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Having guests come to stay with you is a great motivator for home improvement projects you may have been putting off. Start with the front door: A tidy, well-tended entrance lets guests know you're looking forward to seeing them. If paint is peeling, now is a good time to scrape it down and repaint so it will look fresh. For a quick facelift, add color and soften the architecture with pots of plants. If you have room for seating on the porch, make sure it's clean and comfy. Provide a welcome mat so guests can wipe their shoes before entering the house.
Declutter the entry area so there's room for you and your guests to greet each other and bring in suitcases without tripping over shoes, book bags, or awkwardly placed furniture. A front entry needs enough furnishings to provide a sense of transition -- a table with a piece of art, for example, acts as both a focal point in this entry and a visual connection to the living room beyond. The front entrance is the formal one that guests use, while the family entrance may be on the side of the house, through the garage, or at the back door. You don't need the same kind of functional storage here that you do at those entrances, so the furnishings can be minimal and decorative.
The family entrance needs to be practical -- this is where you take off your coat, leave the umbrella, and kick off your shoes. If guests will use this entrance too, clear space for them to leave their belongings during their stay. All you need to turn a back hall into a well-organized entry is a row of coat hooks and a bench or table along one wall so you have a place to put things as you come and go. Use a shallow basket for mail and keys, and control clutter by corralling items in baskets or other containers.
More suburban homes are adopting the idea of a mudroom for the family entrance because it's a practical place to leave coats, boots, and sports equipment. If you have the space, build a storage unit to fit along one wall to accommodate both family and guests. This unit provides three stalls for hanging coats and sitting down to pull on boots. Storage space above and below holds shoes, mittens, and scarves. Other amenities for a mudroom include a mirror (so you can see how you look before you head out the door) and a lamp for welcome-home illumination at night.
Avoid over decorating the guest bedroom. You want it to be comfortable and welcoming but not so full of decorative objects and furniture that guests have no place to put their things. Leave room to make this their home for the duration of their stay. If you have only one guest room, choose twin beds over a double or queen-size bed; that way friends, children, or couples can occupy the room comfortably. A shared table serves both beds as a place for an alarm clock and personal items.
If space is too tight in your guest bedroom for a bedside table and dresser, install a line of slim drawers along the wall to serve both functions. Guests don't need a lot of drawers, so a single row offers enough space for personal items. To expand the sense of space, hang a long, low mirror just above the shelf.
Guests will greatly appreciate having a flat surface to rest their suitcases for unpacking -- here a woven hamper holds extra blankets but can also support a suitcase. An ottoman doubles as a surface for resting a carry-on bag. Clear tabletops and dresser tops, too, so your guests have a place to put their reading material, toiletries, and belongings.
While the point of a visit is to spend time with each other, a television in the guest room acknowledges the fact that your guests may not want to go to bed as early as you do, or may wake up earlier and want to catch the weather forecast. A plasma TV takes up little space, and this entertainment center is perfectly designed for the guest room, with drawers below the TV unit to hold a visitor's clothing.
The luxury of a mini kitchen in the guest suite offers the practical advantage of allowing your guests some independence. Half of a closet offers enough space for a mini refrigerator, coffee pot or espresso maker, and microwave. Stock the refrigerator with bottled water, juice, and cream for coffee, and leave a supply of ground coffee and sugar on the shelves just before the guests arrive. The danger is that they may never leave, of course.
Even if the guest bedroom closet normally serves as your out-of-season storage, move the clothes elsewhere for the duration of the visit, or at least push them to one side to make space for your guests' clothes. Provide plenty of hangers for skirts and pants as well as shirts and blouses. And if you have clean, fluffy robes available for your guests to use, you get five stars as a host/hostess.
A well-designed guest bath puts essential supplies within easy reach. Here, a narrow storage niche set into the end wall of the shower includes a closed cupboard for extra toilet paper and cleaning supplies, and glass shelves hold stacks of towels and wash cloths right outside the shower. Hand and body lotion and shower gel are generous gestures in case guests forgot to bring their own. Upgrade the shower to include both a rainshower head and a hand-shower extension, and include an assist bar for safety.
Twin pedestal sinks enhance convenience in the guest bath, allowing both members of a couple to get ready at the same time. To provide storage space for bath supplies and counterspace for toiletries, include a freestanding or built-in hutch like this one. Set out a tray to hold your guests' makeup bottles, and provide a cup or holder for toothbrushes and toothpaste. These thoughtful touches help visitors feel at home and keep the space uncluttered.
As in your bathroom, lighting should be positioned on each side of the mirror so it doesn't cast shadows from above or below. Paired fixtures should be able to handle 75 to 100 watt bulbs or the CFL equivalent to ensure good light for grooming.
While bedside lamps are essential for safety reasons (if a guest needs to get up in the night, you don't want him to have to stumble to the door in the dark), wall-mount lamps offer added convenience and comfort. Install one over each bed, high enough to illuminate the headboard and pillow area for bedtime reading but low enough that the lamp can be switched on or off easily. The right height will depend on the height of the bed.
While you may have a bare-windows policy for the rest of your house, dress the windows in the guest room so that guests have the option of covering them for privacy or blocking light if they wish. The combination of woven blinds and fabric draperies here allows guests to lower the blinds in the daytime to filter light and block views. At night, they can draw the draperies for greater privacy.
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