Design of the Times – Confessions of a Virgin Vacation Home Rental Owner

One minute you’re travelling down the road of life and BOOM; you have a (self-proclaimed) brilliant idea; so, you jump on the road of uncertainty, and you’re headed in a completely different direction with all the excitement and none of the knowledge! The latest on that list for me is ‘Let’s move and make our current home a vacation rental!’

There are a couple of things I feel confident with… interior design and comfort! I took those two areas and ran with them! At first, the process of transforming a very busy home into a comfortable, luxurious show home seemed overwhelming, but as time went on and each item was checked off the list, the end goal was in sight! I thought I would share my newbie vacation rental ownership insight with you!

Turning a lived-in home that housed a family of 5 humans and 3 big pups into a luxury vacation rental seemed daunting. I took each step in this process as a separate entity and didn’t worry about the big stressful picture. First up, emptying the house. I made a list of what needs to stay for guests. The larger items consisted of furniture, appliances, rugs, TVs, and lamps, to name a few. That list made me quickly realize I had my work cut out for me! The smaller items that would be needed, I put aside, added to a growing list as I went from room to room, and knew I would tackle it later. Based on my very short list of things that would stay, I knew I needed to pack up the house as if the movers were going to be backing into the driveway in two weeks’ time. Like I tell all my occupied home staging clients – if you really want to make this count, you need to change your mindset, so you are 110% committed, instead of just giving it a try. You know what they say, mindset is everything!

By the time packing up was finished, I was sure the hard work was over. Boy, was I wrong! The house was gutted, and the closets and cupboards were empty, but now it’s time to clean! Cleanliness for a vacation rental is at the very top of the list. It is actually THE LIST, because without it, nothing else matters to guests. So, with that in mind, I cleaned every inch of the house. When I say cleaned, I mean outside the regular floors, windows, countertops, I attacked it all with the intention to make it brand new again. Baseboards scrubbed with a toothbrush, every kitchen, dresser, and vanity drawer sanitized to erase any signs of life, the white walls scrubbed clean of the 3-foot-high fun times had by the kiddos, and everything in between. This initial deep clean was the toughest part of the process. Not because the cleaning was difficult but wondering if it was hotel/new build standard, you know… self imposed stress!

You’re always more critical of your own work! But in this situation, that is a good thing!

So now we are empty! Living room furniture, kitchen table and chairs, beds, end tables, desks in some rooms, and rugs were all that remained. It looked overwhelmingly bare, but I was starting to see the finished product. At this point my stager self kicked in. I switched gears from homeowner to guest. Every time I looked around the house, I asked myself ‘If I was a paying guest, what would I want to see in this space? What would leave an amazing first and lasting impression?’ and then I attempted to create that vision. As with staging a home to sell, there are a few basic rules to follow. The first impression is the only impression, less is more – maximize space, make sure they can’t forget the experience! With those items fresh in my mind, I went to work!

The first impression is the only impression. This statement is true in so many of life’s avenues. Do not make that first impression unrealistic. Make it great but make it representative of what they see and fall in love with at first glance, carry that throughout the house. I started at the front door and worked my way in through. Remember, if your guests are happy with their first glance in, the stage is set for the rest of their initial walk through. From there, they need to be happy with all the details. This is where I had to separate myself from the home and look at it as someone else’s house that needed to look its absolute best!

With a hotel set-up fresh in my mind, I wanted to create a space that had everything our guests could want, right at their fingertips, but have it all tucked away so it doesn’t overpower the space. This approach has paid off! I made a list of everything I am happy to have, or wish I had when I stay at a vacation rental, and I make sure those items are all available. The big winner so far has been serving dishes. Just 4 or 5 different sized rectangle dishes, along with some small bowls for dipping sauces or condiments. In the age of the charcuterie boards, this was bound to be a hit!

When guests enter the home, what do we want them to see? How do we want them to react? This depends on your house, location, and set-up. You set the tone and the ambiance for their stay and their lasting impression. The vibe you are going for can range from a cozy seaside getaway nestled in the trees on a tucked away ocean front property with a fireplace ready to light and a stack of homemade quilts to accompany you outside to sit around the fire pit, to a contemporary downtown flat with concrete floors, sleek spaced-out furniture, a breathtaking city skyline view, an espresso machine ready to go, and soft jazz music playing in the background, and everything in between! This all depends on your property, who you are gearing it towards, and the stage you set.

Once the basics are in place, it’s time to layer. This is the part that can help your property soar! With minimal additions, you can transform your home from a house that is being rented to a relaxing sought after vacation home. Layering is just adding texture, comfort, and design. From throw pillows and blankets in the living room, to strategically placed plants on the empty kitchen countertops, to bedding that looks like you could collapse into and sleep for a week. Work with one area at a time, and layer then step back. Always keep in mind what you want your guests to see when they walk into the house. If you always go back to that, while keeping it minimal, but cozy, you’ve succeeded in creating an amazing rental property! Have fun, be creative, and throw your heart into your design and set up!

The moral of this story? Sometimes those quick decisions turn out to be the best ones!

“Creativity takes courage”

  • Henry Matisse

To see the actual creation behind the big plans, follow us on Instagram @saltwatermanor


by Megan Callahan