Hang an Eye Mask by the Bed, and 8 More (Hard-Won) Tips for Hosting Overnight Guests

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of posts by Sally Kohn— journalist and CNN political commentator, TED talk giver, and design aficionado—chronicling her adventures in remodelingFor the first two installments, see The Case for Unstained Wood Floors from a Stealth Design Nerd and The Surprising Virtues of Spray Paint (Plus a Few Tips).

sally kohn guest room 0 Above: A glimpse of my guest room. Photograph by Sally Kohn.

Any minute now, I have about 382 in-laws arriving for the holidays. Okay, that’s an exaggeration; the actual number is somewhere between 5 and 9. Still, I’ve left some logistics right down to the wire. To be clear, I really love all my in-laws, and being able to host family overnight is one of the biggest reasons we were excited to move to the country. In our Brooklyn apartment, we could offer guests a pull-out couch and a small bathroom to share with my partner, our daughter, and me. Once I think we put a third guest on a couch. That was pushing it.

Now we have these things I’m told are called guest rooms. And even guest bathrooms. And they’re full-on game-changers. We can comfortably fit five guests, maybe even nine, and not have to blow up a single air mattress. As a host, I know this is a giant luxury. Now, as we prepare our new-to-us farmhouse for our first Hanukkah and Christmas filled with family, the question on my mind is: How do I make those guest rooms feel luxurious to them?

I’ve scoured the internet, talked to experts, and meditated on pictures I’ve saved up from delicious hotel stays over the years awaiting this very moment. And here, friends, are the results: nine fun and functional ideas for making your guest room (or guest space!) as cozy and comfortable as possible for your holiday guests, or any time of year.  Including—drum roll, please—the proper way to throw a throw blanket (turns out there is no actual throwing).

Here’s what I’ve learned:

femte til venstre johanna landbo copenhagen attic 1 Above: Photograph via ohanne Landbo and Lukas Filip Fernandes from Steal This Look: A Spare and Simple Guest Room in Denmark.

1. Give your guests the nicest furniture and mattress you can afford.

In my youth, all my furniture was whatever falling-apart particle-board cheap stuff I could forage from my friends/Craigslist/curb piles. Eventually, I could finally afford some furniture made of actual wood and a mattress that wasn’t a futon, but I still kept the crappy stuff, and that became the guest furniture. But generosity is an important part of hosting, and now that I can have nicer things—just like I want to be the sort of person who brings out the nice liquor instead of hiding it away when the guests come—I want to give my guests the pleasure of sleeping in a deliciously comfy, even luxurious bed. In my primary guest room, I have the Seb Bed, an acacia wood frame from Castlery, topped with an organic Avocado Green Mattress. It’s so rewarding the first morning guests wake up and tell me they had the best night’s sleep, the bed was so comfortable, etc., etc. And honestly, at the holidays, a good night’s sleep is a great gift to give loved ones.

2. Use an obscene amount of pillows.

If you can have a luxurious frame and mattress, great, but either way you can create a feeling of luxury with an abundance of pillows. When you stay at a luxury hotel, they always have more pillows on the bed than you actually need. I’m sure there’s some science about how abundance makes us feel relaxed or something about Maslow’s hierarchy, but anyway, a bunch of pillows to fall into just feels nice. Also, if you’re like me, you have extra pillows you’re going to have to try to cram into the closet if you don’t use them, so why not use them? For a bonus, put some fancy sheets on there, too. We have some White French Flax Linen Sheets from the Australian brand Bed Threads, and honestly, they just feel and look so special. We also have a Percale Sheet Set from Riley in case guests don’t like linen (yes, we ask!).

3. Have a teeny tech center.

catch 2 classics leather charging station from courant 2 Above: The Catch: 2 Classics makes for a good-looking charging station.

Everyone has a cell phone. Give guests a convenient place to charge it—and even leave the charger in the spare bedroom so you’re not looking for it every time you have new guests. We have this sleek leather Catch: 2 Classics wireless charging station from Courant (shown above), which has the benefit of looking 1000 percent better than a bunch of dangling cords next to the bed. Interior designer and artist Maya Schindler suggests going as far as to switch out the outlet near the bed to the type that USB cords can also plug into, if you can. “Depends on the host you want to be,” says Schindler.

Also, if you really want to go the distance, put your wireless network and password near the charger, maybe in a little frame (optional) or written on a slip of paper tucked next to the charger.

4. Help guests have music… or silence.

We love music, and most of our friends and family love music, and while we have great speakers in the main parts of our home, it’s a fun extra to give guests their own speaker to enjoy as they see fit. It can be a tiny portable bluetooth speaker like many hotels provide these days; in our guest room we added one of Sonos’s portable Move speakers, which stays docked primarily in the guest room but works well when we want to add extra speaker capacity elsewhere in the house or even outside.

On the flip side, as a person who sometimes travels with a white noise machine (it might have reached the level of habituation or even addiction, dunno) it’s really nice to have a noise machine available for guests. As a connoisseur, I don’t think you can beat the Dohm Natural Sound Machine model from Yogasleep

5. Hang an eye pillow by the bed.

martina casonato the venetian pantry guest room 3 Above: An eye mask hangs from a shelf above the bed in Martina Casonato’s guest room; see A Graphic Designer’s Redone Victorian, Where the Pantry Takes Center Stage. Photograph via Martina Casonato of The Venetian Pantry.

What’s an eye pillow, you ask? That’s what my partner calls an eye mask, and thus what I now call it, and maybe you will, too. We have curtains and such in the guest room, but we also have skylights that let all the light in come daytime. With anything less than blackout shades, if you want to sleep in, daylight is your enemy. So we give our guests an eye pillow. So far, these are standard issue, but I do have a vision to start custom-sewing them for every guest out of vintage fabrics or old shirting material. Maybe after I’m done with all the renovation projects, sometime in 2084…

6. Make a “do not disturb” sign.

Another hotel takeaway, and a practical one. It’s nice to know when your guests are awake and ready to be disturbed about breakfast items, activity choices, etc. We found a cute vintage hook and put it on the door outside one of our guest rooms and plan to embroider “do not disturb” or something cuter on a vintage handkerchief eventually. But for now, we’ve made a “baby sleeping” sign to hang up for my newborn niece.

7. Create a drink station.

sister city atelier ace 4 4 Above: If you’re in need of simple bedside drinkware recommendations, look no further than 10 Easy Pieces: Bedside Water Carafes. Photograph from Shaker/Japanese Simplicity at Ace Hotel’s New Sister City on the Bowery.

Again, this one comes from my deep love of fancy hotels: I love when they have those glass bottles of tap water and a pretty glass or two by the nightstand. Better yet? When they also have a small complimentary carafe of bourbon.  One of our favorite B&Bs, the Granville House in Great Barrington, MA, uses old glass milk bottles guests can fill with tap water and bring to their rooms, and we’ve copied that at home. Plus, if we know what our guests enjoy for a nightcap, we’ll put a bottle of that—even a splash in a fancy vintage bottle—on the nightstand as well.

8. Frame a picture of your guests.

This one comes from the brilliant concierge team at the over-the-top wonderful Hôtel de Crillon in Paris which, when my partner and I stayed there recently, had printed out two pictures of us from my Instagram feed and put them in frames on either side of our bed. It was such a lovely touch! So personalized and thoughtful. We’re doing the same for our houseguests this year—in this case, printing out a picture that we love of us with them and putting it in a frame next to their bed. And then they can take it home as an extra gift if they want, which just adds to the holiday spirit. 

9. Throw a throw blanket the right way.

studio oink washington d.c. remodel photograph matthew williams styling alexa h 5 Above: Throw blanket ease. Photograph by Matthew Williams, styling by Alexa Hotz, from Steal This Look: A Belgian-Inflected Guest Bedroom, 100 Square Feet Small.

All of the above could risk seeming a little precious, and what we really want is for our guests to feel absolutely comfortable, like our home is their home. And I feel like the way to signal that, practically and spiritually, is to have something imperfect, something casually (but thoughtfully) tossed into the space, making it feel relaxed — but also warm and inviting. Enter the throw blanket.

Our interior design guru Maya Schindler says you can toss a few on a sofa or chair for that casual look, but on the bed, go for more structure. Place a throw blanket across the foot of the bed for a layered look. She also does a fun thing where she places a throw blanket diagonally on the bed to create a playful juxtaposition of shape and pattern.  Either way, says Schindler: “Some like it hot, some like it not, so layers are key.”

And for other tips to ready the home for guests, see:

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