The Best Host: Thoughtful Tips For Welcoming Guests

Credit: Mimi Reed for Veranda Magazine

The holidays and guests are on their way!

Preparing to host holiday guests doesn’t have to be stressful or expensive. In fact, sometimes it’s the smallest gesture that says the most. A few good tips, some forethought about the needs of your particular guests, and the effort to make whatever you have, as comfortable as you can, is key in being the best host. We’ve gathered some basic best practices for a host to show guests they are welcome.

First Things First:

Clean your home thoroughly, especially any area where your guest(s) will be.  This is especially important if you have a pet – even if your guest has animals, themselves. Folks sometimes have sensitivities to the dander of other peoples’ pets. Nothing is worse than an allergic reaction in the middle of the night. Moreover, as the weather grows cooler, houses are warmer and more closed up, making heat, dust and Eau de Pet more extreme. It is easy to overlook our own critters’ impact on our homes or allergies, so do make sure you deep-clean before your guests arrive. Dust, vacuum, mop, and open the window, to circulate some fresh air.  

Sleeping Arrangements in Shared Space:

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The thought and effort a host puts into making their guests comfortable doesn’t have to cost a penny, yet it speaks louder than luxurious bedding, and an endless supply of amenities.  Considering a guest’s needs, and trying to make them as comfortable as possible, whatever your means, quietly translates into a heartfelt welcome.

If you will be using an air mattress, try to place it out of the main traffic pattern in whichever room it will be. If possible, place it so that there is as much privacy as possible. Test the mattress over 3 days, ahead of time, to be sure it doesn’t have a leak. Also, be absolutely sure to use a heavy mattress pad, (a blanket, or even an aired, opened flat sleeping bag can work) between the mattress and the bottom sheet.  Cots and air mattresses are affected by the temperature of the floor, which radiates up, and makes the sleeper cold (or hot) & clammy, even if the vinyl mattress has been “flocked.”  A bottom sheet just isn’t enough insulation, and is miserable to sleep on. Sweep the space, before setting up the mattress, to protect it from punctures. If the mattress has a pump, leave it accessible, for middle-of-the-night adjustments.

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Whatever caliber of bedding you use, make sure it is fresh. Blankets and comforters that have been in storage can always use, at least, a good shake and airing, either by hanging outside on a line, or a long air tumble cycle with a dryer sheet. I love percale sheets & pillowcases, & linen-covered down duvets, which are easy to launder, and deliciously comfortable. It’s a good idea  include a top sheet, even with a duvet, so your guests can sleep only under a sheet if hot. Include an extra blanket, at the foot of the bed or close by, for added warmth. Two pillows per person is a common rule of thumb, ideally, one firmer/softer than the other.

Credit via: One Kind Design

 Something many hosts don’t realize, especially if they are younger or more fit, is that not everyone can easily get up from low sleeping arrangements, especially for a midnight bathroom run. Do place a wooden chair near any bed that is low, in the assumption your guests could need something to hold on to, whilst getting up or down. Wooden chairs are great as they can potentially double as a makeshift bedside table, a suitcase stand, or just a spot to put on socks and shoes.

However, whether your guest will have their own room, or a sleep in a shared space, the Number One Most Important Thing is to put yourself in your guest’s shoes, and try to accommodate THEIR needs. Try out your guest sleeping space, by sleeping there first, yourself. You may find that the albeit beautiful sunrise, hits the guest sleeper smack in the eyeball, unless you move the mattress to a different spot,. You need to provide a window cover, or a sleeping mask. It gives perspective. Remembering your own best and worst experiences as someone’s guest is always helpful, as well.

Space Trumps Decor:

Credit: Kelly Nan
  1. A small vase of fresh flowers is a lovely touch, but fight the urge to over-decorate. If collections/decor cover the better part of every surface (because you think “I am beautifying the room for everyday, not just for guests…”) pare them back to a minimum, before your guests arrive and bring them back out after your guests depart.
  2. Creating space for your guests, on surfaces, in the closet (with plenty of hangers), with over the door hooks, or in a dresser, says you care more about their ease in your home than your decor. It says, “We want you to be comfortable, for as long as you are here.”
  3. At minimum, a guest needs someplace elevated and flat, to easily access their suitcase, whether it is a bench, a trunk, a wooden chair or a suitcase rack, which can be bought for less than $50.Likewise, a nightstand, shelf, or bedside surface, of some sort, near the bed, for a guest to lay out their bedtime articles, like spectacles, jewelry, meds, a charging cellphone, a carafe/bottle of water…is helpful.
  4. I always include a plugged-in 3 prong power strip, that reaches the bed, so guests can easily power/use their laptop, phone, etc. The basics I have always provided were a box of tissues, a carafe or bottled water, and unmessy treats/snacks that don’t need refrigeration.

If that sounds overwhelming, do what you can, and start with the basics.

Credit: Benjamin Moore

The Dedicated Guest Room:

Good (Basic):

Credit: The Art of Doing Stuff
  1. A3 prong extension cord
  2. Water
  3. Tissues
  4. A waste basket
  5. A printed card with your WiFi login and password, entry passcodes, a couple of core
  6. emergency phone numbers, and the address of your home.
  7. Some hosts add basic how to use the TV/remotes info, and notes about the oddball
  8. home idiosyncrasies they might need to know (ex: our guest bathtub built-in drain
  9. plug requires it being opened or closed a certain way, without any symbols
  10. revealing the secret maneuver.)
  11. A nightlight in the hall or a flashlight

Better (Additional gestures that cost little, but have great impact):

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    1. All of the above
    2. Bedside reading lamp
    3. Access to an ironing board and iron
    4. A small bowl for jewelry
    5. A basket with slippers, fuzzy socks, for cold floors
    6. Hand lotion
    7. A spare house/gate/pool key for those days you can’t be there
    8. New issues of interesting, or local magazines, a copy of a favorite book or two (short stories, or ones that they can take with them, if they get enmeshed.)
    9. Local magazine, map, brochures, places of interest
    10. Pencil & paper
    11. A small alarm clock (not necessary for most cell phone users)

    Credit: Good Housekeeping via Fox Hollow Cottage

The Best:

  1. All of the above
  2. A suitcase stand
  3. A sleeping mask
  4. An XL robe in a unisex color
  5. A fan/heater
  6. An armchair & ottoman with a side table, reading light, lap blanket
  7. A full length or wall mirror
  8. A desk/vanity near a window where a guest can put on makeup
  9. White noise generator (Fans & air purifiers can pull double duty here.  This is hugely valuable for visiting children at bedtime.)
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Credit: Tessa Neustadt for Architectural Digest

The Guest Bath:

No matter your living arrangements, the goal is to make your guest feel welcome, as comfortable as possible, and cared for. So work with what you have, add what you can, but make sure whichever bathroom guests use, is really clean, and your guests do have a way to freshen up.

Basic (Core:)

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  1. Stock way more than enough toilet paper. (You know how you would feel if stuck in that uncomfortable situation!)
  2. At least 1 large towel (2 is better), a hand towel, and 2 face cloths, per guest.
  3. Space to put their toiletries
  4. A water glass, to rinse teeth
  5. Core toiletries should be full and include liquid body soap or a new unopened bar
    of soap, just for your guest.
  6. Door hooks

The Better Guest Bath:

Credit: The Holding Company
  1. All of the above
  2. Emergency feminine hygiene products, so they don’t have to ask…
  3. Tylenol or other pain reliever
  4. Cotton pads, q-tips
  5. Hair dryer

The Best Guest Bath:

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  1. All of the above
  2. Plush towels
  3. Plush bath matt
  4. Weight scale
  5. Choice of special toiletries
  6. Bath salts
  7. New toothbrushes/toothpaste
  8. Clean comb/brush
  9. New disposable razor
  10. Hair elastics
  11. Makeup/nail polish remover towelettes
  12. Emergency travel sewing kit, safety pins
  13. Nail file
  14. Lint roller
Credit: Kelly Nan

The Extra Mile:

Finishing touches can be small, or extensive. Adding a small vase of flowers to a guest room is lovely. But even a single wildflower, in a water glass, brightens a space and speaks volumes.

Thinking about your guests’ needs,  make sure your kitchen is stocked with basic breakfast ingredients, especially coffee or tea, sweeteners and cream, or whatever you know is key to a guest getting a good start, in the morning. Juice, fruit, muffins, or oatmeal are easy foods to have on hand. It is a good idea to ask ahead whether your guests have any special dietary needs (allergies, diabetes, etc), or is particularly fond of certain foods. Having breakfast and snack foods that familiar, or loved, is a fabulous way to show you care.






Credit: A Shade of Teal


Hosting Little Guests:

If your guests will include children, it is important to think through some basic safety issues. Outside doors, bathroom doors, closets and cabinets that hold cleaners, poisons and sharp objects should be closed, locked and made difficult for smaller children to access. Pools require huge vigilance. 

The holidays are a time when both guests and hosts are happily visiting, and more distracted than ordinary. It is worth making your home as child-safe as you can to avoid the accidents that can happen so quickly.


Stocking a few basic, familiar child-friendly foods including Cheerios, bananas, raisins, milk, apple juice,  Annie’s Mac & Cheese, or frozen cheese ravioli can make everyone’s life so much easier, and are almost always thoroughly appreciated by visiting mothers. Additionally, items like fragrance free wet-wipes, ziplock type bags for disposing of diapers, and age appropriate goodies like puzzles, sticker books, an Art Box with paper & crayons or colored pencils, and pipe-cleaners,  go a long way in helping you all get more and better adult visiting time, and kids that’ll adore you forever.


A Host’s Lasting Impressions  :

Unfortunately many  of us have stayed in homes in which the hosts made so little effort, the guests were made to feel like an afterthought. Little forethought or effort from a host, inevitably sends the message that the host is indifferent about the guests’ visit, is ungenerous, or is even put out. That sad impression lingers long into the future. Therefore, the more effort you can reasonably make, the better. Conversely, much effort, on the part of a host, even of small means, engenders a kind of heartfelt appreciation that is almost blind to any lack, and likewise, echoes into the future.

I love reading other folks’ ideas on wonderful ways to show friends and family how happy I am they’ve come to visit. But I have also come to understand that the follow-through which compels someone to actually prepare, even in young folks who are already pretty considerate people,  is an evolving skill.  If practiced, it matures, part of the character of a generous heart. I know hosts, with very limited means, who routinely take care of their guests, with joy, thoughtful gestures, and clear forethought.  And, while who wouldn’t enjoy 5 star accommodations, I’d choose that kind of host over a chilly 5 star any day. It really does not matter how much or how little you have. Hosting comes from the heart, and is expressed by forethought, resulting in effort.

Credit: Yvonne Pratt for Stone Gable


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