The holidays are around the corner and this year might be the time to offer houseguests more than a couch and extra blanket.
Creating an inviting guest room takes thought, time and a little money, but will take the hassle out of traveling and leave a lasting good impression.
"A guest room has to function. It can't just be pretty," says Kevin Sharkey, decorating executive editorial director of Martha Stewart Living magazine. "The content of a good guest room is evergreen. It never changes."
Start with the basics. The bed is the central element in the room, and the place where guests will spend most of their time.
Nicole Sforza, senior home editor at Real Simple magazine, recommends investing in a good quality mattress, at least a full-sized one, but says you don't have to spend too much. If you do have extra cash, spring for a feather top for the mattress, she says.
A new trend, even though it's thought of as "old-fashioned," is opting for two twin beds instead of one bigger bed, says Dara Caponigro, style director at Domino magazine. The beds can be pushed together for a couple, or kept apart so a mother and daughter, for example, can also share the room.
Provide a variety of pillows in different weights, two down pillows and two foam pillows for those who are allergic. Foam pillows also work well for support when reading in bed. Buy a down comforter (Pacific Coast sells a full-sized one for about $110) and stock a wool or polyester one in the closet as an allergy-free alternative.
Consider pressing the sheets, or at least the pillow cases, to give that "crisp and stylish" feel of nice hotels.
To keep out dust mites, cover the mattress with an allergen-resistant dustcover, and when you change the sheets, vacuum the top of the mattress as a precaution.
Caponigro suggests using an upholstered headboard, which is comfortable and good for reading and watching television. It will also go a long way in a small room as a decorative element that doesn't take up too much space.
Another decorating trick she recommends is using a canopy bed as a main element.
"It's a strong piece of furniture and makes decorating the rest of the room very easy," she says. "You don't need elaborate window treatments, and just simple bedside tables and lamps."
To add warmth, include a throw blanket and a soft rug. If there's space, fit in an upholstered chair for lounging and a small desk that can be used for writing post cards or as a vanity.
Sharkey, of Martha Stewart Living, suggests having windows that open and close so guests can have fresh air and better control the temperature of the room. Have a screen on the window to keep out bugs and a heavy enough shade or curtain to block out light and add privacy.
Always have empty drawers in a dresser or space in the closet with extra hangers so your guest doesn't have to live out of a suitcase. Also consider keeping a travel iron and board in the closet.
Keep the decor soothing and timeless, Sharkey says. Go for neutral colors. Simple black and white landscape photos, for example, work well on the walls.
"Leave the real dramatic decorating statements for your own room. Guests don't want to wake up to lipstick-red walls," he says with a laugh.
Adding a touch of holiday decorations can also put guests in a festive mood.
Don't forget about lighting. Provide a night light, a small reading lamp by the bed as well as a bright overhead light. Place unscented candles around.
"If you have layers of light, the room is not too glaring," Real Simple magazine's Sforza says.
To pamper your guests, put bottled water, packaged snacks or fresh fruit in a basket by the bed. Offer some reading material for your guests, too. Classic books, up-to-date magazines or newspapers, local maps or books on your city's history and local events are good options.
Caponigro's top book recommendation: the Norton Anthology of Short Fiction.
"Most people don't read short stories, so you don't run the risk that they've read it already," she says. "And there's something in there for everybody."
Even if you can't offer a guest-only bathroom, make sure to supply high-quality towels. If they're all white, include one dark towel for makeup removal, Sharkey suggests. And if there's room in the budget, add a bathrobe for extra comfort.
Stock up on fresh bathroom amenities, too, like a new bar of soap, travel-sized shampoo, conditioner and lotions, an unopened toothbrush, new toothpaste, disposable razors and spray-on deodorant. Store them in a decorative basket in the bathroom or guest room. Other items you could include are a lint brush (especially if you own a dog or cat), a sewing kit and a shoe shine kit.
Homeowners should also consider guests' technology needs. Offer an extra iPod dock in the room and a power strip to plug in multiple chargers.
To top off the room and personalize it, leave a note for your guest. Or, put a flower by the bed, as Caponigro likes to do.
"A flower really says, 'I'm happy to have you here. Welcome,' " she says. "It's one extra touch that makes people feel appreciated."