Welcome to Armstrong Inn, part one

And now, an abrupt change of subject and mood. A welcome change, a much needed change, a distraction I am fully embracing even though it has the potential to polarize some of you. Because THIS IS SPONSORED CONTENT. I just wrote that. Those words just came out of my mouth. And you know what? That mouth is still clean enough to kiss (the dogs).

A few months ago IKEA approached me and asked if they could help furnish a room in my home, and the one that I needed the most help with was the guest room. Because this is the first time I’ve ever owned a place with a spare room that I can dedicate to friends from out of town. So. If you have a problem with sponsored content, that’s fine. You are entitled to those feelings and we can still be friends. But I probably won’t let you sleep in my awesome new guest room.

You get the couch. And when you’re asleep I might write on your forehead with permanent marker. KIDDING. I’d just use a pencil.

I’ve read countless articles in home decor magazines about guest rooms and the amenities that make guests feel welcome and most at ease. But I never really paid any attention because I wasn’t ever going to have a room — a whole freaking room (sorry, that Mormon curse word just popped into my brain out of nowhere [FLIPPIN, FETCHIN, HECK!]) — where at the foot of the bed I could put out two plush towels topped with a box of chocolates for when the President decided to drop by. Because he and I are buddies, you knew that right? I wore purple tights while sitting twenty feet away from him and now I’m in his will.

In the past I’ve always had to make sure that the cushions on the couch were free of stray coins and gummy bears. Or that the blow-up mattress didn’t have a hole through which it would empty all night long like a hissing possum. And when my guests woke up with a backache I’d get out the bottle of ibuprofen, hand them a glass of water and say, “I promise not to blog about your bed head.”

Because I am a giver.

Throughout my travels as A Professional Writer About My Feelings, I’ve stayed in hotel rooms that ranged from luxurious to WHAT THE HELL IS THAT STAIN ON THE PILLOW (blood? bodily fluid? AXE deodorant?!?!?!?!). So I’m trying to pull from those experiences to make this room a true gem, a place where my friends (Barack) can rest in the most comfortable atmosphere possible. And so I want to know what your experiences have been. Have you ever stayed in a guest room that you wanted to take home? Was it the thread count on the sheets? The hand towels? The complimentary foot rub?

So many of you have recently reached out and said I could crash at your place if I ever needed it, so many strangers offering me a place to put my head. Because of that I want to show you this whole process so that if any of you needed a place to stay (after I performed a background check and made sure you weren’t a felon or intended to steal Chuck or had ever been known to sleep walk in the nude) you, too, would have a place to rest your head. Is that cheesy? I don’t care. As cheesy as the plate of charcuterie and imported Champignon Brie I’ll have waiting for you when you walk in and drop your luggage. First you’ll have to acknowledge Coco, though. She’ll have jumped up and wrapped herself around your neck while screeching at an octave likely to cause head trauma.

I also wanted you guys to know that Jon is working on this project with me. He’ll be doing all the video work, so we’re honing our skills when it comes to collaboration. It’s a good thing.

So. What makes you feel most at home?


This post is brought to you by IKEA and THIS IS THE OFFICIAL DISCLOSURE, WHAT UP, FTC!

  • LeahW.

    Me and my boyfriend stayed in a very nice, boutique hotel (hotel.com FTW!) and yes, the huge bed with fluffy pillows, large basin sink in the bathroom, ridiculously well-stocked mini-bar and overall lovely design work was great, but what really blew me away was the small loveseat and table where we could stretch our laptops. Having someplace comfortable to sit that wasn’t the bed was really nice, plus it really made you notice how large the room was that there was space for it.

  • lobsterandi

    Holy shit. Your commenters expect more than I do. A basket of amenities and a house rules card? YOWZA.

    I agree with almost everyone – PILLOWS. I hate borrowing pillows form the children, getting stained pillows, lumpy pillows, pillows that don’t properly fit into pillowcases. Gross.

    I do agree that its good to have MOST of your crap out of that room. If you want to put family board games or things that aren’t very personal int he closet AND they are well organized, not an eye sore – DO IT. I don’t care about your board games. As long as you don’t need to go in and get those htings while I am staying there, I don’t care. Just be sure to leave me spaces to put my clothes. And give me semi-decent curtains/shades so I dont have to get up at the crack of dawn.

  • josephine

    My favorite place to stay is my friend Ashley’s house, and it’s because in her guest room there is a picture frame next to the bed, and she always fills that frame with a picture of whomever is staying the night (so in my case, usually a drunken picture of the two of us in college years ago). It’s just a fun little personal touch that I love that she takes the time to do!

  • squyks

    For a variety of reasons I am quite timid about painting my walls…. so one guest-room I particularly remember was beautifully done with blue. Not like it had fallen into a paint bucket, but the details all worked in one color scheme, and I loved that.

    I’ll second the not-having-to-ask-for-anything setup, but I don’t agree with it being all empty. I love staying at my bff’s place where the guest-room bookshelf is fiiiiilled with her books.

  • Wallydraigle

    Blackout curtains, so I don’t wake up at 4 in the morning.

  • starlounging

    I would say that there should be some hand lotion in the bedside table for sure! I always forget to bring it with me when I go to visit a friend, and my skin is dry this winter. Some cute photos and knick-knacks around are fine, but leave enough space on the top of a dresser / table so that the guest can put their toiletries, books, or whatever else they travel with in an accessible place. Also, a nice big mirror on the wall so your guest can get a view of his/her outfit before they come out of the room is great, too.

  • luv and kiwi

    For me: I love sheets I can melt into, the extra pillows is great one (up above @cactuswren), I like it when they give me TWO towels instead of just one. I have big curly hair. It needs it’s own towel darn it all. I like having a drawer or closet space I can hide my suitcase/unpack my clothes in so I feel less like a snail. (i.e. traveling with my house on my back)

    For them: I always try for a neutral smell like lavendar. I also like to make sure there’s lotion and stuff available in case they forgot anything. Just want them to feel like they’re “HOME” home.

  • jilllovesbacon

    Yes to all of the above: extra pillows, nightstands with lights and accessible outlets, large mirror, bathroom sundries, etc.

    We also have a couple of large plush robes in the closet (along with plenty of space and extra hangers if something needs to be hung). Big ol’ robes are always too big to pack and it makes that morning coffee so much less awkward.

  • jclarenbach

    I don’t know that IKEA can help with this, but I’ve always loved staying in guest rooms that have a bookshelf with a collection of things the hosts like. It’s fun to see what’s there, I’m usually introduced to something I didn’t know about before, and it’s homey.

  • marthajoyous

    These are a few things I’ve noticed from staying with family and traveling around a lot with an infant, who usually is sleeping in the pack and play in the same room. It is annoying when a guest room doesn’t have room darkening window treatments. The number of times I have stolen towels from the bathroom or scavenged lap blankets and attempted all sorts of weird methods to hold them up over the windows so that my infant will sleep in past six is a bit frustrating! I know I might be in the minority here but I also think it is nice to have a digital alarm clock set to the right time. Even if you have a cell phone (which I don’t), I think it is nice to wake up and immediately see if you should attempt to make your toddler go back to sleep in bed with you while simultaneously kicking you in the head, or just get up with him already.
    Best blankets–a down comforter with a flannel or linen cover. Soft cotton or linen sheets. A bed that doesn’t squeak, like the one at my in-laws.

  • jenwilson

    I stayed at my Friend Jen B’s place one night (you know her) and we came in quite late. She had in our room a pitcher of ice cold water, which was pretty much the BEST THING EVER after traveling for a million hours in a van with four kids. And that’s the only think I can think of. Ice cold water. And lots of it. In cute IKEA glasses.

  • Helen Jane

    This is total hotel luxury for me, but obvious access to electricity and a clean flat space for charging all of me devices, that’s pretty nice.

    Yay! We’re doing our guest room too, right now (reciprocity, sister) so I am thrilled to be able to play along.

  • jsherwin

    Marpac Dohm-DS white noise machine. I didn’t know what a good night’s sleep was until I got one.


  • kittykye

    Ear Plugs.
    I personally can’t sleep without them, and there has been many times I have stayed over somewhere and forgotten to pack a pair. Just throw ‘em in one of the basket dealies that other people suggested.
    Ah–just scrolled up and saw someone else mentioned this already. Apologies.

  • JennL877

    I stayed with my BFF who has a 3 year old. She put a sound machine in my room because she was worried her little one’s early morning routine would wake me up. She also had a little card with the wireless internet info, location of extra towels, pillows, blankets, etc on the nightstand along with a few bottles of water. Because she’s my BFF and I’m carrying her/husbands baby( long story and I wouldn’t expect this from just anyone) she put a stack of CD’s and DVD’s in the room next to the TV she thought I would like. I didn’t feel like an imposition and had such a great relaxing time.

  • EvilJulie

    I always say my apartment is decorated in early IKEA, so whatever you and they come up with will be fantastic, because they’re my style (broke Brooklynite with taste).

    But, things that I like to have while traveling as a thesis-writing grad student? A place to hole up and read/write when I have to (thesis-writing and research don’t stop even while traveling)–this could be an armchair, a table and chair, a desk, whatever. A simple alarm clock, a fair amount of plugs (who doesn’t travel with tech that needs to be recharged in this day and age?), pillows, blankets, and possibly a mirror. I’m expecting a friend’s house, not a B&B.

  • wisa03

    Afterthought! I once stayed in a hotel that was, LITERALLY, attached to a funeral parlour. And didn’t notice until we had been there for about 5 days… on FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH! And our room was just above the attaching wall, meaning we could have been only feet from the bodies! Needless to say, I took a large dose of sleeping pills and hoped for the best! I guess the tip is, verify your guest room is a safe distance from funeral homes, cemeteries, and the local morgue?

    Also, if you DO get the stripper pole, you should contact Nintendo about creating a stripper pole Wii game, and then also get that. It will make it much more at home for the wannabe strippers.

  • katrynka

    I have never had a guest room either, but I always remember someone’s home that I was in years ago. There were all sorts of toiletries, meds, snacks etc. in the room. It made me feel so pampered. I also love a suitcase holder/rack, whatever it is called! If you are not the unpacking sort, or you are not staying long, it is nice to have your suitcase up off the floor, and easily accessible.

  • phoebe218

    So many great comments. If I’m ever a guest, I might never leave.

    For me, extra blankets is key. I’m rarely cold, but once or twice I found myself cold in the middle of the night and had to go investigating. And, that is just a strange feeling. So, a couple of extra blankets to be easily found so that your guests don’t feel like they are being needy OR somehow casting a doubt on your ability to warm your home adequately. Body temps vary so much one person’s warm is another’s cool.

    Extra pillows. Comfortable mattress. Power strip.

    I love the idea of a bookshelf.
    I adore the idea of a wifi password note.

    Awesome stuff.

  • Sabine

    I’m going to second-third-fourth PILLOWS! Personally, I like a fat, hard pillow, which most people do not. So being able to stack a couple of pillows up together so I don’t wake up with a cramp in my shoulder/neck area is a nice bonus.

    And I also second the idiot-proof alarm clock. What a great idea.

  • Regency Romantic

    Crisp, smooth sheets, a down (or reasonable facsimile) comforter, and lots of pillows (to barricade myself from the monsters and to keep my feet out of the cold spots – no mocking) top my list of favorite guest room amenities. This project sounds fun, and I’m glad to hear/read you sounding excited again!

  • JenDary

    I once heard Oprah say that she puts out a new bar of soap every time a guest arrives… a tiny thing, but that way there’s no weird hair in it. :)

  • Daisee

    For me, for those that come to my home, an abundance of big comfy pillows, colorful fluffy comforters, lighting and comfy seating in their room so that they can “retire” with a book, etc. I dont think having a TV is necessary but a radio/cd player adds a nice touch.

    Im in the process of decorating my home, and striving for warm accents throughout. I think lots of warm lighting, mosiac style decor is both comforting and colorful. I love colored glass art and if I can find any sort of art that offers mosiac, or glass fusion/tile it offers a nice touch.
    I have found really colorful throw rugs & furniture at Pier 1 Imports, love love love the colors that I can find here.
    My absolute favorite go to place for them: http://www.pier1.com/catalog/browse/0300.furniture

    A weekend visit where foods/drink are plentiful: Having lots of home cooking and baked goods)makes the house smell wonderful too!

    Scent is important, having candles, wonderful smelling linens and other fragrances. At Christmas that is one of the first things that strike people walking into my home was the scent of cinnamon and spices!

    For guest bathroom; an abundance of towels, shampoo, soap, so they dont feel that they have to go seaching for things needed to bathe, etc., These are things that make me feel at ease when I go places, and I would want the same for my guests! Also I second fresh colorful flowers – a wonderful touch.

  • Julia B

    I’ve stayed in a lot of guest rooms in my life, but the one touch that has always stayed in my mind was so simple yet incredibly thoughtful. My friend’s mom plucked a fresh bloom from her garden and left it in a small glass on my nightstand. Such a small gesture, but all I could think of was how she had gone out to her garden and looked for just the right bloom for me. Of course, we don’t all have a garden to run to year-round (myself included), but something thoughtful like this would be a nice touch.

    Being a light sleeper, I also agree with the sound machine or even just a small fan for white noise. Good luck! Personally, I’m excited by your “sponsored content.” I love IKEA – and a good room makeover!

  • slinkerwink

    When my husband and I visited some friends of his, we stayed in their guest room, and they’d put out a lovely furnished tray of anything we might’ve needed on our stay such as toothpaste, packaged toothbrushes, q tips, cotton balls, bath aromatherapy salts, soap, and shampoo. They also had a nice sofa in the guest room, which was pretty big, and there was an ottoman next to it that you could put up your feet on while watching television. Their guest room was ridiculously hooked up, with a big wardrobe for our clothes. They didn’t have a closet, so they put towels in there, and left plenty of room for us to hang up our clothes.

  • kirsten02

    My mother in law ALWAYS puts two of my favorite magazines (US Weekly and Real Simple) out for me in her guest room, along with two cherry jolly rancher hard candies. I don’t know why … but I love it and I always eat them.

  • celium

    I think I’ve stayed in exactly one *real* guest room, ever. But what really stood out to me were the two clean towels on the chair in the room – being able to skip the “Um…I was wondering…if I wanted to shower…um…where can I find a towel, please??” awkwardness was really nice. It made me feel welcome, and like I wasn’t imposing. Plus, that’s one more thing you would be bothered about!

  • Angeerah

    What I want when I stay in a hotel versus a friend’s house is probably different. In a hotel, I want all the linens to be white so I know they bleached those FETCHIN’ (living in SLC for 3 years paid off) sheets and any stains would be visible otherwise. Also, blackout curtains are nice for sleeping in after an all nighter on the town (which I actually have done in a bazillion years.)

    For a friend’s house, a comfortable bed and blankets. This might sound creepy but make the bed how you like the blankets to be. I find that other people have cozy combinations that I can appreciate. I’m all about the “the cozy factor.” And maybe a bookshelf with books and magazines to peruse when chilling out in the room.

  • ksspiff

    My suggestion is to have a box of tissues and a trash can in the guest room. It’s aweful to walk out of the guest room and stumble to the bathroom with a face dripping snot – or alternatively, to be so desperate you wipe the snot on all the nice sheets and towels everyone else is talking about!

  • Rike

    I haven’t stayed at many hotels so far. But I have stayed at a couple of private houses.
    I felt welcomed when there was a fresh bouquet of flowers, towels where already there for me and an extra blanket. (The extra blanket because I am cold very quickly)

  • The Not So Little Things

    The thing that makes me feel the least comfortable when staying somewhere is a lack of blankets. I like a lot of blankets or at least a cozy duvet and another throw.

    If we’re going to get crazy and also have the guest room include the closet (who has enough closets to do that?) it would be really luxurious to have a place to hang up clothes or have a drawer to unpack stuff into.

  • kristanhoffman

    A) Completely disagree on the pillows. You need to have comfortable ones, but 4 layers of pillows on one bed is just silly/excessive. And overwhelming! (And if they’re too floofy, face-sleepers like me will suffocate.)

    B) Glad to hear you’re working with Jon. I hope it’s a fun experience for both of you. :)

    C) In general, my fave places to stay are simple, clean, comfortable and “roomy enough.”

  • jennytalia

    Last year I spent over 200 nights in different hotels
    With that in mind, things that make it comfy/easier

    iphone charger/docking station
    bottled water
    curtains that block out the light
    a good mirror
    enough coat hangers
    different pillow options
    fluffy towels
    clean sheets
    decent INTERNET!

    other than that, I’m not fussy at all….bwahaha!

  • greenplanner

    I think coffee is essential within the first 30 seconds of being awake, so I would have a little coffee bar: A keurig, a 4 cup coffee maker, or even an electric kettle and some packets of Starbucks Via… (Hey, co-sponsors of the guest room would be good, too, right?), some cream (real, please, not the corn syrup kind), some cute Ikea mugs, etc. That sounds heavenly to me.

  • valeriehooper

    I travel for work and the one thing that comes up for me over and over is how thirsty I am when I arrive at the hotel, partially from air travel and airports and partially from time changes and recycled air overload. The thing I always want when I arrive is this: http://www.crateandbarrel.com/dining-and-entertaining/pitchers-and-decanters/bedside-carafe/s602647

    and someday when I have an honest to goodness guest room of my own, I’ll provide one for the folks who come to visit me.

    (I also love a small throw to keep on my lap and a comfortable chair to sit in so I have someplace other than the bed on which to relax!)

  • Mania

    Even though our guest bedroom is also my office, I’ve received quite a few compliments on it. It even has a futon….

    Large, comfy bed – our futon is a queen-size and has a good mattress

    Lots of pillows – I have four (two memory foam and two feather) plus some throw pillows.

    A selection of blankets – I have a down blanket and a cotton blanket – you just never know how hot/cold someone might be.

    A night table with a good lamp, some reading material, a little bottle of lotion, maybe a bottle of water, etc. A place to put clothes and the guest’s own towel.

    As others have mentioned – take it easy on the freaking night lights.

  • virtuallori

    Extra blankets. Decent towels, ones that don’t look like they were used to clean the dogs last time they got into the mud puddle. I’ll second (third? fourth?) a mirror in the guest room itself, so I don’t have to hog the bathroom to do makeup. A couple of lamps, not just the hideous overheads.

    I travel with my own favorite shampoo and stuff, but my in-laws keep a basket of travel-size stuff in their guest bathroom that’s really nice to have access to.

    We put out a couple of glasses so our guests can get water in the middle of the night if they need it (guest room is on the second floor, far from the kitchen). We also keep a drawer in the bathroom with toothpaste, extra (new) toothbrushes, stuff like that.

    Whoever suggested a card with the wireless password: GENIUS!

  • sarahdoow

    Being as I am a good bit smaller than most people, I find that a full-length mirror is a nice touch, rather than just a face mirror up on the wall, way above my face.

  • Cecily

    Okay, this is weird but after traveling last year so much and staying in a million hotels, one of the things that annoyed me the most was not having a mirror I could get REALLY close to. See, I learned how to put on makeup BEFORE I got contact lenses, and I’m super blind, so I always had to be 4 inches from the mirror to do my face. And when the mirror is three feet away, my makeup gets scary. Plus, there is that need for chin hair plucking. What? I’m old.

    Told you. Random.

  • susanruffin

    Ridiculously high threadcount sheets and a luggage rack (I hate living out of luggage on the floor).


  • crivens

    Best hotel I ever stayed at had king-size down pillows that were just fluffy enough but not too fluffy (two for each side with extras in the closet), a down comforter on the bed, and nice little desk area to put my laptop and charge my phone.

    It was very ultra-modern, which is not my style at home, but it totally worked at a hotel.

    I’ve never stayed in someone’s actual “guest” room, but would say that for those of us with little kids around, putting out a basket of toiletries is just asking for trouble with a capital TROUB. That would be when you’d find the shampoo, open, in the fish tank. Or the dogs would eat the chocolate. But maybe that’s just my house….?

  • patrice108

    I can’t read through comments so maybe this is already said, but not too much clutter on the dresser. sometimes when there’s too much going on on top of it, I put my own stuff out, and don’t realize I didn’t pack it because it’s lost among everything else on there. for example: I leave a piece of jewelry behind because it was next to a glass bird on a handmade doily. it just blends in and I don’t realize I didn’t pack it.

  • tokenblogger

    Dogs. The scent of coffee or popcorn.

    Windows that can be opened.

  • morgenthaler

    The things I really like to find in a guest room is a pile of good books (e.g. Lord of The Rings, A Short History of Nearly Everything, books on design/architecture) a map of the world on one of the walls (very specific, I know) – a sweater (in case it’s winter), a bar of swiss chocolate and a nice big comfy chair. Wifi code on the door or on a note on the bed would also be nice. And towels used by no-one else before :-) .

  • geauxlightly

    You had me at charcuterie.

    The things I have been most grateful for as a guest are a pair of slippers and bobby pins.

  • kaethend

    O how fun!

    I am all for a guest room, but my husband thinks that a nice guest room means guests and who wants that?!

    1. Many types of pillows (hard, soft, firm, flat, lofty, down, synthetic, etc.)
    2. Many types of blankets (warm, thick, light, thin, throw, etc.)
    3. Many types of lighting (overhead, lamp, nightlight, etc.)
    4. Many types of MAKING IT DARK (curtains, sheers, lightswitches, etc.) For me, I CANNOT sleep with any sort of light at all of any kind in the room. AT ALL.
    5. A cozy bed, obvs
    6. A cozy chair with ottoman near an outlet (because I will want to surf and charge and lounge all at once. And every guest and host needs some time apart and no one wants to always have to relax on their bed, so give’em a chair!)
    7. A small desk or table
    8. The network deets on that desk or table so I don’t have to ask you for your password and then ask you to spell it and then ask is that all one word or is there a space and is anything capitalized?
    9. All the niceties: razor, toothbrush, toothpaste, GOOD shampoo, GREAT conditioner, lovely lotion (Utah is dry), etc.
    10. A book on Utah or Salt Lake or both or something similar (I am a nerd? I want to know about where I’m staying.)
    11. Magazines!
    12. Books!
    13. Um…
    14. Towels already out so I don’t have to ask! This is the WORST. I always feel like it’s the host’s not so subtle hint that I am not allowed to shower!
    15. An empty dresser (small, but big enough for what I brought.)
    16. An empty closet (Someone else said it – EMPTY! I shouldn’t feel like hanging my fancy dress up is a sanctioned way to snoop through your stuff.)
    17. And whatever everybody else said!

  • Glorysgirl

    My sister (I think she saw it on Oprah) always has a little bowl of my favorite candy in the room when I stay in her guest room. I like it because it is so personalized – it’s not just the same thing she always has there but she takes the time to go and pick out my favorite so I have a sweet treat before bed.

  • shotsjr

    this is totally going to be a recap of what so many other people have written, but oh well… for me it’s all about comfort while not feeling like i’m imposing. so having an extra pillow or two, as well as an extra sheet or blanket in a closet or other storage space in the room is great–that way if you need more or less in terms of bedding you can get it yourself. if there’s an en suite, having things like toilet paper, tampons, and a plunger stashed in the room so that you don’t have to embarrass yourself by asking is a must. a mirror is helpful, and an alarm clock next to the bed is great. Plenty of space next to or above the bed–as in, within easy arm’s reach–for reading material, a glass of water, and one’s phone (preferably within range of an outlet to plug it in) is always good, and having towels, washcloths, a bath mat, and fresh soap laid out is lovely. finally, having a coat rack or hooks on the wall is a bonus, so that you can hang your towels to dry in your own room (rather than a shared bathroom), or you can have a place for a robe, coat, cardigan, etc.

  • tokenblogger

    P.S. I also drink a lot of water. All. Day. Long.

    P. S. S. And if lots of other people are coming, too? I can sleep in a chair so long as there is a footstool or the chair is a recliner.

    And I’ve been known to snore.

  • Steph Bachman

    Love the topic, love the collaborating, and love IKEA! They have some fabulous hotel towels (for cheap) that we bought for my daughter’s bathroom. Everyone fights to be the one who gets to use them.

    You could buy a dual frame with internet/coffee machine/tv details on one side and a nice photo on the other side.