Q: I would like to convert a very small spare room (10-by-9 feet) into a comfortable guest room. Is it necessary to have white walls and light-colored furniture to make such a space look larger?
A: Don't worry too much about making a small guest room appear bigger than it is. Unless a visitor spends a lot of time in the room, it will feel most comfortable if designed in a cozy manner. Nest-like spaces usually offer the best sleeping environments for short-term guests, particularly those who have trouble falling asleep in unfamiliar surroundings.
The choice of furnishings and colors is nonetheless quite important. At a minimum, you should provide a good reading lamp, a space to open a suitcase, a surface for holding personal effects and, of course, a comfortable bed. A small room with those basics tastefully arranged will seem more welcoming than a large but poorly appointed setting.
This photo provides proof that white walls and light-colored furniture are not prerequisites for creating a charming guest room. This corner of a small room, as shown in "London Living Style" (published by Rizzoli), in fact demonstrates the advantages of avoiding trite solutions to the problem of decorating an awkward room. I chose this model because it's a successful example of how design rules can be creatively broken.
The walls are papered in a floral pattern printed on an off-white background. A narrow, ministripe fabric is used for the canopy, bedspread and table skirt. It picks up the colors of the wall covering, while the woodwork has been painted in a neutral tone that complements the other surface treatments.
One coordinating fabric is enough in a small room, though it should be used in abundance. A tiny check would have been another good choice for the fabric, which can be either draped or simply tailored.
Do keep in mind that large-scale patterns and sharply contrasting colors will make the space look even smaller. However, all-over patterns, such as paisleys mixed with stripes, can produce an attractive and inviting textural effect, as long as the colors are close in value.
For window-covering, all that's needed is a shutter painted the same color as the woodwork. A simple curtain matching the wallpaper would work well, too.
Horizontal space is more important than vertical in these situations. The chest of drawers, therefore, should be relatively low but with a wide surface. To my mind, a luggage rack is one of the nicest touches a guest room can have. This can be a multipurpose piece, such as a small blanket chest that can also serve as a night table.