“This,” said Ben Pentreath, “is the best spare bedroom wallpaper that there is. It’s one of my signatures. It is a particularly nice wallpaper to stay with for one or two nights, but you wouldn’t want it in a main room because it would be overwhelming.”The paper in question is Morris & Co’s 'Fruit' (originally known as ‘Pomegranate’), and it is lovely, but Ben’s point is two-fold. Firstly, that a spare bedroom deserves proper consideration, rather than being the oh too familiar disaster that Bunny Turner of Turner Pocock describes as “a collecting ground of all the furniture rejected from other rooms around the house.” Secondly, it is a room that you can have fun with. Get it right, and a spare bedroom can be a slice of heaven, where your guests will want to spend time and–because of the set up–won’t have to ask you for towels, a water glass, a coat hanger and so on. Get it wrong, and–well, we’ve all spent nights in a single bed with one flat pillow, surrounded by the poster choices and general detritus of a teenage boy, with no bedside light, and nowhere to hang up a dress. (Bonus points if you’ve tripped over a Lego Hogwarts Castle in the middle of the night and spent the early hours of the morning panicking over which turret goes where.) But even if your ‘spare’ bedroom does in fact belong to one of your children–who is co-opted into sharing with a sibling when people come to stay–with some thought and planning, you can still create somewhere your guests will be glad of.
First, the basics. All spare bedrooms, by definition, need a bed or beds. If you have two or more spare bedrooms it’s worth considering mixing it up; “we always incorporate a twin when we can, because you can have single people to stay consecutively and not have to change the sheets as they’ll each sleep in a different bed,” points out Mary Graham of Salvesen Graham. “Plus, the symmetry is so attractive.” Bunny often recommends a double with a zip link, so that it can become twin beds. It’s what she’s done in her own home, and she’s got trundle beds underneath those, so the room can be converted to a dormitory when they have lots of children for a sleepover. Alternatively, “attic bedrooms are great spaces to create permanent dormitories. You can build beds into the eave space–that then convert into sofas when you add cushions–and then put pull-out beds in drawers beneath.” (Best of all, this set up allows you to host hordes and yet barely see or hear them.)
In terms of practicality, you also need bedside tables with a lamp on each side (if the bed is a double), and sufficient sockets to charge a phone and a laptop while not having to unplug that lamp. A chair is useful to put clothes over, and if there’s a chest of drawers or wardrobe then, while it’s nice if there’s space in them for something to be put away or hung up, a simple hook and coat hangers also offers a solution. Look at Pinxton & Co for some of the most elegant examples. The bedding itself needs to be attractive (not Paw Patrol-themed, nor polycotton, even if that second doesn’t need ironing); Victoria Gray of Olivine Design suggests “crisp white, with scallop detailing or embroidery.” Similarly, please allocate your guests decent pillows–at least two per grown-up–and make sure that you use washable pillow protectors too, as in hotels. And, if the bed has an upholstered headboard, you might want to have a loose cover made for it in the same fabric, which can occasionally be laundered.
Details matter, and in a spare bedroom are what make the difference, “especially if you can’t afford to go all out on wallpaper and fabrics,” says Victoria, who recommends “wonderful wastepaper bins to add spots of colour, pretty lampshades, cushions, bed throws and warm blankets.” (That last is essential, as you’ll know if you’ve ever spent a night shivering in a strange house.) Bunny adds “a water carafe and glasses by the bed, a small jamjar of flowers, and a good stash of magazines.” Books are good too – especially if matched either to the guest or to your home, for instance Dogs in Vogue for someone besotted by their canine companion, or Betjeman’s poetry if you’re located on the north Cornish coast. A mirror will always be appreciated, particularly one placed in good light, and “leave a lovely dressing gown for your guests to use on their journey to the bathroom,” suggests Mary. (On which, a word: if you can allocate a bathroom for your guests’ sole use, do, even if it means slightly compromising your own comfort by, say, sharing your ensuite with your children. Also, be aware that a lack of lock can be very constipating.)
When it comes to the actual decorating, it is a moment to be bold, if you so desire. “Make the headboard taller, the walls brighter or darker, use wallpaper that you fell in love with but couldn’t fit in anywhere else,” suggests Victoria. “It’s an opportunity to indulge your decorating fantasies with something a bit more colourful and patterned than you might want to live with on a daily basis,” adds Mary. If you’ve got multiple spares, you may wish to make one more masculine–perhaps taking as inspiration the tented bedroom at Kingston Lacey which was specifically designed for bachelor guests– and another more feminine. And find a way of allowing the rooms a secondary function, if necessary; “especially since lockdown, we need to know that rarely used spaces can become studies or classrooms,” acknowledges Bunny. “Having a piece of furniture that can be either a desk or a dressing table is a great way to cover all the bases.” Finally, going wild with the wallpaper is not precluded by the bedroom technically belonging to your offspring. I’ve been that child, and the nine-year-old me would definitely have refrained from sticking up pages torn from Pony Magazine if only my parents had papered my bedroom with, say, Pierre Frey’s ‘Jour de Fete’–a pattern for which Ben Pentreath’s spare room wallpaper rule definitely applies.