The Well-appointed Guestroom

To be a great host, think like a guest. Whether you're expecting a houseful of relatives or one special friend, a few simple steps can help make your ordinary guestroom extraordinary.

It seems obvious, but if you start by making sure everything is sparkling clean and neat, you'll make a great first impression that will carry through the whole visit. Fold the towels the way your mother taught you, put beautiful linens on the bed – no short cuts, no cut corners. When you have company, you want them to feel not just welcome but cherished and pampered.

Start by mentally dividing your guestroom into areas – bedroom, closet, bathroom and sitting area. Make sure each area provides the things someone staying a night or a fortnight might need.

Keys to the house: Give your guest a house key. If your house has any quirks, such as a balky toilet, a cranky neighbor or an alarm system, write your guest an explanatory note, so there won't be any embarrassing surprises.

Bedroom: Air out the bedroom and put fresh sheets on the bed. Add some extra pillows and blankets. A small wrapped chocolate placed on the pillows adds a special good-night treat for your guest.

Provide a robe and slippers. They're hard to pack but wonderfully cozy to lounge around in.

Beside the bed: Provide a good bedside lamp, an alarm clock and some bottled water. Books of short stories, local history, novels and a selection of new magazines can help ease a sleepless or jet-lagged night.

If there's a television, supply a current program schedule. If there's a telephone, a local phone book is a nice touch. Also include a pad of paper and a pen.

Sitting area: A comfy chair and a warm throw will give guests a private retreat area during the day.

Closets and Bureaus: Set aside closet and drawer space for your guest to use.

Bathroom: If your guests will share your bathroom, set aside some space for them.

Get some beautiful thick towels that you keep just for the guest room. So they last longer, keep guest towels and sheets separate from household linens.

Little extras like a basket of bath products make visitors feel welcomed and pampered: pick some of your favorites, such as soaps, bath salts, lotion, facial masks, etc.

Special Decorations for the Guest Room

Guests appreciate rooms that both shelter and delight. Consider decorating with fanciful antiques and found objects. Or decorate according to a color or a theme, such as English, Southwest, floral, country, wilderness or a particular artist.

To make your guest room come alive, use colorful sheets, a fleecy blanket, a patchwork quilt, a soft chair, whimsical art and artifacts to add texture and complexity.

A Final Touch of Elegance

A modestly-priced bottle of wine is elevated to art when decorated with sprigs of fresh herbs and flowers and wrapped with a length of rough jute. It's not a grand gesture, but the herbs and flowers make it look fabulous.

Really, being a good host is really in the little details.