How to make your guests feel at home ... but not for too long

Empty the wardrobe, clear the clutter, edit the photographs and go to enough trouble to ensure one-night comfort. Here are our dos and don’ts of staying over – for hosts and guests

Summertime and the living would be a lot easier if people didn't want to come to stay. Yet even now all over the country those three little words are being whispered, aghast: "They're staying over". Marthastewart. com is no help. It suggests the ideal guest room is one with a bathroom attached. Just a little light construction work, so. The room should also be "inconspicuously placed, so that guests don't need to cross the busiest parts of the house to get to it", so, not off the landing either. "For privacy, it shouldn't be next to a child's room."

Meanwhile, back in the real world, there are some steps you can take to ensure the guest room is welcoming even if you’re not. And none of them involve a lump hammer.


"Don't leave your clutter in the guest room," says Wicklow interior designer Margo Fleming. "Nothing feels as unwelcoming as baskets of ironing, gym equipment, stacks of books and bills pushed out of the way for the guest you have been expecting for more than a month.



Putting your wifi password in a frame in the guest room is a nice touch, in case they forget to ask before everyone has gone to bed. A universal phone charger is a great addition.

“And a carafe of water, or a few bottles of water, saves guests having to rummage around the kitchen for water and glasses during the night.” God forbid.

Put together a basket of mini-toiletries. “It’s very easy to forget basic items when packing,” she says.

If, as is likely, the guest room is a sullenly vacated family member’s room, put up hooks on the wall so your guests don’t have to do battle with full wardrobes.

“And give your guests the alarm code in case they get up early and want to leave the house before anyone else is up,” says Fleming. Here’s hoping.

Simple decor

Keep the decor simple, says Julianne Kelly of Kevin Kelly Interiors. "The guest room should not be the repository for unwanted wedding gifts, or freaky figurines.

“Adding some accessories can really give the finishing touch to the room such as a nice vase of fresh flowers, new magazines, or a great book they can dip in and out of.’’ Kelly also suggests keeping extra blankets in the room, “so your guest won’t feel like they are inconveniencing you if they need more”.

Rebecca Roe of Hedgeroe Interiors in Carrickmines who has worked on many a spare bedroom project is very particular about having people to stay: "When I have guests I always make sure I have fresh flowers beside the bed, crisp white sheets, fluffy towels and a carafe with iced water and a slice of cucumber."

She is equally particular when she’s the guest. “I always want a strong bedside table a little taller than the bed, large enough to hold at least a book, a lamp and a water glass.”

Sleep well

The key to a good stay is a good night's sleep. "If the mattress is old or uncomfortable, a topper or a duvet will give an extra layer of luxury. Ikea does a standard double 135 x190mm memory mattress topper for €139," she says.

“When it comes to pillows, I love feather or its allergy-free version, Dacron. I bought a set of two fabulous down pillows in TK Maxx for €40 (normally €100).”

Personal stuff

Interior designer Philippa Buckley of Studio44 says, "It's not great to arrive as a guest and see the room cluttered with items that are personal to the host, and a wardrobe full of clothes," she says.

Moreover, personalise it to your guest. “Leave copies of the latest magazines in the room, whether on fashion, interiors, art or whatever your guest has an interest in. It demonstrates that you know what they are interested in while visiting.”

Personally, I’d be inclined to leave brochures for local B&Bs.


Doing up the guest room shouldn't be a grudge activity but it often is. "I always find the guest room is the one that gets neglected the most in interior design jobs. The intentions are there but if the budget's going to be trimmed anywhere, that's where it will get hit because everyone wants to prioritise the master bedroom," says Cormac Rowell of Rowell Design in Donnybrook.

If budgets are limited, put it into the bed. “A comfy bed is the main thing; after that, it’s about nice bedding. You can dress up any bed really easily with throws and quilts and end-of-the-bed stools,” he says.

“And don’t put up family pictures of just one side of the family. You’ve got to be diplomatic. That said, the most popular item in our shop is a sign that says ‘Friends welcome. Relatives by appointment’.”

One-night comfort

If space is at a premium, opt for a store bed – a single bed with another underneath it on rollers that pulls up into a double. These cost from €1,099 in a cream fabric from Arnotts, or €1,299 in oak.

"What people often prefer to do is to use the spare room as a study or den for the kids, and put a sofa bed in for guests," says Brian Gillivan, furniture buyer at Arnotts. Fabric sofa beds are currently on sale for €999, down from €1,299. Leather sofa beds are reduced to €1,399 from €1,899 in the sale, which ends on August 1st. Argos has inflatable mattress beds from €27.

As a regular host of house guests, Gillivan reckons the primary design objective is to get the level of comfort just right.

"We often have relatives up from the country, especially around All-Ireland time. I've learned the trick is to make it comfortable, but not so comfortable that they don't want to leave. 'One-night comfort' is the objective," he says.

Anything to hasten the most relaxing words in the English language: “They’re gone.”

A guide for guests: Come bearing thoughtful gifts, not something you’ve dug out of the fridge in a panic

There’s a saying that compares houseguests to fish: they go off in about three days. That time frame could be a bit long for friends who show up empty-handed. Let’s face it, it’s not easy having someone to stay, but it’s easier if they bring something to the party.

A single bottle of wine doesn’t quite cut it for a sleepover, and petrol station flowers aren’t exactly going to bring joy to a host who has to go off and find a suitable vase to display them in. It may be practical to show up with the perishable contents of your fridge and palm them off as gifts, but nobody will relish a half-eaten punnet of strawberries or a smeary tub of hummous.

That’s not to say you have to spend a lot of money. Hosts will usually appreciate a bottle of whiskey or gin; a nice olive oil or nicely packaged fresh or dry pasta with a decent jar of sauce. Here are some other suggestions:

Stop off in a deli to add some luxury to breakfast. Smoked salmon, onion relish, unusual chutney, fancy marmalade; things you wouldn’t have at home. If you have made jam this summer, bring a prettily packaged pot.

The makings of dinner will always be welcome, and the offer to cook it, as long as you don’t stress the host out with demands for unusual condiments or utensils (oh . . . you don’t have a fish kettle?) .

Better still, take your hosts out to dinner, or leave them a voucher for somewhere local.

If you are travelling from far afield, bring a foodie treat from your neck of the woods, such as a bottle of local hooch, honey, bread or good chocolate.

Soaps, pretty stationery, a pack of playing cards or a traditional board game will all be welcome, as will a houseplant that doesn’t need too much attention.

Other nice ideas we’ve heard of include a framed canvas of a photo of your hosts, a box of macarons (the posh kind that few people buy for themselves); bath salts that the host can use to relax with after you’ve departed (Laura Mercier does wonderful salts, and Lush salts are good too).

A colleague is still raving about the friend who arrived with homemade body scrub: essential oil, lemon peel and Epsom salts mixed in a kilner jar. She used it for weeks aftwards.

If there are small children in the house, bring a couple of sticker books, some new crayons and a colouring book – or a bag of dinosaur figures – to keep them occupied while you catch up with your friends. You could also get up early and walk their dog, or take the children out for an afternoon that includes feeding them.

Other words of advice? Don’t dare bring something that needs to be kept alive, such as a goldfish or a pet rabbit. My all-time worst gift from a guest was a pair of chickens and some chicken wire to protect them. They were devoured by a local fox that very night.

A nice parting gift is to tidy the room and strip the bed, to save your hosts yet another job.

Finally, no scented candles, please. We only just regifted the last one you brought.

Compiled by Orna Mulcahy