12 Ways to Make an Overnight Guest Feel Right at Home

December 14, 2016

Day 20 of 30 Days of Thoughtful Giving: Make it feel like home.

My mother, like many mothers before her, raised her kids to welcome strangers into our homes as we would close friends or family members. She was insistent on this practice's karmatic powers, and she’d relay certain anecdotes to me as evidence. One involved a man who drove her home one winter night when she—a new transplant from India, clad only in a sari and down jacket as she navigated the snow-capped streets of Hackensack, New Jersey—was walking home alone from Foodtown, carrying a truckload of groceries in her small arms.

Photo by James Ransom

It's a story that's stuck with me—even all these years later, when I've grown into a hermetic 24-year-old. The idea of hosting someone, or offering them lodging when they need it most and have nowhere else to go, makes me terribly anxious. I can’t host guests at my apartment without making a federal case out of it. Are you okay? Are you comfortable? Please let me know if everything’s all right. I’m here to help. I can tuck you in. Anything you need. Et cetera. This can be emotionally taxing.

The dictum that you must treat a guest with inordinate kindness should come with an asterisk. Sometimes, guests are just annoying. I don’t mean to be rude. This is just a fact of life. Guests can be garrulous. They can overstep their boundaries. They can dirty up a place. There's so much that can go wrong. How does one cope?

With a cozy room, that's how. Homey, but not homely—like the one your guest may find at your place. Ah, yes. Here we are. Home sweet home. The following are ideas for tangible gifts that you can put in your guest room, gifts that your guests can hypothetically take with them; others are more scene-setting. All are meant to take the burden off of you, the host, so much that the task of hosting an overnight guest doesn't feel like a burden at all.

How to Make Your Guest Feel Right at Home

A comfy pillow.

It’s the first question you must ask when a guest enters your home: what will become of their head? Haha. I'm teasing! Just make sure your guest's noggin finds a nice place for a night—our stone-washed linen pillows are definitely an option.

A bedside candle that travels.

What's a “surefire” way to make sure your guest won’t stink up your place? Or, better yet, that any innate smells of your home will be masked for your guest? A small, contained flame.

I’d eschew any air freshener teeming with chemicals and opt for one of these instead. Your guest can make a birthday wish, blow the candle out, and put this candle in his or her murse or purse for future use.

Your guest can make a birthday wish, blow the candle out, and put this candle in his or her murse or purse for future use.

A blankie.

Buffalo, buffalo, buffalo, buffalo. Is this a sentence? No, not quite. And neither is this Buffalo Check Fringed Wool Throw, which I can “throw” just about anywhere in my guest room. It’s got a chiaroscuro pattern, a timeless pattern indeed. If that’s a statement too bold, go for a blanket in a bag—perfect to bust out when people least suspect it, like when your guest is riding a subway car, horse-drawn carriage, cruise ship. Or, your guest can take the Hawkins Wool Blend Cross Throw, fuzzy and delicate.

A sheepskin to cushion their feet.

Sheepskin! When you're not looking, your guest can roll around in the furlike comforts of this sneaky beaut—and, if you'd like to make it a gift, they can even go take it along with them.

A plush to hug.

Does your guest tend to regress to childhood comforts? Populate the bed—and the whole guest room, while you're at it—with snuggly plushes. Pepper them inconspicuously throughout the perimeter of the room. Give your guest a nostalgic jolt as they rummage through the guest room's offerings.

"Oh!" your guest can exclaim. "I didn't see you there, deer." Wouldn't that be a nice thing to have happen in your guest room?

Posters and prints. Set the scene.

Any good guest room must toe a fraught line between “pristine” and “lived-in.” So why not strike that balance as appropriately as possible by mounting some prints on the wall? Give the room some gentle, unassuming character. But not too much.

This tartan robe is roomy for your arms, sleeves as warm as a wallaby.

A robe. A t-shirt. Some sartorial offerings.

Ah. What guest wouldn’t want to slink into this tee after a long day on the road? Stylish and sleek, emblazoned with a cheeky phrase that may make your guest observe, "Oh, that's so funny! I love it." It'll make for a perfect moment.

Or consider the robe. I know we’re getting luxurious here—but you do want your guest to feel as comfortable as possible, don’t you? Right? Okay. Thought so. Why not offer them the chance to don a robe? Sometimes, robes can be so constricting that they resemble domestic straitjackets. Not the case with this tartan one, roomy for your arms, sleeves as warm as a wallaby.

A laundry bisket, a laundry basket.

I know we’re talking about an overnighter here. But what if this guest has emerged from mud-soaked terrain? A rainstorm? A monsoon? There’s no telling what the condition of your guest’s clothing will be in, so stick a hamper in that guest room, host. It can be as narrow and tall as a tree or at a more reasonable height.

Genuinely strong magazine writing has no timestamp; it is “evergreen content,” as we say in digital media.

Some light bedside reading.

Proust. Heidegger. Wittgenstein. Just kidding. Make your guest room resemble a highly-curated Barnes & Noble magazine section: stock it with some glossies. Genuinely strong magazine writing has no timestamp; it is “evergreen content,” as we say in digital media.

A cleanse, for the face.

What's better than citrus in the morning? This one’s a cute bedside companion. Put a tiny squeeze bottle on a nightstand so your guest can have pores like yours.

Towelettes, for traveling.

This one's a gimme. Your guest's on the way out, so make sure these moist towelettes make their way into a carry-on. A great substitute for hand sanitizer.

Some thank you notes? Maybe?

Sneak these in there for good measure. Nothing’s better than gently goading your guest into thanking you for your kindness. (Just kidding. Sort of?) Hide them in a desk drawer or something. Perhaps they’ll find these notes. Keep a pen close by. Pray they'll leave a note. Have a breakdown if they don't. (Don't do this!) Maybe your guest can take some of these notes with them, too, so that when they stay with their next host, they can thank that person as well.

...Annnnd that's how the spirit of thoughtful giving can live on forever and ever. Amen.

What are your preferred methods of making your overnight guests feel snug at home? Let us know in the comments!

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Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.