Company’s coming

Wondering how to prepare your guest room for the holidays? Susan Maxwell, one of Chicago’s most sought-after interior designers, has a few simple, inexpensive ideas that will make your guests’ stay memorable long after they’ve returned home.

“It’s just all in the little details,” says Maxwell, head of the interior design co-op Suz Maxwell. “Just really making them feel like they are a part of your family, but that they still have their own secluded space, making them feel really super comfy.”

Q: What are your suggestions for making house guests comfortable (especially when you have kids, maybe some pets and don’t have a huge amount of money to spend)?

“I think there’s some really easy things to do to make it feel like a little getaway for their guests.”

1. Make it feel like they are at home.”I usually put together a little guest book” (you can do this with cute little notebook). On the introduction page, she usually makes a joke about the house rules, eliminating the uncomfortable feeling of talking with guests about the rules. She also includes emergency numbers and a channel guide for the TV. If you want to keep things tidy and have no shoes in the house, provide additional footwear with the guest book, she says.

2. Put together a little goodie bag or a beverage/food station. She puts a tray on the dresser filled with goodies such as healthy snacks and breakfast bars so guests don’t feel like they are intruding on the kitchen if they want a snack. For a beverage center, she suggests including bottles of water and inexpensive wine and a coffee maker, coffee, napkins and mugs. A mini-refrigerator, when possible, is a great addition, she says.

3. Give them options. Make sure the room has several different kinds of pillows so your guests can choose the type they like, plus extra blankets. She also places a set of towels, mini soaps, shower gels and cotton balls in the room. Under the vanity, she keeps a basket of extras, such as contact lens solution, that she picks up when she sees them on sale in case her guests forget something.

4. Give them things to do.She puts local magazines in the room, geared to her guests’ interest, along with a list of fun things they can do in the area during their stay. She also leaves tour guides and books on local history.

5. Give them privacy. She makes a little sign for the door to hang on the knob when guests don’t want to be disturbed.

6. Turn down service. In the evening, Maxwell’s guests are treated to a hotel-like turndown service. She puts out a carafe of cold water before bedtime, turns down the bed and pulls the shades closed.

“I think guest rooms tend to get overlooked,” Maxwell says.

To cut down on costs, borrow items from other areas in your home, such as pairing an extra dining chair with a cute side table, decorative pillows or special entertainment pieces you only use once in awhile to add color and flair to the room.

Q: What ideas do you have for people who don’t have guest rooms?

“A lot of homes and condos have a tiny guest room that might be multipurpose,” she says. “It’s just utilizing the space.” For example, a desk can be a night stand with a chair while guests are visiting. Stack extra seating vertically and create storage under the bed.

For families with no space for a guest room and not a lot of money to spend, Maxwell suggests finding an inexpensive yet super comfortable high-end futon with a microfiber covering that will wear well. Use a screen to block off the area when you have guests, then move it to the side other times, or consider a hospital track in the ceiling to hang a microfiber curtain to give guests privacy.

If you need to share the bathroom, create really functional storage to get your items off the bathroom counter, she says.

Maxwell, whose personal tastes mix ’50s modern with antiques with splashes of colors, specializes in helping people make the most of their homes, something she’s been doing since her days of redesigning Barbie’s Townhouse when she was 5 or 6. “Mostly, what inspires me and what I’m most interested in doing is helping people create a functional space for their needs, kind of uncovering how they live and their style and translating that into a really functional space.”

For more information, contact Maxwell at

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