The arrival of the holiday season often brings other kinds of arrivals, namely your family and friends, who travel over the rivers and through the woods to spend time with you. Though they come bringing holiday cheer, they may arrive at your doorstep feeling weary. As a good host, you want them to be able to refresh after their travel and feel as comfortable in your home as they would at a five-star hotel—perhaps even more so. Inviting guests into your home is a gesture of love, conveying that you are grateful for the time, trouble, and expense they took to get to you. So before they arrive, run the scenario in your mind. Ask yourself, what is the best for your guests?
Holiday guests are usually staying for at least one night, so the first thing to consider is the space you will use as a bedroom. Some people are fortunate to have a room dedicated as a “guest room,” but these days, many people use that space as a home office, playroom or craft space, often with a sofa bed or futon that can be pressed into service for guests. Those without a dedicated guest room will need to consider alternatives ahead of time. Even the most unfussy overnight guests will expect to sleep somewhere: A basement recreation room with an air mattress? The living room sofa bed? One of the children’s rooms? Wherever you decide to accommodate your guests, you will want to keep a few things in mind to ensure they have restful sleep, adequate privacy, a place to put their things, and that they leave with a sense that you thoughtfully provided for their comfort; that they were, in a word, welcomed. With some preparation and planning ahead, you will indeed be providing the best for your guests.
We all usually clean up for guests, but the room or area where your guests will sleep is worth some extra elbow grease. Smudges and fingerprints on the wall, dust bunnies under the furniture, pet hair clinging to upholstery…these are things that we might live with in our day-to-day family life, but they are an embarrassment that can be avoided in your guests’ area. Besides removing many common allergens, only a deep clean provides that gratification of showing your guests to their room where they can draw in a deep breath of its fresh, clean atmosphere. Depending on your guests, a mildly scented candle is also a nice touch.
The building block of restful sleep is, of course the bed itself. Regardless of whether you have a bed to offer, or one of the many temporary alternatives, the best advice is to try a night there yourself. Make mental notes about the experience. How is the mattress? Do you notice excess humidity (often a problem in basements) or chilly drafts? Too much light? Too much noise? This will allow you to take stock of your situation. It may be that you can revive a tired or too-thin mattress with a memory foam, down (or other material) filled mattress topper. These can be put over a too-thin sofabed mattress, and could make a big difference in comfort for your guests—and they also make the sofa bed sheets fit better! Once you know the mattress is as comfortable as you can make it, you can address drafts, invest in a dehumidifier, or look into window treatments that will darken the room more effectively. Noise is a tricky issue, as we noticed years ago when we slept on a friends’ basement sofa bed and awoke, startled, to what sounded like a herd of zebras running overhead. It turned out to be just the normal foot traffic of a busy family morning in the kitchen directly over our heads.
In some cases this could be muted by a throw rug or perhaps the simple request for the children to keep the volume down on the TV. Another option, if you are concerned about noise disturbing your visitors’ rest, is a white noise machine or a small fan whose gentle whir screens out many sounds.
To dress the bed, start with quality sheets that fit the mattress well; invest in the best you can afford. Many people choose to dedicate a set of guest sheets and other linens that come out only when someone is visiting. This is an excellent idea; however, even if the sheets were washed and put away last time you had guests, consider washing them again if they have been sitting for more than a month. After a time, sheets lose their clean scent; washing will refresh the fibers and make the bed smell good. Ironing the sheets is an optional but elegant touch. Nothing equals the feel of ironed sheets. If you don’t have time, just iron the pillowcases. My grandmother’s trick was to pull the pillowcases wet from the washer and put them in the freezer for an hour or so. Then she’d pass an iron over them. She maintained that the pillowcases were so crisp and soft that no one noticed the sheets weren’t ironed!
Keep bed linens simple and layered. Place several (four for a double or a queen) pillows on the bed. It’s a good idea to provide different types of pillows so that guests can choose their preference: fluffy, thin, firm, synthetic…you get the idea. If possible, avoid down (use a down alternative instead) to avoid aggravating allergies. Add a quilt, coverlet or duvet, and maybe a decorative pillow or two, and you have assembled a clean, comfortable place to sleep. It’s a good idea to place extra blankets in an obvious place so that your visitor doesn’t have to choose between shivering or rummaging through your linen closet in the middle of the night.
If your house does not have a guest room with a dedicated or ensuite bath, you will need to think carefully about how to issue private space. If possible, give your guests as much privacy as you can muster, and they will thank you for it. If you can detour your family’s toothbrushes and shower needs to a different bathroom, do so. This goes for sleeping areas as well as bathrooms. If your guests will sleep in what is usually a common area of your home (a living room sofa bed or a futon in the basement playroom, for example), give some thought to how to offer the most privacy possible. This could mean relocating the Xbox out of the basement, or finding a decorative screen to designate the guest’s sleeping area. Warn family members ahead of time that the area is off limits while your guest is sleeping.
A Place for Their Things
Generally you can expect your guests, especially those in town for the holidays, to arrive with stuff—often a lot of it. Good hosts will plan ahead for the space needs of their guests. If there will be several guests, or if quarters will be particularly tight, it might be thoughtful to warn your visitors ahead of time. Still, as you take stock of your guest space, think about providing room for them to spread out and unpack. A folding luggage rack or bench for a suitcase or bag is a welcome addition, especially on short visits when people don’t really unpack. Clear some space in the closet for hanging items, and provide a few quality hangers of various types.
Do the best you can to clear the furniture surfaces in the room. This is particularly important in home offices that double as guest rooms. You certainly do not want your visitor have to search for space for her bag amidst the detritus of bills and permission slips on your desk. Take some time to put things away. Besides, an uncluttered room feels calming for everyone. Clear surfaces in the bathroom as well, and provide hooks or benches for their towels or robes.
Finally, if there is not already a small table next to the bed, find something that can be used as a night table. This is often the most important space of all. Provide a light at the right height for reading in bed, and plenty of clear space, as the night table is often the bearer of your guests’ most important things: wallets, jewelry, medications, cell phones and the like. Small decorative trays work nicely in this area as well.
Little Touches That Say “Welcome”
After you do the heavy lifting of preparing a space for your guest, then you can focus on the details that will take your guest’s experience to the next level. Consider some of your own experiences as a guest, either in a gracious home or even in a nice hotel. What details did you especially appreciate? What amenities would you like to have had? Incorporate these into your own space.
Having a mirror available in the room is always appreciated, especially when bathrooms are full. A full-length mirror would be an added bonus. Nowadays, a universal charger or charging cube for electronics is also thoughtful, as those chargers are often the first thing guests forget to bring. While you’re at it, be sure there is an obvious wall plug available. No one wants guests crawling under the bed to plug in their cell phones! Another thoughtful touch if you have wifi in your home is to provide the password (perhaps leave it on a small card) so that guests can access wifi from their devices. Other items to consider including would be a nightlight or two, a fan, a wastebasket, and a collection of clothing-care items (a small sewing kit, a lint roller, a mini steamer) in a basket in the closet.
In the bath, keep a small basket or tray containing sample sizes of necessities that your guests may have forgotten, or in this age of stringent TSA guidelines, been unable to bring along: shampoo and conditioners, a shower cap, lotion, a disposable razor, toothpaste, sunscreen, Tylenol and hairspray. Provide your guests with bath linens that are fluffy and clean. Like your bed linens, consider a set of towels that are earmarked for guests only, whether you choose to monogram these or simply choose a separate pattern or color from your everyday towels. Distinctive “guest towels” are easier to keep out of the normal family rotation and are less likely to have been unwittingly used to dry the dog or wipe off muddy golf shoes.
In the shower, remove excess bottles and old bars of soap. Place a new bar of soap in the shower soap dish, and provide a plush bathmat. Place a luxury soap and lotion at the sink along with fresh hand towels. Above all, be sure everything is as clean and uncluttered as possible, and that there is an ample supply of toilet paper.
Having guests is a both a joy and a compliment to you and your family. Remind yourself to keep the perspective that ultimately, these people are visiting you because they love you and want to spend time with you—not simply because of the amenities you will offer. Fortunately there is no five-star rating system for houseguests! But if you spend a little time preparing for guests’ arrival, you’ll be able to sit back and relax and enjoy your time together. After all, that is what hosting guests is all about.