come for the holidays and we recently converted our home office into a guest room. However, it still feels sterile. What do you think are the most important things we should focus on to make the room stylish?

My number one tip is to provide your guests with comfortable and fresh sheets, pillows, duvet etc. Once you have the basics of the space, layer in art, decorative pillows, throw blankets, area rugs and lighting. Check out our blog post for even more tips to get your guest room ready! 

My bathroom is a light mint-green, which does not go well with any of my towels, shower curtain, etc. which are lavender from RH. Should I try to repaint or is there any intermediary step I can take? The trim is white.

I would say to first decide what you like more - the paint color or the accessories in the space. Once you decide, I would either re-paint or replace your towels and shower curtains. I would consider repainting your space in a neutral color so overtime you can switch out the accessories without feeling stuck ever again! For an easy paint color, I always recommend Benjamin Moore Simply White, its a beautiful and warm shade of white that will contrast with your existing bright white trim and will go with any color accessories you decide to choose :) 

We don't have a spare room to dedicate solely to guest space, just an office that we can move an XL twin (or 2 XL twins) into. I make sure I remove my computer and other work items I need when we have guests so that I don't have to go into the room, but I always feel a little bad that it's not exactly a relaxing retreat space, with my papers, bulletin boards, etc. Do you have any advice on how to make the space feel more homey.

Thank you for your question! This is a really common issue as so many of us do not have a dedicated guest room to offer. I would say if you have the space to purchase a decorative screen to divide the guest area from the rest of your space. I personally love this one because it is neutral enough to work in any space. I would add a side table, phone charger, table lamp and beautiful linens to create a luxurious feel. With these tips, Your guests will never know they are in your office! 

I have one bathroom that I share with guests. I always provide them with towels, but struggle with where everyone is hanging them. I tend to bring mine into my room so that the guests can use the towel racks. Better idea?

That is so nice of you to give up your bathroom for your guests! There are so many options to hang multiple towels in once space offered these days. I specifically am loving this brass towel rack that sits on your floor and can hold multiple towels at once without taking up more wall space. 

Any high quality inexpensive recommendations ?

My favorite resource for inexpensive yet high quality furniture is Cost Plus World Market as they have a really great selection of furniture, area rugs, storage options, towels and bedding. Everything you need for a guest room! I also love sourcing vintage pieces from Chairish or flea markets to add a unique twist to your space without breaking the bank. Combine both vintage and new to create a one of a kind space that your guests will love! 


Thanks so much for having me on your live chat! I love talking about all things design - hope I could help prep some guest rooms for the holidays. And if you have more design-related questions, feel free to stop by Decorist’s free Design Bar on our site, where our designers can help with anything from shopping for new decor, picking paint colors, trying to arrange a gallery wall, and so much more. Happy Holidays!

Thanks a lot Jessica. Guest rooms are always such a hot topic. I always learn something new - like I should have a hamper in my guest room - great idea for the sheets and towels. Next Thursday I will be chatting with you all (without a guest) about *last-minute* advice for Christmas and New Years Eve decorating, hosting and gifts. We can share ideas and complain in advance about stuff that drives us crazy in the joy joy joy of the holiday season. So join me next Thursday for a holiday fireside chat. Real wood, no gas please.

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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 and organizing.

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