- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 21, 2001

Fish and visitors smell after three days, the old adage goes. Yet the experience of hosting a crowd for an extended time over the holidays need not leave a bad taste or odor for someone prepared to cope.
The secret of readying a home or apartment in anticipation of overnight guests begins early, when the owner starts buying (or renting) furnishings, according to several area retailers and interior designers.
Plan ahead is their message far enough ahead, for instance, to be able to do some comparison shopping for the perfect sleep sofa, which is indispensable for harboring short-term visitors. The market is full of choices in a variety of fabrics, many of them made to repel stains and dirt.
Sue Debevec, president of the Washington chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers, chose a Dapha-make sleep sofa for a second bedroom that she turned into a den in her single-family Alexandria house. "With down feather cushions, it's the Rolls Royce of the furniture industry," she says.
"The beauty of sleep sofas these days is that you have lots of options in size," says Bill Grace, vice president of merchandising for Home Elements. Contemporary styles don't at all resemble old-fashioned models with clunky springs, he notes.
"But when shopping for a sleep sofa, buy one with the thickest mattress possible because of the support bar underneath that can make for a very uncomfortable night," warns Skip Sroka of Bethesda's Sroka Design Inc.
Other useful items Ms. Debevec suggests as good investments for flexible duty include a dining table with leaves that extend its size, bar stools that can be tucked away out of sight, and stacking chairs that can go easily into storage when not in use.
Mr. Grace recommends drop-leaf tables as worthy long-term investments, along with large, handsome armoires in either antique or modern styling. The latter are useful for storing clutter, and the shelves can double in a pinch as a serving area for a buffet meal.
Other permanent items to consider buying are cube-shaped ottomans in leather and fabric, 15 inches square, that work as side tables as well as extra seats. "Two or three of them placed in front of a sofa make a nice conversational area" he says. Modern stacking chairs come in attractive materials such as rattan or Lucite that are entirely presentable, according to Georgetown designer John Irelan, who is fond of an Italian-made Lucite folding chair he says blends in with any type of furnishing.
The most important element in rearranging a home for guests, however, is providing easy access throughout the home or apartment, Mr. Grace says. The second step is to "decide which room will be given over to the kids. They will be happy, and adults will be happy, too."

Creating lists and sticking to them is paramount, observes Chris Mattscheck, regional representative for the Container Store, the retail chain that specializes in storage and organizational products for home and office.
"Get organized before the holidays," she says. "Make a list and think about what you are going to be doing and going to be using and take [that list] with you everywhere. The key is to focus on areas that are visible, starting with those areas where guests are going to be spending most of their time."
Start with the entryway, or foyer. If there isn't room enough in a closet for guests' coats, consider purchasing a portable expandable garment rack, Ms. Mattscheck says. (The same item is useful in bedrooms for hanging clothes.) A foyer can double as an extra dining room, too, suggests Mr. Sroka, who also recommends buying inexpensive suitcase stands at a store such as Target to provide guests easy access to their bags.
Flexibility is the rule for host and guest alike, especially when it comes to eating and sleeping areas. For this reason, Mr. Irelan always recommends that clients put a sleep sofa in a library when furnishing a home.
"These days, so many rooms are multipurpose; a library or game room easily becomes a dining room, too," notes Peggy Posner, editor in chief of Home & Design magazine, which circulates in the Greater Washington area.
By way of example, she cites a feature custom-designed for a condo kitchen: a felt-bottomed island work area that glides easily to one side out of the way. The kitchen table gets enlarged, and the space converts into a dining room.
"You can buy a large piece of plywood or a door to put on top of a table to make it larger," Ms. Debevec advises. The same trick works in a billiard or game room, suggests Barbara Hawthorn of Hawthorn Interiors in McLean: "You can buy a large piece of plywood at Home Depot and cover it with a great tablecloth."

Guests invariably gather in the kitchen, so it is critical to arrange sensible food preparation and storage to eliminate confusion in a conventionally small space. Ms. Mattscheck suggests freezing as much food as possible ahead of time in handy plastic containers that are doubly useful for holding leftovers. Another helpful kitchen device, she says, is an expandable shelf designed to fit any cabinet space and help put canned goods and recipe ingredients close at hand.
Designer Aniko Gaal Schott of Alexandria believes it is possible to create the illusion of extra space by changing the atmosphere in a room.
"You can turn a living room into a Moroccan scene by scattering around a lot of colorful pillows and fabrics," she suggests. "Turn off the electric lights and instead use candles at least for dinner. Any clutter just disappears into the shadows."
Inflatable air mattresses are widely available to accommodate an overflow of overnight guests. Mr. Sroka thinks they are more comfortable and convenient than sleep sofas. "They come folded up in a box. You just plug in an electric cord and they blow up," he says. "Then you sit on them to let the air out. It's a levitating experience."
Mrs. Schott has an inventive suggestion of where to put them.
"Clear out a clothes closet and turn it into an extra bedroom if the closet is big enough for a child to sleep in," she says.
"Keep extra mattresses under beds," Ms. Hawthorn suggests. "Like a trundle bed, they can be pulled out for sleeping at night. If the weather is benign enough, consider buying or renting heaters to use in a tent or canopy in the yard."
Leslie Ehrmann, office manager for the local chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers, often has 10 or 12 people descend on her Silver Spring home, which has only one guest room.
"That's three pairs of adults and assorted children. We use assorted sleeping bags for the kids my advice is BYOB, bring your own bags. I generally do the cooking ahead and supplement a meal with prepared food so there isn't too much commotion in the kitchen."
Free-lance photographer Kyle Samperton of Potomac solves the problem by going with his family to visit in-laws in Florida and becoming their guest. If the situation were reversed, he says, he would rely on extra-long twin beds that double as an office sofa and are covered, conveniently enough, with soft down comforters.
Not so special-events coordinator Janet Stahir of McLean, who says, "I book guests in cheap hotels nearby because hotels these days need guests more than I do."

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