Be Our Guest

Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 11, 2008; Page H01

With Christmas two weeks away and estimates of 1 million to 5 million people expected for the inauguration next month, it's "no vacancy" in many guest rooms in the Washington area.

Whether you offer a private room with a king-size bed, 500-thread-count sheets and WiFi or an inflatable mattress squeezed onto a kitchen floor, it may be in great demand over the next six weeks. Economic realities might force your brother, his family of four and their Labrador to bunk with you for the holidays because they don't have the money for the Days Inn. And, according to Destination DC, which markets Washington to tourists and businesses, the few area hotels with vacancies for inauguration weekend require a minimum stay of four or five nights.

Getting a request for lodging can be a prompt to replace faded towels and buy a case of Fiji water, or perhaps something stronger.

"In many cases, a guest room is likely also a spare room or a gift wrap room and needs attention," says Amy Elliott, author of "A Warm Welcome: How to Be a Gracious Host to Friends and Family," to be published by Ryland Peters & Small in April.

Elliott says it is hospitable to provide computer access, a good reading light, an alarm clock, a selection of clothes hangers and a cozy throw. Bedding is important. "Even if you are using an AeroBed or a sofa, you should have nice sheets and a featherbed," Elliott says.

At Donna Brazile's house on Capitol Hill, two sisters and a friend with a teenage daughter have reserved beds for the Jan. 20 festivities. "What makes my guest room special: It's cozy, comfy and comes with its own TV," Brazile, a Democratic strategist and commentator, said in an e-mail. "It's also above the kitchen, so the guest(s) knows what is stirring at all times."

Irish Ambassador Michael Collins says his embassy has been swamped with calls from Irish citizens wanting to fly over to witness the inauguration of Barack Obama, whose mother's family hails from Moneygall in County Offaly. "People are finding it difficult to find accommodation," says Collins, who adds that he's not sure how many people will be staying with him at the embassy residence in Northwest.

Los Angeles designer Barbara Barry believes you should make a guest room feel like a hotel room. First, clear off the bedside table so your guests can make themselves and their personal items at home. "It is really nice to have new, fresh soap, shampoo and fluffy towels in the bathroom," she said in an e-mail.

Celerie Kemble says a guest room can also be a chance to indulge in some design whimsy, but don't get too carried away. "Number one, make them feel cozy with down pillows and comforters. Number two, make it beautiful," says the New York decorator, who writes about furnishing a guest room in her new book, "To Your Taste: Creating Modern Rooms With a Traditional Twist" (Clarkson Potter, 2008).

When was the last time you test-drove the mattress and window shades in your spare room? "My guest room is really important to me. I sleep in it every few months," says Adam Mahr, owner of the A Mano home accessories shop in Georgetown. "Because I'm in retail, nobody really wants to be around me before Christmas, but I expect some houseguests to show up afterwards."

The pistachio green guest room in his home in Wesley Heights in Northwest offers a queen-size mattress and a duvet covered in an Etro paisley print. "When my friends are coming, I put a photo of them with me in the room. And I make a goody basket loaded with fun munchies: Fritos, M&Ms, Hostess Cup Cakes and a few healthy things like nuts."

Washington designer Skip Sroka and partner John Kammeier have three guest rooms in their Wesley Heights home. "We hosted Thanksgiving and all were filled," Sroka says. "Our house is booked every weekend before Christmas with guests."

Sroka often designs double-duty guest rooms and prefers Murphy beds to sofa beds. "We have one client who just put a Murphy bed in a room that is their massage room and kids' project room," he says. Sroka says a multifunctional guest space should be uncluttered. "Find a way to close off the personal part." In other words, if your home office is also your guest room, put your bills and letters away; your friends should not be tempted to pore over your 401(k) statements in the middle of the night.

In Washington's urban lofts and condos, it's often impossible to have a dedicated room for sleepovers. Art promoter and blogger Philippa Hughes turned her two-bedroom condo near the U Street NW corridor into a one-bedroom to create a more spacious living room. She still has two full bathrooms, but the guest tub has become a storage area. "My guests get to sleep on a fancy Ligne Roset couch, which is very cool," Hughes says. "But they have to use my shower. Over Thanksgiving I had two guests: One slept on the sofa, and one slept on a blowup mattress on the floor that she brought herself." Hughes hasn't committed her sofa to anyone for the inauguration yet; she's still debating whether to rent out her condo.

"My BlackBerry lit up on election night," says Ann Stock, a vice president at the Kennedy Center and former White House social secretary. Friends and relatives were looking for rooms, and Stock was ready. She has just remodeled her guest bath with lots of marble and wood and a spacious shower. "The best guest rooms give your guest privacy from the rest of the house," says Stock, who also lists good lighting and nice bedding as essentials.

Jamal Simmons's inbox was jammed after Election Day with e-mails from family and friends in St. Louis, Little Rock, Detroit and Atlanta looking for inauguration lodging in his one-bedroom Adams Morgan apartment. "I don't have a guest room, but I have a couch that people can use," says the communications consultant and Obama supporter. Right now, Simmons's brother and his fiancee are coming, and Simmons may end up relinquishing his bedroom to them and sleeping on the couch.

That's another way to give your guests the best room in the house.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company