How to Create a Gorgeous Guest Room

Above: Antique headboards and toile de Jouy bedding bring Old Continental charm to a guest room at Casa degli Atellani in Milan.

When overnight guests arrive at your home, what will they find when they make their way to their room? It could feel as spectacular as a bedroom in a luxurious villa or as unpleasant as a tired roadside motel. The difference depends on design choices, which is why so many designers are intent on pushing the decorative envelope in these spaces, even if many of us struggle to mentally move beyond the primary suite. “Because neither you nor your guests will be staying too long in that room, you can be more daring than you would be in the rest of the house,” says Nicolò Castellini Baldissera, an interior designer in Milan. “I like pattern, fabric, toile, stripes, and color, color, color. It should be more personal than a hotel room would be.”

“It should be more personal than a hotel room would be”

Heide Hendricks of the architecture and interior design firm Hendricks Churchill sees the guest room as a perfect place to make a statement that both reflects your sense of style and demonstrates how much you care about your visitors. “One can’t approach guest rooms looking for the greatest common denominator or trying to appeal to everyone,” she says. “Instead, think about what you want but are maybe nervous about using in the main living space.”

twin bed with golden yellow coverlet with rectangular pattern and a highly patterned wallpaper with a dancing horse and carriage at center over the head of the bed

A stretched antique coverlet takes center stage in the guest room of Tatyana Miron Ahlers’s New York City loft.

Stephen Kent johnson

When designing homes for clients, Hendricks usually likes to tackle guest rooms last. That way, they can become repositories for dazzling fabrics, wall-papers, and paint colors her clients fall in love with but worry might be too much for everyday life—like the floral nasturtium pattern she recently used as both wallpaper and drapery fabric in the guest room of a Connecticut house.

Similarly, a guest room is an ideal place to use cherished furnishings that maybe don’t jibe with a home’s larger design scheme, such as family heirlooms, pieces from previous homes, and flea-market finds you just couldn’t pass up. Rodney Lawrence, the New York–based designer, recently used a client’s leftover furniture, including a big four-poster bed and side tables with terrazzo tops, to anchor a dramatic guest room wrapped in wallpaper with a metallic sheen.

“You want your guests to be in an environment that feels as nice as the rest of the home”

Just be careful to use such pieces in a thoughtful way, Lawrence warns: The room shouldn’t be a dumping ground for your college futon and bean-bag chairs. “You want your guests to be in an environment that feels as nice as the rest of the home,” he says, “not one that feels like an afterthought.”

white room with white sheets and a  rustic dark blue and white cover at the foot of the bed with a vivid blue headboard with embroidered stripes of large red and yellow flowers and a chambray blue and white linen rug on wooden floors

White walls allow bold patterns and art to soak up attention in a Miami Beach guest room by Sig Bergamin.

Richard Powers

If you’re worried that house-guests will think you’re subjecting them to a design experiment, don’t be. “Those unique details make guests feel like they’re not forgotten or just thrown in a spare room,” says Tatyana Miron Ahlers, cofounder of Pappas Miron Design. In the guest room of her Manhattan apartment, for instance, Ahlers added coral stripes and a vintage metal-and-glass lantern to the white ceiling and a favorite antique tapestry depicting chariots and cherubs above the headboard.

Because you probably won’t be hosting guests every night, or the same guests all the time, it’s also important to think about flexibility. Sometimes Pappas Miron designs guest rooms with a pair of twin beds on casters beneath a long, shared headboard. When a couple wants to stay the night, the beds can be pushed together to form a king. Other times, they create bedrooms that double as offices or libraries.

Either way, “we always want a little writing table if we can fit it” for working, just like in a hotel room, says Alexandra Pappas, Ahlers’s design partner. A lounge chair or bench provides a place to sit or drop luggage, and a wardrobe, closet, or chest of drawers allows people to unpack while also expanding household storage.

There is only one standard hotel feature that Castellini Baldissera recommends omitting at home: the TV. “I’m staunchly opposed to them in guest bedrooms,” he says. “I don’t want to hear them when I’m going to sleep.” 

How to Be a Good Guest

Make your bed. “Keep the room as immaculate as possible,” since your host will see it, says Lawrence. “I’ve definitely had a few cringe-worthy moments when hosting guests
where I’m like, ‘Okay, I shouldn’t look.’”

Get in sync. “Be mindful of the family schedule,” says Hendricks. “You shouldn’t be sleeping in until noon if the people you’re visiting have the habit of getting up at 9:00.”

Be easy. Whether you’re searching for a glass for water, trying to turn on a lamp, or figuring out the shower, “try to solve every problem yourself before bothering your host,” says Castellini Baldissera.

Bring a memorable gift. Wine and a few groceries are expected. “I always buy something more personal too,” says Alexandra Pappas, “like -vintage cocktail napkins, olives, and skewers.”

november 2022 cover  elle decor

This story originally appeared in the November 2022 issue of ELLE DECOR. SUBSCRIBE