How to Transform an Old Bedroom into a Guest Retreat

Every year, thousands of families across the nation pack their former high-school students off to college or watch their post-grads enter the "real world" during back-to-school season. Though some feel sad about these life-changing events, many moms say they can't wait to redo their son or daughter's old room.


Creating a beautiful new guest room is a great cure for any "empty-nester sadness" that may linger after the college-age child moves away from home. And if you get going now, you can have it ready in time for holiday guests, including your college student or post-grad returning home for the first "holiday visit."


Guest rooms are a great place to crank up your inner design passions. Because you don't use the room every day, feel free to take more risk in this room. Maybe you were reluctant to use purple accents in your bedroom because your husband hates it, or maybe you always wanted to wallpaper a bedroom but were afraid you would regret it. This is the room that can handle a little risk, so go for it!


Let's start with the basics. The room will need at least a double bed, a dresser with at least one empty drawer, a place to open an overnight case, and empty hangers and room in the closet. I am crazy about white bed linens -- borrowed straight from the playbook of every great boutique hotel. Splurge and buy the best thread count you can afford, and a fluffy, goose-down duvet to fill the white duvet cover. Buy four big, fluffy pillows that are new and fresh and that you have to fight to get into the pillow cases. Buy four pillows; the fuller they are, the better the bed will look. Place two decorative pillows of two different sizes in front of the four sleeping pillows, to disguise wrinkles and add big style.


Once you have your bedding, think about how to "anchor" the bed wall. A splurge of wall covering on the bed wall is a great option. I love to use raffia or grass cloth of any kind, because it never goes out of style. I also love some of the new, nature-inspired wallpapers by Romo, such as this Portico Wallpaper.


Or, if you are handy with a stencil and paint brush, this elegant wallpaper look could be duplicated with two tones of paint. I would repeat the lighter neutral on the other three walls, so the rich wallpaper effect is behind the bed and nightstands. This technique is so effective that often no art is needed on the bed wall.


Other cool tricks for the guest room?


On one side of the bed, style an open Parson's desk like this simple style from West Elm or a 30-inch round table with a backless, upholstered stool. What a great place for your returning student or guest to use their laptop! You can use it, too, if you need a private spot to work and don't have a dedicated home office. Don't worry about matching the nightstand or chest on the other side. Just make sure the other piece is approximately 28 to 32 inches tall so the arrangement looks balanced. Using matching lamps if your bedside pieces are mismatched is a great way to calm things down and balance the room.

Hire an electrician to locate J-boxes over each nightstand to use a pendant fixture instead of a lamp. Your guests will have more room on the nightstands, and the room will look incredibly chic.


I love these lampshade-inspired pendants from Altogether Home in a traditional space, and these more contemporary pendants from Room and Board, designed by Peter Stathis.


If budget is an issue, a simple trick is to paint mismatched, used furniture all one color. Use a satin finish in a color like Sherwin-Williams Analytical Grey, which is an uber-chic, putty-grey neutral that looks good with just about anything. Analytical Grey looks great with warm yellows or coral, but it is equally gorgeous with lavender or values of blue.

An easy and affordable art idea that will allow your college-age son or daughter to be included in the transformation of their old room is to hang cork shadow boxes or framed cork boards. Special memories, sports accomplishments, and favorite photos can be displayed in a tasteful way, now that their room is more "grown-up" and shared by guests, as well.


Take a paint color risk. Again, if you follow my advice to buy all-white bedding, a color dare on all four walls can be wonderful seen from an adjoining space or hallway. I am talking about an inky navy like Benjamin Moore's Hale Navy, a rich khaki like Benjamin Moore's Texas Leather, or Farrow and Ball's Churlish Green No.251 for an acidic kiwi pop.

And the good news is that because your teenager is gone, you can actually leave the door open without cringing at the piles of clothing on the floor (which I know you kind of miss after all)!

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Meet the team

  • Will Pratt
  • Justin Sabbagh
  • Mike Wilcox

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