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Create a cozy guest environment this holiday season



You've opened your home to annoying Aunt Edna, loud Cousin Joe and your beloved parents, and you wonder what you've gotten yourself into. It's like a scene straight from "Sixteen Candles." But don't let the madness get your holidays down " after all, they are family. Take these tips to not only make your guests feel welcome and cozy, but also keep your stress at bay.


By making it easier on your guests, you'll make it easier on you.

"It's important to make guests feel comfortable," said Claudia Wright, innkeeper and owner of the Grandison Inn at Maney Park.

From lighting and smells to cleanliness and the right number of pillows, there are several easy details that can make a huge impact on guests and their stay.

"Decorate tastefully and fun, but leave space for their belongings," said Johnita Turner, owner of Willow Way Bed and Breakfast. "I remember visiting somewhere that had so much memorabilia, there was no place for me and my things."

You want people to feel comfortable, so really mean it when you say, "make yourself at home."

Cleanliness is key.

"You don't want people finding hair in the shower," Wright said. "But you don't want people feeling like they can't sit down and put their feet up, either."

Too sterile is not always a good thing. Keep things easy by showing guests around and keeping necessities within reach. Not only will you avoid their frustration searching for a bath towel or washcloth, they won't have to yell down to ask where they are.

Provide at least two pillows per person " one fluffy and one not so fluffy, Wright said. Pillow protectors and mattress pads are also a good idea for comfort and a healthier, sanitary bed. If you want to (and have some extra time), iron your pillowcases.

"Body oils don't go through the starch," Wright said. "And, it looks extra-nice."

Look for sheet sets with a thread count of 350 to 400, which is not too hard, but not too slick. It's the perfect happy medium, she said.

If guests arrive during the day, open the blinds and allow some natural light in, but if guests arrive in the evening, close the blinds for privacy and switch on a few bedside lamps. Avoid bright overhead lighting, said Wright. The term used in the bed and breakfast industry is "task lighting," which makes guest rooms feel inviting, not sterile. Colors can also create a direct relationship between the atmosphere and guests' mood.

"Every room is different," Wright said. "Less dark is always better. Anything that makes people feel bright and cheery is a good idea."

Provide an alarm clock with a built-in radio at the bedside to provide entertainment for the guests, as well as create some ambiance. Flip on some low music before the guests arrive.

"We are sure to do this each time we have a guest," said Wright, who has been in the hospitality business for about 20 years. "We always get so many comments on how welcoming the music is."

And there's nothing more inviting than a feel-good scent.

"Most of the time I'm baking, but it's that smell of food that is very welcoming and homey," Wright said.

Try baking a batch of cookies or throw in a frozen apple pie right before guests arrive and you're sure to set the right aura. No time to cook? Choose a cinnamon-scented candle, recommends Turner. It will not only make guests think you're baking, it will avoid the perfume-type fragrance that could cause allergy flare-ups.

If you're on vacation, you might like to sleep in, but Gramps might get up at the crack of dawn. To avoid having your sleep disrupted and to make him feel at home, add a small, 4-cup coffeemaker with some cups and tea bags to the guest room, or set the timer on the kitchen coffeemaker and set out dishes and silverware. You can also set out a few morning rolls or fruit to tide guests over until brunch is served.

Another nice touch is to place a few books or magazines on the bedside table with a personalized note. Your guests might take the bait and read quietly in bed instead of sacking out in the den with the television blaring.

"Sometimes people have trouble falling asleep in a strange place," Turner said. "A few minutes with a good read will often do the trick."

Inexpensive extra touches can make all the difference. A single flower in a bud vase or a hand-written welcome note really shows that you've gone the extra mile. If your guests are coming from miles away, pick up a few visitor guides from a local welcome center " there's bound to be something to spark their interest for entertainment so you're not constantly being a trip master.

It's that time of year for colds and coughs. Keep some pain reliever, vitamin C and throat lozenges close at hand. Your guests will stay healthy and keep their cough at bay, allowing you to rest easy.

A welcome basket of refreshments with bottles of water, snacks and chocolates on guests' pillows is always a nice, away-from-home touch.

And, "you never know when someone will forget something or run out," Wright said.

Be prepared with a bathroom drawer filled with extra toothbrushes and toothpaste, shampoo and conditioner, makeup remover and maybe even a few bath loofahs and shower gel " a gift guests can enjoy and take home. You could even leave some bubble bath and candles out around the tub.

If they're vacationing, they might enjoy some nice relaxation, which will keep you relaxed, too. "Valerie Kramer Davis

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