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The making of a guest room

(ran HC HL editions)

Question: I'd like some pointers on how to turn a small spare bedroom into a welcoming space for overnight guests. Specifically, I'm wondering whether to use an old black-iron double bed with a decorative headboard. The piece seems awfully big for so small a room.

Answer: Since I don't have a floor plan indicating the location of the room's entrance or its closets and windows, it's hard to say where exactly that bed should be placed in order to make it look less imposing. I'm assuming, of course, that the bed can physically fit into the space without causing your guests to feel trapped by it.

The surest solution is that old stand-by of mine: color camouflage. Choose your colors carefully and you will be able to alter perceptions of the size of both the room and the bed. Happily, the same scheme that can perform such a trick will also make the room look cheerful and welcoming. Caution needs to be exercised so that the space doesn't become too cute.

Here are a few suggestions:

Choose a light, monochromatic color scheme _ pearl-gray with yellow accents might be an interesting choice. Then paint your heirloom bed in white enamel, and add some scrubbed-pine furniture or a few pieces in a pale driftwood color. New or old makes no difference, but the lines do have to be simple, perhaps even Shaker-like in their simplicity. The tables shown in the photo are of the sort that I'm describing.

Don't think you have to cram a lot of furniture into the space in order to accommodate a guest comfortably. The only essentials, in addition to the bed, are a night table, a chair and a small writing desk. A luggage rack is always welcome.

If you're clever about the arrangement, an important piece or two might even be disguised. One of the closets, for example, just might be large enough to house a small (30-inch-wide) dresser. Most guests, by the way, don't need nearly as much storage space as the average-size closet provides.

Be sure that all the surfaces and fabrics are in subtle tones of white and gray or beige. If the floor is wooden, give it a scrubbed and bleached refinishing on which you can place a woven cotton rug in textured and monochromatic yarns. Alternately, just cover the entire floor with a neutral-colored carpet.

For wall-covering possibilities, consider the treatment given to the room shown in the photo. Here, an interplay of pale tones and soft textures helps produce a cool and uncluttered setting while also suggesting that this is much more than a spare room used to accommodate overnight visitors.

Round out your design with some deftly chosen accent pieces. A few pillows will enhance the sense of softness, and a ceramic lamp in Delft blue or marigold will heighten the space's visual interest without upsetting its balance.

1994, Los Angeles Times Syndicate