IT’S A FACT OF LIFE THAT AT THE LAKE, YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE COMPANY. Ensuring that your home is comfortable and stocked for guests is the mark of a savvy and seasoned host, and will free everyone to relax and enjoy each other’s company. From the front door to the dock, there are thoughtful things you can do throughout to welcome friends and family; just a few details here and there are all it takes for visitors to feel at home.
Is your address clearly visible from the road for folks arriving by car? A sign with your house number—and your surname, if you’re up for it—assures visitors they’re at the right spot. Make sure there’s space for guests to park, and if they’ll be arriving at night, don’t forget lighting. A solar light by the street, a well-lit parking pad, and walkway lights to the door add safety and eliminate confusion.
A home’s entrance almost always becomes a drop zone, so make it more than just a pretty pass-through—make it functional. A bench to place bags with space beneath for shoes, a row of coat hooks, a table with baskets underneath—anything you can do here that provides spots for stuff will be practical and appreciated. Space permitting, dress it up with a vase of flowers, wall art, an unusual mirror or light fixture, or an eye-catching area rug. Balancing style with function will make this space the perfect introduction to your home.
Since the kitchen is the center of most every home, it’s especially important to make visitors feel comfortable here. Show them where things are kept in the cupboards and invite them to help themselves. Even better, keep some items within sight on a counter or table so that guests don’t have to go rooting through lots of drawers and cabinets when they need something. A side table or section of countertop might offer plates and utensils, a coffee station set up with sugar, honey, and tea packets, a plate of fruit, or a basket of easy-to-grab munchies. Show guests how the coffee machine works, and stock the fridge with various snacks and drinks.
A couple of final thoughts for guest prep in the kitchen: Melamine dishes and glassware can go from indoors to outdoors without a worry, and chilled Champagne signals that the visit is an event to celebrate.
Family room/living area
Enough seating to accommodate everyone is essential, but don’t forget other details. Is there a place to rest drinks, with coasters? Cozy throws for cooler temperatures? Cushions can certainly add comfort, but make sure there’s room to sit among the throw pillows—they shouldn’t overwhelm the seating surface.
Thoughtful touches in the living area might include a selection of books, games, puzzles, and movies on shelves. For the TV, a channel guide and any pertinent written instructions for the entertainment system are always helpful. You might even include a couple of extra tidbits, such as Wi-Fi information, or how to operate a gas fireplace. Perhaps a guestbook, in case anyone wants to jot down a memory or funny anecdote.
A powder room that is well stocked with necessary supplies ensures that no one need come to you with a request. Make sure your hand towels and soaps are clearly meant for use versus display—many guests are afraid to use the special shell-shaped soap and the tray of fancy paper hand towels! Hand lotion is a nice touch.
Having inviting guest quarters for overnight visitors is the most important hospitality you can provide, and a bit of thoughtfulness and effort here goes a long way. A comfortable bed with fresh linens, and ample pillows and blankets is a must. Have extra blankets available for colder months, especially if guest rooms are in the lower level of the home. Conversely, top floor rooms can get pretty warm, especially in summer, so a ceiling fan or oscillating fan will ensure everyone is comfortable. There are plenty of other considerate touches—a table lamp, clock, and water carafe on the nightstand, curtains or blinds to filter early morning light, a full length mirror, and electronic conveniences like access to outlets and an extension cord. For kids’ rooms, a simple plug-in nightlight is invaluable.
Niceties aside, the main thing many guests appreciate is space to put their own stuff. A luggage rack or bench, a bit of closet and drawer space, and especially some open countertop is welcome. Declutter wherever possible so that guests can unpack their bags.
As with the guest room, a bit of open space here is also helpful. Room for toiletries on either a counter or shelf is appreciated. A basket of bath supplies and even some basic items like toothbrushes (stash those dentist freebies here) are great to have on hand in case they’re needed. One thing that’s vital at the lake is a place to hang wet swimwear and towels. A bank of hooks on open wall space will help avoid piles of soggy belongings, in addition to holding fluffy bath towels. You really can’t have enough hanging space for gear when water is near, so err on the side of abundance, if possible. Other handy items to include are a hair dryer and nightlight. Don’t forget an easy-to-dry bathmat.
Like the front entry, any door leading to the lake is bound to be a bit of a drop zone. It’s a great spot for a basket of beach towels, and a couple of empty totes for transporting gear down to the dock. It’s also another smart spot for some hooks, since wet towels are bound to turn up after the fun’s over. Chalkboard labels or color-coded hooks help keep everyone’s items in order for reuse.
Deck + dock
When weather permits, you’ll want to take as many meals as possible outside, so a good outdoor dining set up is key. Shade, view, available space and convenient location will all be factors in choosing the best spot for your al fresco meals. Trays and baskets will help ferry food and necessities from kitchen or grill to table and back again. In addition to a place for meals, comfortable chairs offer a pleasant spot to enjoy water views, the sunset, a fire, or the evening stars. Portable speakers are a great way to share a favorite playlist and set the mood—remember though that sound carries over water and may be louder across the cove than you realize. Smith Mountain Lake is both a retreat and community, so do be mindful of neighbors when turning on the tunes.
If you’re a regular down at the dock, you should expect some tie-up visitors from time to time. An identifying marker or feature on the dock is handy for guiding guests to their destination, and a mini fridge or cooler stocked with refreshments makes a fine welcome. It’s a good idea to keep a bucket of lakeside amenities such as sunscreen, bug spray, visors, and a first aid kit on hand in the dock house, along with a supply of towels. Extra life vests and fishing supplies are useful if space permits. Water toys like noodles, novelty floats, paddleboards and kayaks provide entertainment for all ages. Have I mentioned towel hooks? Any space you can find to hang towels will help save them being draped over upholstered chairs and other spots you might prefer to keep clear. Boat cleats make good towel hooks—either individually on a post, or in a row attached to painted boards, for a nautical look.
For evenings, lighting adds both safety and ambience. A string of solar lights, a couple of hurricane lanterns, or some low wattage built-ins lining the walkways and steps are all attractive ways to creative a guiding glow. Using LED bulbs, which don’t emit UV rays, will attract fewer bugs. For cooler nights, a basket of throw blankets will come in handy.
And finally, outdoor games are a great lakeside activity for when company comes. Cornhole, ladder toss, croquet, bocce ball, a backyard putting green—even an oversized game of checkers or Connect Four—provide easy entertainment for landlubbers or anyone taking a break from water activities.
Thoughtful details can make a big difference in the impression you give your guests and the memories you experience together. Above all, a warm and easygoing attitude will let your guests know that your home is a place to relax, make memories, and enjoy the unique offerings of life at Smith Mountain Lake. ✦