Jameson: Meditations on the merits of the guest house


Falling under the category of home amenities I have dreamed about but have never had is a guest house. Falling under the category of never say never is the fact that I now have one.

Well, it’s not mine, exactly; it belongs to the house I’m living in and staging. Still, my imagination and I have great plans for the small (500-square-foot), one-bedroom loft apartment, nestled among treetops above the detached garage.

Currently, it’s furnished for guests, perfect for when my brother and his wife visit this Christmas.

But I’m thinking . . .

And who hasn’t dreamed about having a separate, compact, distraction-free, no-one-will-bother-you space, close to but distinctly apart from your house, where you can put up guests or put out teenagers, work or work out, paint or play music, throw pottery or throw a fit?

Just having a guest house has caused my mind to run Dr. Seuss like:

Oh, the things I could do in that room with a view.

Have a guest, raise a pest. Write a book, learn to cook.

Do a dance, pot some plants. Mend what's torn, toot my horn.

Oh, the ideas are endless for the things I could do, the things I could do in that room with a view.

Even Queen Marie Antoinette needed Le Petit Trianon, a “little” getaway house she could escape to when life at the Palace of Versailles was too much.

This week I was inspired further when my friend, Christy Wilson Delk, a fashion consultant for a New York line of women's clothing, showed me what she had done with the loft apartment behind her house.

“If it weren’t for that space, I wouldn’t have bought the home,” said Delk, who moved into the 100-year-old Craftsman style house in Winter Park, Fla., a year ago. “It gave me so many options.”

She considered using it for guests, or renting it out, but settled on making it into a space to display the season's latest apparel trends and host fashion parties.

A landscape architect helped her create a courtyard that connects her home and workspace. Today, she literally walks out her kitchen door, takes 10 steps, and opens the door to her fashion design world.

That space in between makes the magical difference between a room in your home, and one next door.

“Once you walk out the door of your home, and that domestic scene, and open a new door, a psychological shift happens,” said Toby Israel, a design psychologist based in Princeton. “That shift doesn’t happen when you just go into the next room.”

Isn’t that the truth? As someone who worked in her home for years, I know what it’s like to be in your office working and suddenly be overcome by a compulsion to alphabetize your spice cabinet.

Israel, who gives lectures on “designing from within,” including one called: “Transforming Home, Transforming Self,” thinks everyone should have a space for escape. “It doesn't have to be fancy. It can be a tool shed. But it should be about you.”

Curious about what others would do if a guest house suddenly appeared next door, I conducted a very scientific and random poll of my Facebook friends. Besides creating a guest room or office, they envisioned a transition house for aging parents, a home-school, a game room, a music studio, a climbing wall, an artist atelier, a printmaking shop, a fitness room, a quilting or craft space, a yoga studio.

One friend, who just moved to a house with a guest house, said, “I put my husband’s taxidermy in it (and his office) so it is out of my house!”

Other replies: “I’d build a high fence and sunbath nude.”

“I’d put my adult kids out there; keep my grandbabies in with me and send the babies out to their parents to deal with fussiness.”

“I’d sell it.”

Not all residential properties can accommodate a guest house, but they are fun to dream about. And whatever you would do in that room with a view, here's what makes the space unlike any other place:
• They specialize. Unlike a main house, which is made for multitasking, guest houses can be all about one purpose — a guest, a hobby, a passion.
• They set boundaries. Anyone who has tried to work from home understands that boundaries often blur, said Israel. One minute you are creating a PowerPoint, the next you're folding laundry. A free-standing, designated space creates boundaries.
• They’re private. When used for guests, separate spaces provide them and you privacy. This is especially useful when guests come in from other time zones, and their midnight is your 3 a.m.
• They force transition. The outdoor area connecting a main house to a guest house lets you physically and mentally change gears. Design the walkway so it honors the act of transition.
• They force focus. Because guest houses are free of distractions that can deter you in the main house, you’re less likely to urgently go bake cookies and more inclined to get down to business.
• They can make money. Depending on how your neighborhood is zoned, you can rent out your guest house, or use it to house a small business, such as an accounting, law or therapist’s office, keeping your private and public lives close but separate.

Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press). Contact her through www.marnijameson.com.


Marni Jameson

Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press)
Last modified: November 6, 2014
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