Stay With Us, Please? My Quest to Design a Better Guest Room Than the In-Laws
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Stay With Us, Please? My Quest to Design a Better Guest Room Than the In-Laws

Determined to persuade her married daughters to visit—and lacking her rivals’ in-ground pool—our columnist decided to up her guest-room game. Here, her tips.

Sat, Aug 26, 2023 7:30amGrey Clock 4 min

I SUSPECT that most people’s so-called guest bedrooms are, like mine, giant closets. Once upon a time they were my daughters’ bedrooms. But after my kids grew up, their childhood rooms were almost immediately pressed into service as warehouse space.

My husband’s guitar amps? Store them in a spare room. Amazon packages to be returned? Guest room. These rooms also collect castoffs I’m not emotionally ready to part with, including 10-foot drapery panels with a songbird pattern I made with a sewing machine my husband magnanimously gave me on our 10th anniversary. I think I used the machine once, and if I ever need it, it’s in a corner of the guest room.

This situation is counterproductive for someone like me, hoping to lure home “guests” like my three adult children and their husbands and partners. So I recently resolved to fix the guest-room issue—and immediately realised this was a job for a professional.

“My problem is that now that my children are paired-off they have other options—in-laws with better guest rooms—who they could visit instead,” I said to Grey Joyner, an interior designer in Wilson, N.C. These rival accommodations include an enviable guest suite (I’ve slept there comfortably myself), with extremely high-thread-count sheets, a private bathroom and terrace access to a landscaped garden with an in-ground swimming pool. “Of course, I’m not trying to compete head-to-head against the in-laws,” I hedged.

“Of course you are competing with the in-laws—as you should!” Joyner said. “If you were my client, this is when I would tell you: Every room needs to tell a story.”

“‘High-end hotel’ is a nice story for a room,” I said. “Should I toss everything and start from scratch?”

“No!” Joyner said. “This is not a hotel, it’s your home, and it has to feel personal. I would create a story around things you collect or already have.”

I considered what our story might be. “A thriller about a hoarder with a songbird-drapes fetish?” I asked.

She ignored this.

Obviously, accessories designed to lure each of my daughters would be nice to have, including a luggage rack for the “heavy packer” in the family (Joyner likes the $225 foldable, faux-bamboo versions from One of a Find in Charleston, S.C.); wall-mounted reading sconces for my “low-brow-murder-mystery addict” middle child (my go-to is the bendable-arm gooseneck wall sconces from Etsy sellerDLIGHT); and perhaps a Sonos speaker for the family’s “promising-new-artists scout.”

“Maybe it’s the Southerner in me, but I have a ton of silver pieces,” Joyner said. “I might put a tray on a dresser for jewellery, and one in the bathroom as a soap dish. Guests say, ‘I love that dish,’ and I say, ‘That was my grandmother’s.’ Now it has a story.”

A plan took shape: First, I spent a few days painting a Louis-XVI-style caned bed with three coats of a rich, deep brown colour—Farrow & Ball’s Mahogany—so it would have a strong visual presence to anchor the room. Second, I painted the walls, to cover the pale Benjamin Moore Ballet White with Farrow & Ball Smoked Trout, a hue whose name got a rise out of my husband. “Wow, $150 a gallon for paint?” he said. “Is it made with real trout?”

The colour created a woodsy-tan backdrop against which a castoff pair of cloudy-mirror-top night tables suddenly looked glamorous.

What next? Window coverings, perhaps in a joyous songbird pattern? Or maybe not.

“You need blackout shades or drapes because you want your guests to get a good night’s sleep,” said Kelly Simpson, senior director of design and innovation at Budget Blinds, an Irvine, Calif., company with 900 franchises nationwide. “For your situation, personally I’d do a layered look, blackout shade with drapery panels on the sides. Adding draperies softens a room.”

Stephanie Moffitt, design director of the Mokum collection at James Dunlop Textiles in Australia, concurred, suggesting patterned fabrics on shades and drapes. “You can take more risk with bolder palettes” than in a main bedroom where you have to sleep (and look at the curtains) every night for years, she said.

Luring adult children to come home could get expensive. Does it need to?

I turned to psychologist Joshua Coleman’s “Rules of Estrangement: Why Adult Children Cut Ties and How to Heal the Conflict” (Harmony, 2021) for answers. But after skimming the free-on-Amazon excerpt of the book, I still had questions—so I phoned the author.

“I’m actually trying to prevent estrangement with adult children before it happens,” I told him. “The first pages of your book point out that they—and by extension, their spouses—aren’t obligated to spend more time than they want with their parents,” I said. “Can I convey that I respect that through how I decorate a guest room?”

“Probably not—and keep in mind there’s a risk that they don’t want you to update their rooms and will feel displaced by it,” Coleman said.

“But their spouses don’t want to look at their old prom photos,” I said.

“You said you have daughters?” he asked.

Three, I confirmed.

“Daughters tend to be more powerful arbiters of time spent with parents than sons, so I would be more conscious of displeasing them. Husbands will fall in line.”

Really? It was the reactions of the spouses and partners I’d been fearing—all three of my daughters had given a thumbs-up to more-comfortable décor and had in fact unanimously suggested a mattress upgrade (the old one dated to 1985).

“So no expensive furnishings are necessary?” I asked.

He could hear my disappointment. “Look, if you want to justify it to your husband, you can say you talked to a national expert and he said you absolutely need to buy nice furniture,” he said.

That faux bamboo luggage rack will soon be mine.


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Wild cities and concrete corridors: How AI is reimagining the landscape

A new AI-driven account by leading landscape architect Jon Hazelwood pushes the boundaries on the role of ‘complex nature’ in the future of our cities

By Robyn Willis
Wed, Dec 6, 2023 2 min

Drifts of ground cover plants and wildflowers along the steps of the Sydney Opera House, traffic obscured by meadow-like planting and kangaroos pausing on city streets.

This is the way our cities could be, as imagined by landscape architect Jon Hazelwood, principal at multi-disciplinary architectural firm Hassell. He has been exploring the possibilities of rewilding urban spaces using AI for his Instagram account, Naturopolis_ai with visually arresting outcomes.

“It took me a few weeks to get interesting results,” he said. “I really like the ephemeral nature of the images — you will never see it again and none of those plants are real. 

“The AI engine makes an approximation of a grevillea.”

Hazelwood chose some of the most iconic locations in Australia, including the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, as well as international cities such as Paris and London, to demonstrate the impact of untamed green spaces on streetscapes, plazas and public space.

He said he hopes to provoke a conversation about the artificial separation between our cities and the broader environment, exploring ways to break down the barriers and promote biodiversity.

“A lot of the planning (for public spaces) is very limited,” Hazelwood said. “There are 110,000 species of plants in Australia and we probably use about 12 in our (public) planting schemes. 

“Often it’s for practical reasons because they’re tough and drought tolerant — but it’s not the whole story.”

Hazelwood pointed to the work of UK landscape architect Prof Nigel Dunnett, who has championed wild garden design in urban spaces. He has drawn interest in recent years for his work transforming the brutalist apartment block at the Barbican in London into a meadow-like environment with diverse plantings of grasses and perennials.

Hazelwood said it is this kind of ‘complex nature’ that is required for cities to thrive into the future, but it can be hard to convince planners and developers of the benefits.

“We have been doing a lot of work on how we get complex nature because complexity of species drives biodiversity,” he said. 

“But when we try to propose the space the questions are: how are we going to maintain it? Where is the lawn?

“A lot of our work is demonstrating you can get those things and still provide a complex environment.” 

At the moment, Hassell together with the University of Melbourne is trialling options at the Hills Showground Metro Station in Sydney, where the remaining ground level planting has been replaced with more than 100 different species of plants and flowers to encourage diversity without the need for regular maintenance. But more needs to be done, Hazelwood said.

“It needs bottom-up change,” he said. ““There is work being done at government level around nature positive cities, but equally there needs to be changes in the range of plants that nurseries grow, and in the way our city landscapes are maintained and managed.”

And there’s no AI option for that. 


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