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Preparing for House Guests

Creating space for guests in your home involves more than providing a comfortable place to sleep; it's an opportunity to make people feel welcome and ensure that their time spent with you is memorable.
Martha Stewart Living, November 1994

Choose the Right Room

Ideally, a guest room is a bedroom with a bathroom attached. It should be inconspicuously placed, so that guests don't need to cross the busiest parts of the house to get to it; for privacy, it shouldn't be next to a child's room.

Decorate Sparingly
In a strange room, comfort and space are more soothing than a clutter of unfamiliar things. On a bedside table, place a single flower bloom in a simple glass, a nice clock, and a selection of books suited to your guests' tastes.

Outfit the Bed
Make up a double bed with four ample sleeping pillows -- two medium or firm, and two soft -- as well as two smaller pillows to prop up the head when reading. Use cotton or linen sheets, starched and ironed for hotel crispness. Provide both light and heavy blankets, as well as a lightweight throw for afternoon naps.

Closets and Drawers
Make sure there is adequate closet and drawer space. Supply a variety of hangers -- at least a dozen good wooden or metal ones -- that will hold trousers and jackets, flimsy dresses, and heavy coats. And make certain there is a full-length mirror.

Bathroom Essentials
If the bathroom is shared, clear space in it for guests' toiletries. Stock it with new toothbrushes and toothpaste, a plush robe, and a supply of clean cotton towels (two large bath towels, two face towels, and a washcloth) for each guest. Supply a few luxuries that one might not find at home: a beautiful soap, an unusual cream, a special shampoo, or a small bottle of perfume or cologne. If your guest has allergies, provide a hypoallergenic soap and moisturizer.

After you've provided the basic necessities, consider some of these extra touches to make guests feel at home.

Sitting Area
Space permitting, set up a comfortable chair or settee with a pillow and throw, an adjacent table, and a good adjustable-brightness lamp. Assemble a small personal library, including some magazines and a daily newspaper (useful for local listings like concerts). A radio for morning news and quiet evening listening is a thoughtful addition; you might also include a portable CD player with a selection of music.

Desk Supplies
Provide a small desk or a cleared tabletop, and stock it with pens and paper, note cards, envelopes, and stamps. Compile a list of some favorite local places -- restaurants, cafes, museums, antiques shops, movie theaters -- and provide timetables, if appropriate, for buses, ferries, or trains. A telephone in the room is a convenience, but not a necessity.

Extra Warmth
If the room has wood floors, place a small rug beside the bed. For visitors during the coldest months, think of providing a hot-water bottle in a soft slipcase -- a soothing amenity your guests won't have expected to find.

Food and Drink
Consider your guests' food preferences: If one is a vegetarian, or allergic to fish or dairy products, be sure your menus include options and that your pantry and refrigerator are appropriately stocked. Show guests where to find snacks, drinking glasses, and utensils, and encourage them to help themselves. Leave a pitcher of spring water and a glass on the bedside table in the guest room.

Comments (54)

  • lzbthcldwll 18 Apr, 2015

    I always write the wireless passcode on a note card so they can access the internet easily.

    Our guest room does not have room for a dresser, but I got a hanging organizer for the closet that creates a few shelves and has two drawers, which is all most guests need for a day or two.

    I use nightlights in the bathroom and hallway (we have a single bath) because finding your way in a dark, unfamiliar house can be difficult.

  • charles crawford 31 Mar, 2015

    I'm reliably informed that at Buckingham Palace the servants kindly empty the washbags of any overnight guests and leave the contents neatly organised in the bathroom. Be warned.

    What are your views on privacy and houseguests? What sets limits on their response to "please make yourself feel at home"? Opening books? Playing records? Raiding fridge? Using the host's PC to check emails? Looking in drawers?

    What privacy should guests expect in their bedroom or otherwise?

    See also Diplomacy ...

  • fenesta 19 Feb, 2015

    I love your tips. I am expecting guests I have never met in a few days. My husband met them a few months ago. This is not the first time for me. I have hosted on many other occasions and love it. I do most of what you said. Is it proper to ask your guests what foods they love and what allergies they might have?

    I love to cook so that is not a problem for me. They will be spending one week in our home. Accommodations are fine since there is a guest room with a private bathroom

  • cookinggenius 16 Apr, 2014

    I also bought two small carafes (cheap) with little glasses that sit on top for the bedside tables.

  • cookinggenius 16 Apr, 2014

    I have frequent out of country guests and like to make sure they have a good night's sleep. I have a set of cotton linens for the bed, and when they leave, I wash them and iron them and store them in a plastic bag with a cotton ball infused with some essential oil, like lavendar. Storing them in the closet somehow they always smell musty and this keeps them fresh-smelling. Just need to open the bag and dress the bed

  • bakerldy 6 Jan, 2015

    I lve this idea thank your for sharing it. I certainly will be incorporating it into my guest prep routine.

  • Camarose 15 Oct, 2011

    I do not have an extra bedroom or bathroom. So I have a large living room with fireplace is there a way to make a corner work? We have inflate a beds and comforters and pillows, but how can we make it private?

  • grannyj3 20 Dec, 2010

    I would love to stay with some of you delightful folks, even on an Aerobed in the living room. Hopefully your guests are there to visit you, though of course they would appreciate the little extra things you can do to make the visit more special. But please - don't starch my sheets!!!

  • myla08 20 Dec, 2010

    These ideas may be a bit luxe. Some people have very little space or small budgets. Instead of telling others to "stop grumbling", try some helpful tips. Even for my grown children I put a little basket by their beds w. pens, pads, toothbrushes, a book, etc. You can add hand lotion, a little toothpaste, combs, small soaps, a hand mirror, etc. Tissues are vital. If no little children,Tylenol is a help. A small TV is great. A yummy packaged treat is fun. People love any sign of thoughtfulness.

  • Cheryllion 20 Dec, 2009

    And when we didn't have a kids' room to use, we would tell our guests ahead of time that they'd be on the pull-out sofa. Then they can decide if that's fine or if they want to find a hotel. With the pull-out sofa, we made sure the downstairs bathroom was theirs, and theirs alone, so that they felt they had just a tiny bit of their own private space. You can do it!

  • want2decor 23 Feb, 2009

    I never minded having guest in my pad, but it is always the fear of your guest being rude and I do not like rude people.

  • Threethisweek 18 Feb, 2009

    Create cozy bed and spa-like seting. Keep a bed set, blanket, towel

  • Blakester 15 Feb, 2009

    Our guest room and adjacent but separate bathroom would entail our guests being seen from the kitchen going from their room to the bath. I hung a curtain rod across the opening between the kitchen and short guest hallway with a sheet hung on it that I put a large hem in. It's like a separate wing!

  • jmp1022 15 Feb, 2009

    I wish my house was big enough to do this, Mine is under 900 sq. ft. I'd love to have a separate area just for my guests. When people do come they are put everywhere. No one has privacy.

  • ratgirl 15 Feb, 2009

    Great article! I love how adaptable the ideas are, even for my small house with its little guest room that has to share a bath with us I'll definitely be putting together a list of restaurants and attractions for our guests! What a wonderful idea! Thanks for mentioning snacks for those with dietary restrictions. Being vegans, we can relate! I love the suggestion below of offering some non-perishable treats in the room so guests can nibble without searching the kitchen. These ideas are so beautifully considerate! I'll be bookmarking this article!

  • kimwylie0523 15 Feb, 2009

    I'm pleased to say I've been doing a lot of these things for a while. Never once has a guest suggested I'm trying to run a "four star hotel." In fact, it's not often they ever have to ask for anything, and I take that as a compliment. Have you ever stayed with a friend and had to ask for things? You feel like you're inconveniencing them with your presence. Supplying some essentials is one thing -- adding in those creature comforts just lets them enjoy being a guest, not a burden.

  • kimwylie0523 15 Feb, 2009

    I'm pleased to say I've been doing a lot of these things for a while. Never once has a guest suggested I'm trying to run a "four star hotel." In fact, it's not often they ever have to ask for anything, and I take that as a compliment. Have you ever stayed with a friend and had to ask for things? You feel like you're inconveniencing them with your presence. Supplying some essentials is one thing -- adding in those creature comforts just lets them enjoy being a guest, not a burden.

  • queensgirl 14 Feb, 2009

    hey martha - we're not running a four star hotel

  • rubyreign 14 Feb, 2009

    Thank you. I appreciate the advice, great!

  • SouthernCharmEvents 14 Feb, 2009

    I do not think guests expect us to do more than what is within our means. The article is designed for those who have the luxury of extra space, but it is also designed to remind the host/hostess to remember the needs of our guests. Some these simple ideas can be done no matter what size home or budget you have. As always, kudos ...

  • DavidRush 14 Feb, 2009

    the point of the article is to think of someone else's needs besides your own...obviously it was wasted on you M, and S, lighten up

  • Marycassells 14 Feb, 2009

    I don't have guests. Everyone, even my family, agree to meet at a coffee shop.

  • sandramiranda 14 Feb, 2009

    Wouldn't it be nice if we all had the luxury of choosing which of our many extra rooms is suitable for guests. And we're lucky to have more than one bathroom. My guests no longer have to sleep on a sleeper sofa but I only have 2 twin beds to offer them. Not everyone is equipped with bed and breakfast quality accommodations. Ho about if we are just gracious and thoughtful hosts who are doing our best for friends?!

  • rebeccaamalone 14 Feb, 2009

    I think this article needs to be updated. The CD player and CDs are old fashioned. Nearly everyone has some sort of PDA or i Pod these days. I would put in a little radio,iPod doc combo, or something to that nature, for their listening needs.

  • momoftwoboys1 14 Feb, 2009

    I've learned this from having my children's friends spend the night... Put a nightlight in the nearest bathroom and also down the hallway so they can find their way! There's nothing worse than waking up in the middle of the night, being disoriented and not able to find the bathroom in a hurry. I also pack a nightlight for this purpose when we stay at hotels. Sometimes you can't just leave the light on and door open a little because they have noisy fans attached!

  • Antler 14 Feb, 2009

    Oops, think I just glitched with too many characters. Respect the potential for guests' allergies and omit fresh flowers and scented candles from their room. Try never to let your pets go into dual purpose/guest bedrooms even when no guests are there.

  • Antler 14 Feb, 2009

    Consider NOT putting fresh flowers or scented candles in the guest bedrooms. I notice that, especially as our guests usually are our own advancing age, many of them have developed strange allergies they never had in their youth. Also for that reason, we never let our own cats and dogs go into the guest bedrooms, which normally have dual uses as jigsaw puzzle, sewing, crafting, and ironing havens as well.

  • Antler 14 Feb, 2009

    If only one person is visiting, I frequently set them up in the guest bedroom which has twin beds. After they choose which bed they want for sleeping, I bring in a flat sheet, throw it over the OTHER bed and encourage the guest to put their suitcase, purchases, or whatever on it as though it's a desk. Since most guests would do that anyway, the sheet also helps save wear and tear on my bedspreads!

  • Antler 14 Feb, 2009

    lfarrend's positive suggestions are good. Many of our guests have flown in from other time zones so that their eating hours are not synchronized to ours. I leave a bowl containing fruits, Nature Valley Pecan Crunch breakfast bars, and homemade cookies in a zip-lock bag in their room. You would think it would work just as well to show guests how to find snacks on their own in the kitchen, but actually most guests are too embarrassed to "forage" in front of others.

  • colleenroche 14 Feb, 2009

    this couldn't have arrived at a better time. I'm going to try to do all of these things, and more, for my best friend who's coming next week. :)

  • slyrn 14 Feb, 2009

    I love to have guests over but many of us don't have the extra room to do all that stuff. i do use some of the ideas but don't have a spare room to set up like that. Would be nice to though

  • GwenHex 14 Feb, 2009

    I hope I never have guests stay over then, because I'm not going to spend the extra thousand this wants me to.

  • want2decor 3 Feb, 2009

    Wow, that sounds so hard about having guest in your pad, but in reality it is not that bad. I think of it like when you are by yourself, but you just have an extra person for a temporary time.

  • MissMagoo 10 Dec, 2008

    What should I do if I live in a one bedroom apartment but still like to have guest stay the night at my place. I hate to make people pay for hotels!! Help!

  • MissMagoo 10 Dec, 2008

    What should I do if I live in a one bedroom apartment but still like to have guest stay the night at my place. I hate to make people pay for hotels!! Help!

  • Deeklein 6 Sep, 2008

    Since there is only a shared bathroom available I also provide a small flashlight for my guest to navigate their way.

  • LadyChrisA 22 Aug, 2008

    lol cthrynmb!! Probably not... don't feel too bad, at our old house we were fortunate enough to have a spare bedroom, but we had to share one teeny-tiny bathroom. Talk about close quarters! We've since moved

  • cathrynmb 31 Jul, 2008

    I guess our Aerobed in the living room ain't quite cuttin it huh?

  • kiltie1124 25 Apr, 2008

    We are fortunate to have not one but TWO dedicated guest rooms, one with a queen bed and the other has twin beds. Before our company arrives, I try to spend the night in each room, to see what is missing or what needs to be changed or added. Something as simple as an added box of tissues or a well-placed wastebasket or even just someplace to set a piece of luggage down can relieve the stress of being in a place other than home.

  • cookieman333 25 Feb, 2008

    Really insightful information. Will definitely use when guests come over! =)

  • merigold 16 Feb, 2008

    I liked the bit about writing paper. I know, we rather use laptops or palmtops, but anyway, a nice notebook could be very useful.

    I went to visit a friend once, she put a small chocolate on my pillow to find in the evening. I loved it.

  • sigperez 4 Jan, 2008

    My husband often travels and stays in hotels and he knows that i usually ask him to bring home all the hotel toilet supplies that are given for free to guests. I've been able to collect enough that i am able to provide to my guests these same supplies whenever they're in my home for a visit!

  • sigperez 4 Jan, 2008

    i loved the attention and care for little really helps us see things in a different perspective..

  • sigperez 4 Jan, 2008

    i loved the attention and care for little really helps us see things in a different perspective..

  • subgirl 25 Nov, 2007

    When attempting to print the article, it doesn't display the whole thing, just the first page. ANNOYING.

  • MetricsMan 19 Nov, 2007

    THis article is GGGREAT!

  • merrysage 13 Nov, 2007

    The bit about providing writing paper was amusing. More likely your guest wants an outlet to plug their cell phone charger in so they can send text messages. Or a connection point for thieir laptop. I liked the link to Bedlinen 101.

  • rgshrader 9 Nov, 2007

    We can convert our downstairs which has a futon, and we add a good quality pillow-top inflatable mattress to it. It really becomes a comfy bed. We also have a shared bathroom, but we make sure it sparkles and that each guest has their own soap, shampoo, etc. The advise above is excellent even for a "borrowed" space. It works well for us and we have a small 3 bedroom house and four family members a cat and a dog. So we really have no "spare" space for our every day living!

  • lfarrand 9 Nov, 2007

    I keep a small basket of assorted trial-sized supplies in our guest bathroom: toothbrushes, toothpaste, lotion, shampoo, nail file, shoe shiner, lip balm, cotton balls, cotton swabs, dental floss, razor, bath gel w/sponge. In front of it a small sign "Forget Something? If you don't see it here, please ask. If we have it, we'll be glad to share!" I also leave a bottle for water for each guest by the bed and another in the bathroom. Our guests always comment how welcome it makes them feel.

  • ylekiot 9 Nov, 2007

    Living across the street from a Hawaii beach is probably the reason we have so many guests --would we be this popular if we lived in Barstow? Our guest book is a treasured keepsake and our guest room is my office with a queen-size futon/sofa; close the armoire and shazam! A guest will be comfy! Declutter toys and drool and offer a clean, welcoming place to sleep; these tips apply, even if you need to modify for your situation. And stop grumbling!

  • christinabee 9 Nov, 2007

    I suppose this advice is good, but it seems to me it starts with a very large supposition: that you HAVE a room dedicated solely to overnight guests! I have a TV room with a hide-a-bed, a couple of kids who can be evicted from their bedrooms on a temporary basis, and a few nooks and crannies people can sleep in. It would be much more useful to get advice on making these marginal spaces more welcoming!

  • NightingaleJen 8 Nov, 2007

    Very nice article, especially when it comes to removing clutter from the guest room. Travel can be stressful, even when it is to visit beloved family; a cluttered guest room full of "stuff" makes it difficult for already-tired travellers to truly relax and get much-needed rest.

    Also, the other commentor's guestbook idea is wonderful. A treasure indeed!

  • hudagai 8 Nov, 2007

    THIS PAGE WILL NOT PRINT. WHEN I CLICK THE "PRINT" LINK, IT JUMPS TO THE PREVIOUS PAGE. Clever fellow that I am, I copied and pasted to a Wordn n n n document, and printed that.

  • livingthelife 8 Nov, 2007

    I have provided a guest journal in the room for all of our guests to write in--it is a treasured keepsake as well as a log of what we did while the guests visited. Since we have many friends coming from the States to visit us in Panama, we love to show them our new home country and its varied treasures!