Be Their Guest

By staff December 1, 2002

In Sarasota, three things are certain: death, taxes, and houseguests. According to U.S. Travel Data Center, over one-third of travelers spend vacation time in the guest rooms of friends and family, and anyone who lives here would say that estimate is low. Yet how much attention have you given to your visitors' home away from home? Hotels and resorts are getting more plush and pleasurable all the time, and there's no reason not to offer your friends and family some privacy and pampering as well. Here's how some design pros are responding to that challenge.

Designer Sally Trout's Longboat Key clients wanted to update a guest room using split bamboo furniture recycled from the master suite. Their waterside condo is enjoyed seasonally; and while the Gulf views are expansive, the rooms are not grandly proportioned. Trout's charge was to bring elegance to the guest room while using easy-care fabrics. The homeowners wanted color continuity throughout the house, which has raspberry accents in the living areas. Raspberry appears in the entrance foyer in a painted console and again on the dining room chairs. The color is repeated in the living room area carpet. So for the guest room, Trout selected a breezy palette of Designer Guild cottons in raspberry, melon and mango with amethyst accents.

"We installed crown molding for architectural detail," says the designer, "and painted the ceiling a soothing lavender and the walls a soft alabaster. Then we added the saturated colors, which make all the difference. We used three coordinating patterns, from a pinpoint dot on the padded headboard and slipper chair to the paisley for the drapes and the wide stripes of colored cotton for the custom bed covering."

Trout believes that the imaginative use of lively color and pattern is what gives the room zing and personality. "Of course, we started with quality furniture, and that is essential for guest comfort," she emphasizes. "And we paid attention to luxury bed and bath linens. Details such as the swing-arm lamps provide reading light and also solved a problem. The night tables are small and we didn't want to clutter the surface with table lamps."

The Belgian bed pillows and the three square acrylic paintings acquired at Paradise Gallery in Sarasota provide the finishing details. "This project demonstrates that a guest room doesn't need to be huge or completely new to be fashionable and comfortable," says Trout. The homeowners and their guests wholeheartedly agree.

The guest room that Karen Armstrong installed for her Siesta Key client (a single woman with friends and family galore) transports inhabitants to an exotic locale and gives them fascinating things to study during their stay.

"My client has collected artifacts from her trips to the Far East and Africa," explains the designer, who is also a fiber artist and weaver. "She brought back some beautiful vintage batik textiles from Indonesia for the guest room. And she did not want a single piece of the material cut."

By cleverly tucking, pleating and using basting stitches Armstrong was able to fashion bedskirts, pillows and even a shower curtain for the adjoining bathroom. "The bedroom overlooks a serene gated garden with a koi pond, and that tranquil ambience comes inside with a Zen-like atmosphere," emphasizes Armstrong.

The woven bedspreads are Mexican. The custom toss pillows are fashioned of Thai silk and were made by Armstrong using a layering collage treatment. The wall of woven bamboo behind the iron twin beds adds textural interest and drama, too, because the panel is lit from behind. The designer's color palette in the bedroom and bath stretches from butterscotch and terra cotta to deep rust and chocolate. African masks, an Asian bench, a vintage wrought iron mirror, an antique chest and wall-to-wall sisal carpet complete the look. "A guest bedroom is a wonderful place to display a prized collection and to experiment with color," says Armstrong. "Ideally, you want guests to experience something totally different from their own homes, something they will remember as being truly special."

The newest trend in guest room architecture, especially in resort areas like ours, is the "master guest," a suite that is bigger and more lavishly appointed than the rest of the guest rooms in the home. Usually designed for a relative or friend who often comes to stay for an extended period of time, this room has an adjoining generous bath and often has direct access to a private terrace and/or the family swimming pool. The master guest bedroom is outfitted with a built-in breakfast bar, telephone, writing desk, and fully equipped entertainment unit. Master guest suites are common now in model and custom homes in the luxury category.

You can also convert one of your existing guest rooms into one of master status; just make sure everything in it would meet your own high standards for comfort and convenience if you had to move in there permanently.

What's the best way to determine the caliber of your guest room? Be your own guest for two consecutive nights. Keep a notepad on the bedside table. At the end of your sojourn you'll know exactly what's needed to complete the space. It might be something as trivial as adding a night light in the bathroom or as major as a new mattress. Whatever it is, two nights in your own guest suite should make you an impeccable host.

Ritz-Carlton general manager Carter Donovan has learned a thing or two about perfect guest rooms during her 24 years in the hospitality industry. She's used her corporate experience to style the two guest rooms in her family home in Sarasota. One is bold, with a Ralph Lauren floral print in red, blue and yellow on the king-size four-poster bed and high-energy art work on the walls. The other is fashioned around her grandmother's dresser and includes a queen sleigh bed and soft golden walls. The ambience is serene.

While Ritz rooms undergo a complete redo every five years as well as ongoing freshening up, Donovan says once every three years is enough in most homes. "When you first move here it takes a year or so to really find your Florida decorating personality," says the hotelier. "Once you do, have fun with it. I know I am."

Like the Ritz designers, Donovan chose king- and queen-size beds (consumer polls of hotel guests confirm this decision) in her guest rooms. And also like top hoteliers, she filled the adjoining bath with little luxuries such as French soap, shower gels, shampoos, hair dryer, and a hand mirror so that guests can check out the back of a hairdo.

Luxury linens are a must; and providing your guests with bathrobes is a lovely gesture because no one wants to pack them, she adds.


* Provide comfortable furniture.

* Put fresh flowers in the bedroom, unless your guest has allergies.

* Include a clock in the bathroom.

* Treat fresh bedding to a spritz of linen spray in a newer delicate scent or the familiar favorite, lavender.

* Keep an iron and ironing board in the closet.

* Other nice touches: a cordless phone, disposable spa slippers, and to give guests some morning privacy, an electric coffee maker with all the fixings.

Advice from Sally Trout:

* Make the suite as private and self-contained as possible. Blackout lining on drapes helps insure a restful night's sleep.

* Luxury linens on the bed and in the bath are essential.

* Provide closet and drawer space. Don't forget enough hangers.

* A padded headboard is comfortable when reading in bed.

* Sleep sofas are out. Use only in an emergency or when you have extra children staying.

Tips from Karen Armstrong

* If you only have one guest room, twin beds or two doubles are the versatile option, since unrelated people will probably be using the space from time to time.

* Display a collection in the guest room.

* Experiment with color and texture to give the room a definite personality.

* Don't over-decorate.

* Furniture with clean simple lines contributes to a timeless look. Asian eclectic pieces almost always work.

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