The majority of spare rooms lie unused most of the time. No wonder they become a dumping ground for all the things you've never quite found a place for and, possibly, your laundry and ironing board too. But before you groan at the thought of having to clear it all out for the rellies coming to stay this Christmas, why not use the opportunity to transform it into a room that's both stylish and dual-purpose? "Whatever you double the room up as, use neutral wall colours to keep the feel both calming and functional," interior designer Nina Campbell advises. "And ditch curtains in favour of Roman blinds, which have the potential to look both practical and luxurious."
"By all means double-up your spare room for another use, but if you want people to come and stay, your ultimate priority should be the ability to provide an inviting, comfortable bed and surroundings," Campbell insists.
Assuming space is limited, consider a stowaway bed – a single bed which hides another additional bed underneath, enabling it to become a double or twin beds, the Aram Store (www.aram.co.uk) has some good examples.
"Sofa beds are generally deeply uncomfortable, so for an alternative to be used for seating during the day, opt for a day bed that is richly decorated with throws and fine cushions," interior designer Katharine Pooley advises. Feather & Black's new Evie day bed is good value at £349 (www.featherandblack.com). Even your existing bed can be made to look like a seating area when not in use, Pooley says, provided you keep it low-level with no headboard and again, well-dressed with accessories.
For a completely hidden bed, check out wall beds at www.wall-beds.co.uk and www.spacesavingbeds.co.uk. Meanwhile, for budget options, blow-up beds, such as the Aerobed Premier Raise Mattress (from £139.99, www.houseoffraser. co.uk), are less bulky than foldaways and very comfortable.
Use lamps to create a cosy ambience and ditch your lumpy old pillows and faded sheets for luxury bedding, sheets and towels, which can more than make up for any lack of lavishness in the room. For a nice touch, place blankets in a strip across the width of the end of the bed.
Contained office consoles that can be shut and locked are less intimidating for guests than desks crammed with visible computer equipment and papers, says Cassie Tillett, founder of the Association of Professional Declutterers and Organisers: "The Hygena Strand Oak 2 Door Hideaway from Argos (£299, www.argos.co.uk) is good and there are plenty of other options in all price brackets." If you suspect you'll feel like you're working in a cupboard, Neville Johnson's 24 Hour Room concept (from £4,000, www.nevillejohnson.co.uk) provides a more open desk area that can be stored away, along with a pull-out single bed all in the same unit.
Choose well-designed furniture that echoes in style the other pieces in the room to avoid the "office" dominating your multi-purpose room, Tillett says, and consider a beautiful-looking bureau or statement desk that can work as a dressing table. Mufti (www.mufti.co.uk) stocks elegant versions of both, while John Lewis's black leather Dream Desk (£399, www.johnlewis.com) is another good choice.
Because your workspace needs to create the right state of mind for creative thinking, position your desk near the window if possible. This has the added bonus of using up what is often dead space. Better still, fit a work area into a corner by the window, such as the Micke corner workstation (£115, www.ikea.com). Make sure you have enough electrical outlets where you need them, thus avoiding string extension cords all over the room, not to mention overloading the circuit.
Use a task light that can double up as a bedside lamp, such as the Angle Lamp (£370, www.bella-figura.com) and a homely, non-corporate-looking office chair, such the Egg Chair (from £560, www.iconicinteriors.com). For bigger rooms, you could always hide your entire workspace with a stylish sliding panel from www.thefabricbox.co.uk (from £77.84).
"Storage units with mirrored doors are a sophisticated, space-saving solution for home gyms," says Luigi Esposito, creative director at Casa Forma. "To avoid the harsh look of commercial gyms, mirrors can be slightly tinted to soften the atmosphere. This makes it much easier for the room to be used for other purposes, such as an occasional bedroom."
He recommends the Kinesis range from TechnoGym, available at Harrods (www.harrods.com). "The machines are compact and multi-purpose and come with mirrored or leather-backed panels that complement the overall design scheme."
Kettler does a cheaper range of foldaway options, including the Coach M rowing machine (£549) and the Track Motion treadmill (£799, www.kettlerdirect.co.uk). There's also a wide range of pack-away home gym equipment, such as the portable Ztrainer (£69.99, www.ztrainer.co.uk). If you don't have storage space even for these, interior designer Janet Granata suggests aesthetically pleasing options such as Gold's Gym Heritage range (£14.95, www.johnlewis.com). "If, after all this, you still have some money left, get an energy-efficient ceiling fan," she says.
"The advent of flat-panel screens means large televisions are far less cumbersome than they used to be, but we seem to have replaced saved space with devices such as amps, digital boxes, games consoles, DVD/Blu-ray players and, of course, yards of cabling," Esposito says.
By using smart but simple design features, you can cleverly conceal this overwhelming presence of technology. "Examples include sliding panels on concealed tracks, and seamless push-to-open catches integrated into mirrored glass cabinetry. We conceal speakers behind fabric panels in ceilings and design them with joinery items." Stylish off-the-shelf designs include the Boston television stand (£399, www.mydeco. com) and Moda AV Unit and TV Bench (from £745, www.heals.com).
If you're more likely to read than watch telly, assess exactly how many books you have, as getting a carpenter to build shelving is the neatest way to store them. Keep the total height of the shelving the same, though you could jazz up their look with different-sized spaces underneath.
For dedicated reading, and indeed music, rooms, you could be more daring with colours – Cabernet red, deep green or rich chocolate brown, for example.
If you can afford it, have a wall of cupboards, Nina Campbell says. "Guests need somewhere to put their clothes, so keep one cupboard sacrosanct, rather than filling it with all your winter or summer clothes. The rest of the area can house anything you want and you'll still have a beautifully neat-looking room."
For bespoke cupboards for awkward features such as alcoves, sloping ceilings, chimney breasts and low beams, Sliderobes offers an impressive range (from £1,500, www.sliderobes.com).
"'A place for everything and everything in its place' is my mantra," says Clare Pascoe, director of Pascoe Interiors. "If you have included storage for all items, and they have somewhere they can easily go, the likelihood is you'll put them away. Its only when storage is haphazard that it gets cluttered and you feel less inspired to tidy. Part-open, part-closed storage is a good balance. I am a huge fan of the vintage ladderax systems – not only are they super cool, but you can pick them up for a very competitive price."
Trunks are a must for any spare room, believes Sonia Murton, interior designer and founder of Belle Interiors. "They can double up as bedside tables, storage space for files and office necessities, and can be used for long-staying guests to store clothes." Raft does a timeless teak ottoman that would look at home in any room (£470, www.raftfurniture.co.uk). Others swear by tallboy drawer units for maximum storage and minimum floor space. Habitat has a chic range, while smart stackable storage options include the Set of 4 Lined Wicker Baskets (£115, www.soto-uk.co.uk).
Don't forget under-bed storage. The Boxer Bed has more of it than you could imagine (£999, www.within4walls.co.uk).