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Junk Room to Guest Room

Recently I've seen a few underwhelming Before and After posts on social media featuring a spare room being transformed into a guest bedroom or a guest bedroom/home office space. I can't imagine any guest feeling welcomed or even particularly comfortable in these rooms.To my eye, it seems like someone simply corralled their belongings into the closet and onto some shelves, and made up a bed with spare linens. Then they declared themselves done. And they were far from done. (A couple of these disappointing rooms were even created by a professional organizer.)

So what do you really need to do before your finish your guest room project?

The Minimum: A Clean Room and a Bed is Not Enough

To ensure a comfortable stay, you should include:

  • A nightstand or shelf by the side of the bed to provide your guests with a convenient place for them to place items like eyeglasses, lotion, medication, reading, or a beverage close at hand.

It's preferable for this space to have a drawer available, too. This allows your guest a little privacy, as well as the ability to unpack a bit and keep the room uncluttered.

If you're looking for an inexpensive option and/or need something with a small footprint, consider this Mitzi nightstand from West Elm available in a range of colors for about $129. Yellow may not be your color, but consider a piece that will add a splash of color and make the room feel more purposefully decorated. (photo via West Elm)

If you don't have a nightstand per se, or have limitations to your space or budget, use what you have or can afford. Possible substitutions include an end table, a wooden chair with a level seat, a low bookshelf, and even a pouf or ottoman with a sturdy tray on top.

A C-table can work nicely also, such as this mother-of-pearl design from Pier One. (photo via Pier One)

It's also helpful to add a small lamp here and either a clock or (since many people use their smartphones these days) a phone charger.

  • Extra pillows because many people like more than one. Include two per guest and make sure they feel new and comfortable. Stores like Bed Bath and Beyond carry fairly luxurious options for a little as $30 before discount. Consider providing two soft pillows and two firmer ones so your guests can choose the support they need.

  • Space for your guest's clothes and other belongings is essential for making this room feel like it truly has been set aside for your guests. Asking them to cram their clothing into an already full closet isn't good enough. If you need to store your own items in the closet, consider containing these items in garment bags to create a clear divide between your clothing and that of your guests. Make sure you provide nice set of hangers and clear the floorspace in this area.

If you can't make closet space available for your guests, other options include adding a

couple of hooks to the walls and providing hangers there. A large Command hook, for

example, will easily hold three slimline velvet hangers.

This flip-down valet hook ($19.99 at The Container Store) will also hold several items of clothing and, as the name implies, flips back up and out of the way when not in use.

Other options for helping your guest unpack include adding a small chest of drawers or at least a shelf with a few baskets or bins. Adding a luggage rack gives a suitcase a convenient home, but a spare bench can do this almost as easily. You might find the luggage rack worth the investment if you travel yourself, however. Models of reasonable quality are readily available for about $40.

A Warmer Welcome

If you'd like your guests to feel even more at home, add a few of these extra touches. Be thoughtful about the design of your room and your guests will see and feel the difference.

  • Extra blankets

  • High quality bedding (If your own bed is the same size, it's easiest to make sure you have enough sets to use one on your guest bed when needed.)

  • A reading basket or shelf of books and magazines clearly meant to be borrowed

  • Your wifi and/or Netflix or premium channel password written on a card or printed and framed

  • A basket or jar of mini toiletries (Extras like Tylenol and Tums can be especially welcome after a day of travel.)

  • A bowl or tray for corralling small items like keys, wallet, tickets, etc.

  • A spare key if your guests would like to come and go freely and/or any security codes they might need printed on a wallet-size card

  • An extra charger

  • A laundry hamper (This is especially useful if guests will stay long enough to want fresh towels or if you know your guests will want to strip the bed for you.)

  • A full-length or large mirror

  • A fresh coat of paint to enhance the mood you want to create, such as a soft blue or greige to create a sense of calm, butter yellow or blush for a livelier mood and a deeper color like navy, moss green, or burnt orange for a sharp, modern feel.

If you don't have the time or ability to paint, try adding wall decals to a wall by the bed. Pottery Barn has a wide variety of designs available that can give a room an

added sense of luxury or soften the look of a room that also serves as an office. (Their damask design is shown here in a photo via Pottery Barn.) You can also support a small business by finding decals on Etsy.

A Little Luxury

If you want your guests to experience the ambiance of a cozy bed and breakfast or a luxurious boutique hotel, add these finishing touches to your guest room.

  • A pair of waffle robes

  • A small mini-bar tray stocked with bottles of water and a small jar of treats (individually wrapped chocolates or granola bars work well) and a jar of mixed nuts or snack mix. Fresh apples add a splash of color to the display. If you know your guests well, add a treat selected especially for them. You can also go the extra mile and borrow Doubletree's perk of providing fresh chocolate chip cookies. Or you can feature a local treat or something from a nearby bakery or store.

  • Fresh flowers or houseplants

  • A quality notepad and pen

  • A fan or heater, depending on the time of year

  • Scented candles and lighter or an essential oil diffuser

  • A list of recommended local restaurants and entertainment if your guests are staying a while or would like to be more independent

  • A tea or coffee station

  • Art pieces featuring your city or local landscape

Also consider...

If your guest room doubles as an office, place all of the items you've added for your guests' use in one place, so they feel welcome to use what they need. For example, you could use a small cart to store practical items on top (toiletries, charger, bottles of water etc,), reading material in the middle, and a cozy blanket or extra towels on the bottom.

How can you personalize your room for your expected guests? If you are setting up this room in anticipation of your mother-in-law or a friend who visits regularly, frame a photo or two to bring back fond memories. Decorate in colors you know they appreciate. Tailor your reading material and toiletries to their needs and preferences. Write a short note of welcome and place it on the nightstand.

In the end...

Your guests will probably appreciate any and all efforts you make. Good hosting is not about pulling out all the stops or showing off, and if you make yourself crazy trying to make everything perfect you won't make the best company.

It's important to remember that it's the little things that count, however, and your guests will be sure to notice the difference. Even if your guest room is only used a couple of times a year, you will also find it easier to keep this room ready and organized if it is genuinely attractive and welcoming.

If you'd like a helping hand and a professional touch for transforming a cluttered room in a cozy guest bedroom, The Modern Tidy would love to help. Write to me about your project at or call 917.420.4277.


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