Six Tips to Create a Welcoming Guest House

Prepare for the warmer months with tips from architect Cathy Purple Cherry.
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Photography by Durston Saylor

Cathy Purple Cherry has been practicing architecture and interiors for more than 30 years at her firm, Purple Cherry Architects. Her growing team of 31 employees is currently based in Annapolis, Maryland. With projects all over the country, Purple Cherry is opening an office in SoHo later this year to better serve her New York– and New Englandbased clientele. Purple Cherry shares her top tips in designing a welcoming guest house.

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Photography by Durston Saylor

1. Balance budget and goals

“They’re wanting a space that is very beautiful, but they’re also wanting a space they can build within a limited budget, because it is a guest house,” Purple Cherry says of her clients. “The balance is to find unique opportunities and integrate them into those guest houses, so that there are experiences that are different than what you have in the main house.” For example, a wood-burning pizza oven gives a guest house more of a destination purpose.

2. Create as much sleeping opportunity as possible 

“I think guest houses have to be designed such that they can create as much sleeping opportunity as possible,” Purple Cherry says. In one guest house she is designing, there are two almost-identical primary suites downstairs. “But upstairs there is a bedroom that has two queen beds and four bunks,” she says. “So in one room you can officially sleep eight people—and that kind of flexibility is important.”

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Photography by Durston Saylor

3. Be thoughtful about bunk rooms

Purple Cherry says she designed her first bunk room 15 years ago and “you can count how many times it has been used probably on one hand.” This bunk room was geared toward grown children, which is not as practical as it appears, the architect says. “Bunk rooms are very beautiful to look at, very challenging to change the sheets on,” she says. Although most of Purple Cherry Architect’s projects do include bunk rooms, “there’s always a conversation in my office because I want to make sure that I address all of the practicalities,” she says. “To me a bunk room is really intended to be a socialization event. How do you do that when you have solid walls between the bunks?” Purple Cherry’s bunk rooms are intentional in the layout and usually have portholes or openings between each bed. “I really think it’s important to reinforce that camaraderie, that togetherness, by visual connection.”

4. Maximize space

Rooms tend to be simpler in guest houses and furniture might be used instead of closets, according to Purple Cherry. In one Maryland guest house located along the Chester River, there is no kitchen island. “We used the dining table in place of the island, which helped to keep the footprint smaller and more efficient,” Purple Cherry says.

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Photography by Durston Saylor

5. Allow the guest house to be informed by the main residence 

“We don’t tend to go out and create a really abstract guest house that has nothing to do with the main house,” Purple Cherry says. “We like when the structures speak to each other. They don’t necessarily have to be matchy-matchy, but we do feel they come out of the same place.”

6. Be cognizant of privacy

Purple Cherry says to consider placement of the structure in a way that reinforces privacy. “A guest house always shares a property with the principal dwelling,” she says. “So I think it’s really important that the guest house have a sense of privacy so that the residents of the guest house can experience their own indoor/outdoor living without the invasion of the principal dwelling occupants.”

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Photography by Durston Saylor