How to Make a Guest Room in 48 Hours

By Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza

My dad called me on Wednesday of last week. He had business in town and asked if he could stay with us for the night. My husband and I live in a two-bedroom apartment. We moved in  mid-December, but I have been avoiding the second bedroom at all costs, postponing it each weekend and creating that gremlin of a room I swore I would never harbor under my roof: the junk repository. So when I told my dad that of course he could come stay with us, I was actually writing a check that may have to be cashed in the form of an air mattress, but I was not raised an animal, so I had about 48 hours to pull together a guest room fit for the guy who raised me.

Here’s where I will caveat the 48-hour time limit. I actually had about five days before his arrival, but only time during the weekend to work on the space—my weekdays are full from day to night. So I did have time to do some online shopping, but at the cost of express shipping.

In this case, the name of the game has to be buy only what you have to, repurpose everything you can.

The basics

When I say the guest room was unfinished, I truly mean that the only pieces in the room were 1) a desk my grandfather made for me when I was in high school, 2) an old dresser that is pretty much soulless at this point, and 3) a full-size easel in the corner. Oh yeah, that’s another catch: this room has to double as a studio as well.

The first thing I got was a mattress. I needed something that was well-made, but I didn’t want to spend more than $500 on one that wouldn’t see regular use, and I needed one with free and fast shipping. I ended up getting the Lucid 10-inch gel memory foam mattress for $375. I also needed some kind of platform bed for the mattress, so I chose a classic metal-frame queen bed frame from Wayfair for $147.

I already had an extra sand-colored bedspread with a creamy white thread running through it and a small red area rug that weren’t in use, so I threw those in: $Free.99.

The extras

I don’t exactly go for the minimalist look, so on Saturday morning (the only day I had for any brick-and-mortar shopping) I set out to look for some finishing touches. There’s nothing more offensive to me than a room with a theme, so I hadn’t set out with an agenda other than to make a room that’s peaceful, that feels like a retreat for our guests.

My first stop was the flea market, where among a plethora of, um…smells? I found a pair of beautiful little banana leaf pictures on a cloth background in deep navy. After strong-arming the vendor into giving me a better deal (I told you, scrappy), I walked away with them for $15.

I stopped next at my favorite antique / used furniture stores in town and scored a few key pieces: A beautiful topographical map of the lower Cape Fear River Basin (the place I called home for about six years), a long-legged heron in gold, and a few home books (those weren’t for the room, they were just for me). From Nadeau, I got a red tiered bedside table and a shell-inspired tray with bamboo trim.

All told, I spent about $1,200 on new accoutrement and I was able to repurpose the rest. I pulled it together in time and I’ve converted junk room to guest room.

The takeaways: the last-minute guest bedroom

Lay a clean canvas

Clear out the room as much as possible. The first thing I did was take everything I could to a donation center—allow nothing to obscure your slate.

Repurpose everything you can

I pulled an existing bedspread and repurposed a few pieces of art that hadn’t found a home yet, I used an extra rug for the floor. For a simple touch of hospitality, I used a Chemex for a water pitcher.

There are some things you should always buy new

Towels, and don’t skimp. Buy big ones, buy nice ones, reserve them only for guests.

Sheets and pillow cases, if what you currently have isn’t absolutely immaculate. Use these only for the guest room as well. No one wants to sleep on raggedy sheets.

Don’t forget the details

There are certain things that can go overlooked when setting up a guest room. Make sure you add a few niceties to top off your guests’ stay:

  • A white noise machine to allow your guests some privacy and to help them get some really good sleep. I recommend this one from Marpac.
  • A pitcher of water. I used my Chemex and paired it with some playful juice glasses I found at Goodwill.
  • A candle and matches. Choose one with a light smell.
  • A waste basket. This sounds simple, but it goes overlooked. Get something wicker or ceramic—never plastic.

A theme is the enemy of good taste

But don’t let fear of a motif scare you away from the things you love. When I noticed I was gravitating toward the nautical, I steered into that skid and came away with a few books of poetry of the sea. I don’t hate it.

Let's Not Stop There


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