Guest bedrooms may be considered the ultimate luxury for some homeowners as they try to prioritize the most efficient use of every square inch of available space, but in many cases the "guest" room is a necessary solution to facilitate frequent visits from out of town family members, to house a live-in caregiver or to accommodate elderly parents.
In all of these scenarios the need for an extra bedroom may be matched by a desire to grant a little extra privacy (Do you really want to bump into your in-laws in whatever your interpretation of pajamas is ? My guess is no.) I don't think it's mandatory to keep all the bedrooms above grade and believe that some of the best solutions are derived from thinking about your use of space in new ways.
Take my basement for example. It was an unfinished "high and dry" raw space begging for reinterpretation. When I started my renovation it was one open room and by the time I'd finished, it boasted a storage room, laundry room, bathroom and guest bedroom.
Some might think it odd to offer one's guests a subterranean escape, but I thought it made perfect sense. It's quiet, removed from the rest of the house, and has the luxury of feeling like a private getaway since the main floor acts as a buffer zone from the other bedrooms.
I'm not terribly troubled by the limited windows either. I installed a new window well to allow natural light in the afternoon - thanks to the home's southern exposure. The bedroom only measures about nine by 14 feet, so it's highly unlikely that guests who check in will be retreating to their room during daylight hours in hopes of penning their memoirs. The window ensures they won't feel like a cave dweller, but let's be practical and admit that guests are most likely to only use the room after dark.
Boring meets bold
When you are tackling a room that lacks architectural merit and interest it's tough to create an intriguing ambience. Since I carved my guest room out of an open space with a border of concrete block walls it was desperately lacking any charm or character to tap into for inspiration.
My general policy is to only select safe, neutral colours and patterns to guarantee a timeless look, but in this case I feared that would result in a pretty bland end result. I opted to strike out in a bold decor direction and covered the wall behind the bed in a high contrast, branch-themed, black and white wallpaper that certainly makes a statement.
What I like about this choice is the low investment/high impact payoff. It took less that two rolls of wallpaper to create a striking backdrop for the bed. Applying it to the entire room would be way too much of a good thing, but if you limit your application to the wall behind the bed, it means you get the wow factor impact upon entering the room, yet you wake up looking out to the other three walls painted in a light cream, allowing you to start your day with a calming influence. Since it's a basement room with an uninspired view of the outdoors, the organic nature of the pattern brings a reference of the outdoors in.
No room scheme seems done to me unless it has an infusion of vintage treasures. I love the hunt for great finds and thrive on the adventure of the search. In many cases I find that you can secure better quality furnishings at an advantageous price point if you select pre-loved over brand new. I hit an estate auction and managed to scoop a lovely armchair for $40 and very cool faux bamboo dresser/chest for a mere $70. Both needed a facelift, but even after I was done it still cost me less than it would to buy new, and both items have far more character than what I would have found for the equivalent price if buying new.
The dilemma over what to do with small basement windows which are tucked up high on the wall in order to be above grade is a commonly asked question.
Small window treatments tailored to the size of the opening always look silly to me, so I opt for floor-to-ceiling solutions. In this case I used a ripplefold track that mounts on the ceiling to avoid having a slice of light filtering over the top of the rod. Since I assume the drapes will remain closed more than they are open, a full height installation allows you to appreciate the beauty of the fabric as well.
Get in line
After installing full-height drapes over a rather small opening you are left with a large expanse of wall space below - and the question of how to treat it. I found a collection of four salad plates that highlighted my green accent colour in the room scheme and decided they were too beautiful to leave stacked in a kitchen cupboard, so I had them framed in shadow boxes and turned them into accessible art (at $9 a plate, I figured this was a low-risk experiment). When it came time to hang them, I divided them into two pairs, mounting one set above the chair and the other beneath the window well. The bottom edge on all four pictures lines up and the unexpected surprise of finding artwork behind the drapes is very effective.
I find that inspiration can strike in the most unlikely places. While looking for tabletop accessories, I discovered large ceramic vases with a funky leaf pattern. Lucky for me, there was plenty of stock left over and they were on sale for $19 a piece. Since I hadn't come up with a bedside light solution I decided to convert these bargain gems into lights to create another bold reference to my green accents.
Thinking of you
You may not be in the market to completely redecorate your guest room in the latest style, but there are a few small things you can do to make sure that the room is as comfortable as possible for your visitors.
I like side tables with ample space to handle a bedside light, clock, reading glasses, water glass, and a book. If you are shopping for tables, just remember that a larger tabletop surface is always better than a tiny little one. Side tables with a shelf are also a good idea as you can leave a stack of common interest books for your guests to enjoy (if they are suffering from jet lag and adjusting to a new time zone, they may appreciate this middle of the night diversion from counting sheep).
If your room is small and you need to make the most of storage solutions you might want to consider a mattress like the one I found which has four storage drawers in the box spring. It's the perfect place to stash extra bedding, pillows and towels. (And I don't know anyone who couldn't use a little extra storage in their life so I will be recommending this style of box spring from now on!)
Sarah's House airs on HGTV each Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET/PT. She'll write about it here each Friday.
Sarah Richardson is host and co-producer of Design Inc. and Sarah's House on HGTV and principal of Sarah Richardson Design ( ).
Where to buy it
Wallpaper - South Beach by Thibaut,
Bedside tables, gold mirror, sheets, gold tea set, green glass accessories, straw bag - Urban Barn,
Vases for lamps - Pier 1 Imports,
Lamp wiring hardware - Home Depot,
Headboard - Sarah Richardson Design,
Fabrics - Designer Fabrics,
Mattress and box spring with storage, duvet cover, mirror above dresser - Ikea,
Bird plates used as art, bedside lampshades - Pottery Barn,
Framing - Elgin Picture and Framing Inc., (416) 532-7031
Chair and dresser - Ritchie's Auctioneers,
Custom spraying - Benjamen Furniture Refinishing, (416) 745-2559