Turn Your Guest Room Into an Oasis With Tips From Local Designers

Make your guest room – or any bedroom – more inviting with these pro tips.

IF YOU HAVE FRIENDS or relatives coming to stay for the holidays, now is the time to spruce up your guest room. We talked to three interior designers well versed in hotel rooms that feel cozy (not cold) and minimalist (not messy), and assembled their insights on how to create an experience as comfortable and conducive to sleep as a luxury resort.

Assess the ambiance

“Rooms can feel museum-like when there is a layer missing of warmth, character or personality,” says Green Bay native Ave Bradley, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants’ senior vice president of design who worked on the guest rooms of the company’s Journeyman Hotel in the Third Ward. “Keep the palette base neutral with shades of gray, white and cream to evoke a sense of calm. They can be dialed up with throw pillows, decorative objects or books easily editable for each guest.” But don’t underestimate a pop of color. The Journeyman guest rooms’ “high-impact lounge chair in holiday red with a shag throw makes for a cozy reading corner on a winter day,” says Bradley.

Address function

Lighting and a place to unpack top the list of guest room prerequisites. “Everyone has a different need, whether it’s a reading lamp or a larger floor lamp,” says Tory Knoph, an interior designer at Stonehill Taylor in New York City, whose clients include Saint Kate – The Arts Hotel. Overhead lighting on a dimmer allows for further customization. Keep just the bedside lamp on to add drama upon arrival, says Kelly Brainerd of KMB Design Consulting in Milwaukee, who designed a corporate hotel in Sheboygan. A folding luggage rack or a bench at the foot of the bed offer a place for a suitcase. And remember to provide closet space and perhaps a drawer so your guest can unpack.

Bedding and curtains

Cotton or linen sheets breathe, says Brainerd, providing utmost comfort. To accommodate different temperature preferences, layer a light blanket under a quilt. Borrow this window-coverings hack from hotels: sheer curtains topped with blackout drapes, so sleep is easy and privacy is assured, but the room doesn’t feel like a closet.

Make it cozy

A few accessories lend warmth to a room, but clutter can leave a guest uneasy. If there are items that simply cannot be moved, Knoph recommends using a portable screen to hide them. And before you set off on a shopping spree to trick out the space, take a look at what you already have at your disposal. “Books, decorative vases with a floral arrangement, or a chunky-knit throw blanket with a fresh-water carafe are simple touches that can be taken from other rooms to help your guest stay comfortable,” says Bradley.

Act as concierge

Create a list of favorite places to walk, eat, sip coffee or beer, along with where to access public transportation, says Brainerd, so you’re not the tour guide. Bradley suggests serving up some hot toddies or hot cocoa upon arrival “to immediately put

at ease.” Provide a phone charger that is already plugged in, so your guest doesn’t need to search for an outlet. Personalize bath amenities if your guest is fond of a particular scent, like lavender or jasmine. Another idea: “I would love it if my host left me, on the bedside, a collection of their favorite books they’ve read over the year,” says Brainerd.


This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s November issue.

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A seasoned writer, and a former editor at Milwaukee Home & Fine Living, Kristine Hansen launched her wine-writing career in 2003, covering wine tourism, wine and food pairings, wine trends and quirky winemakers. Her wine-related articles have published in Wine Enthusiast, Sommelier Journal, Uncorked (an iPad-only magazine), FoodRepublic.com, CNN.com and Whole Living (a Martha Stewart publication). She's trekked through vineyards and chatted up winemakers in many regions, including Chile, Portugal, California (Napa, Sonoma and Central Coast), Canada, Oregon and France (Bordeaux and Burgundy). While picking out her favorite wine is kind of like asking which child you like best, she will admit to being a fan of Oregon Pinot Noir and even on a sub-zero winter day won't turn down a glass of zippy Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.