The Best Way to Design, Furnish, and Stock the Perfect Short Term Rental
A Comprehensive Guide
Written By: Sharon Walker
While decorating a short term rental can feel overwhelming, it can also be wonderfully exciting. Not everyone wants to be a designer, but this is one creative outlet that I love! For those of you who have the hospitality gene, decorating your short term rental can fulfill all of your wildest fantasies! Seriously!! What other places can you take big design risks, play out a style you haven’t tried before, or showcase beautiful art that you couldn’t find “the spot” for elsewhere? And all to welcome guests into the beautiful spaces you have created with every detail of what they may need in mind. And then they thank you and leave reviews about how beautiful your design is! Try to get your Aunt Jeannie to do that!
Well designed vacation rentals rise above the competition. In today’s world, remodel and renovation shows are on 24/7 and people are paying attention to design. Instagram makes such an impact that short term rentals that are featured on a celebrity Instagram account or on an ‘influencer’ account are often sold out for months. There have been studies done in the short term rental world that clearly show that a short term rental with good design will outperform any of its, we’ll delicately call it, lesser styled competitors. Some by 42% more revenue when there is a side by side comparison alike in location, bedrooms, etc.
Travelers make their selections based on photos more than any other aspect of your advertisement. For those of you who are not keen on a design discussion, how about a revenue discussion? When choosing between an outdated home that people will automatically perceive as dirty (simply due to the age of it’s contents) vs. a stylish and updated home that looks cool, fresh, fun and new, what home would you choose? We are trying to sell our homes to each person that is browsing online. This means that when it comes to design “good enough” is not good enough. This is big business. This is not a minute of thought or an afterthought, this is a legitimate impact for your property as a business. So, one thing to remember is that, while you don’t want to cringe when you see your final design, you should not be designing with your own style, likes, or dislikes in mind. The design goal is what the population of consumers that you are targeting will be drawn to. Uh-oh? Have no idea what that is and not enough time to binge watch HGTV. Maybe you shouldn’t be designing the home at all. Read on.
The best tool available to impact the revenue of your short term rental is a professional designer/decorator. Most owners don’t have a clue on how to set up a room. Most owners don’t have the time to set up a short term rental. Please trust a decorator. We don’t want you to spend thousands and it not look great.
We have determined that when an owner is hesitant to make changes to the current design or doesn’t see the need for updates, they are definitely not the right person to do the updating or make the changes. When something is this impactful on your ability to book, it’s imperative to hire a professional. Just like your professional property manager is critical to maximizing performance and revenue, a designer is critical to maximizing your presentation and style. Unless you are totally sure that your style and design are fresh and attractive to all, get a professional. The time savings alone is usually worth it. They can not only make selections but do the actual installation. You don’t want to spend a whole day hanging art on walls. Most people know whether or not they are the person for the job. However, some may know that they are not the best for the job, but are terrified of hiring someone, believing that the cost of that person will be astronomical along with the cost of the furnishings they choose. There are plenty of designers who can assist in the design, or take over the whole project, and save you money along the way. For those that truly have the design gene and those who don’t (but I haven’t convinced to get a designer), this article should help.
Let’s dive into what the goal of the short term rental is. Why do people stay in homes instead of hotels? Well, now that I think of it, that may be my next Homeowner Education Series article. But for now, let’s hit the basics of what people need in a home, and then what they hope for.
I asked a few people what they wanted in a short term rental, what they expected, and then what they hoped for, or were surprised by. Below are some of their answers:
“More space, more comfort, a great view.”
“I want the entry keys to work, need a blow dryer, clean towels, wi-fi info readily available, good high quality sheets.”
“I want the big screen TV!”
“I love that you get the whole property, not just the house. The trails were beautiful around one house we stayed in!”
“Having everyone there together is the best part.”
“I want the bonding. We all meet in the living room, cook in the kitchen, and spend time gathered together.”
“I want to cook at home! I want a kitchen so we can bring in groceries.”
“It’s private and offers me a similar setting to my home, which is perfect for my family. That allows us to really unwind with our kids, rather than experiencing a heightened tension, which is what happens in a hotel, which is obviously a public place.”
“Location, safety, comfortable beds, and clean linens are expected. I like plenty of mirrors, lights, and phone charge spaces.”
“Daily housekeeping is surprising and nice although we don’t expect that.”
Without hesitation, it’s safe to say that we need to offer the services of a hotel along with all the comforts of a home. Insert here a frequent Walker Luxury Vacation Rentals tagline: “All the amenities of a hotel, with your own private lobby.” So, what does that look like for the average short term rental owner or short term rental investor? It all starts in the bedroom. Wink, wink.
The Perfect Bedroom
To some, this may seem like a basic, but I am asked about bedrooms with almost every new home we sign on. So, it’s worth mentioning that the perfect short term rental bedroom should include the basics. The centerpiece is the bed which needs to have a decent mattress (soft to firm, the choice is yours). If you have multiple bedrooms, I like to put a mix of mattresses in to accommodate even the most particular guests. I can’t say that we’ve gotten lots of calls asking the firmness of the beds in a home, but we certainly have gotten a few and it’s a nice touch to be able to offer whatever potential guests request. You will want to purchase an actual bed with a headboard, side rails, and footboard. This is one way to stand out from many hotels. No one wants the motel look of a headboard nailed to the wall with a floating metal rack. If you need to save a little money in this department, order a platform bed so you don’t have to buy a box spring. You can find some decent beds at a lower cost online. Just read the reviews to ensure quality. Avoid white.
Every bed should have two nightstands as long as space permits. Small but functional works for most spaces. We are particularly happy when a drawer is available but that’s not required. Metal and mirrored (as long as you won’t be upset about scratches) tables go well with almost every kind of headboard. Each nightstand should have a thoughtful lamp. Something stylish or unique will photograph well and stand out more than a basic, boring lamp. This is also a good way to show your distinctive style if you are hesitant to make a statement with a bold headboard. Other nice touches are charging stations (as long as they don’t look out of place), a catchall dish or tray, and a small plant or vase.
Below is a photo of what we consider to be the perfect bed setup. Start with a high quality insurance plan (aka a mattress protector). If there are ever any spills your mattresses are covered. Give guests two blanket options (as requested by one of the people who participated in my survey) with a coverlet and a duvet cover with hypoallergenic insert. In Austin, where most of our short term rentals are located, it’s hot and a duvet and heavy blanket are typically not necessary. When you offer both a duvet and coverlet, the guest has everything they need, regardless of the season. Skip the microfiber blanket and go for an actual coverlet. While microfiber blankets are soft, they don’t photograph well and everyone knows that they are very inexpensive. This is something to put in your teenager’s room, not a high end hotel room. There are also two pillows per sleeping space (one firm and one medium) and a small decorative pillow. Keep the patterns to a minimum as they have the potential to photograph poorly. White is best as it communicates clean and crisp to potential guests.
Side Note – Here’s the scoop on decorative pillows: If you go somewhere and buy a $10-15 pillow, people will know. You think they won’t notice, but they do! They can tell because the pillow has a flat form shape, which is typically caused by the foam insert of low-end pillows. Go for something a little special. Go for a down pillow. Go for silk or velvet or why not silk and velvet. Now we’re getting fired up! You can go all out and do three euro shams plus two to three coordinating pillows on top of that, but the minimum is one, good quality, designer pillow per bed. The one shown here has a design cut into a hide (beautiful!) and costs about $80. We would rather you spend $80 on one good pillow than on four or five cheap pillows. Remember, people can tell! When you put a ton of effort into a bedroom you certainly don’t want to ruin it when it comes to the finishing touches. Nothing screams, “I did this short term rental on a low budget!” like stiff foam pillows from a discount store.
Other items you want to offer in your bedrooms are a white noise machine (we like Marpac) and luggage racks so your white bedding doesn’t end up with suitcase marks. Put some hangers in the closets. Blackout curtains or blinds are a really, really nice amenity. When is the last time you went to a hotel that didn’t have blackout curtains? Last tip: If you have a home that has lots of sleeping spaces but doesn’t have lots of bathrooms, it’s a great idea to set up a vanity in the bedroom so people can get ready there too. We have even put a vanity in a closet which is still very popular!
You need almost everything in this kitchen that you need in your kitchen at home, less the ‘As Seen on TV’ impulse purchases. For a handy and complete checklist of items needed in the kitchen, just give us a call.
The Dining Room
The main goal here is comfortable seating for everyone in the house. We want enough dining chairs for the people who are sleeping in the home. So, if your home sleeps 24, that’s two 12 person tables. Sometimes, if space doesn’t allow for this, we would go with a table for 12, barstools at the pull-up kitchen bar for 4, and another space for 8. Some things to consider would be the use of the tables. If you want to purchase a beautiful, softwood table, get a glass topper made for it so it doesn’t get scratched and water stained.
The Living Space
Seating for at least 1/2 of the guests should be provided in the living space, but if you can, offer enough seating for the maximum number of people the home sleeps. We love to group seating areas so there are multiple spaces and include a coffee table, as well as side tables. The living space is where you can put some nice faux succulents. Skip the silk flowers but include some greenery. It’s a nice touch that you won’t find in a hotel. Be sure to offer some cozy throw blankets and a few decorative pillows. We also like to put several games and puzzles in each home.
Each bathroom should have plenty of high quality towels (choose from white, white, or white, which communicates clean, clean, and clean), hand towels, washcloths, black facial washcloths for makeup removal, toilet paper, a plunger under the sink, and one toiletry setup including shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and lotion. We provide two towel setups for each guest but have 2.5X in each short-term rental. Hooks to hang a robe or towel are greatly appreciated by guests.
Melamine serving ware is always a nice addition to a short-term rental. Provide outdoor seating and outdoor dining for all guests. Toss Pillows make a drab setting much more inviting. Quality is key. We recommend that you purchase a deck storage box to store cushions and pillows in between guests. We also recommend that you cover all furniture, regardless of quality. It’s so nice to uncover a clean seat, rather than arrive at something that needs power washing to look useable.
Pool toys and lounge seating are both a must. An umbrella or two is always nice. Pool towels are necessary and I buy Turkish towels because they are not only seen as a luxurious alternative to the basic pool towel, but they also wash and dry in half the time.
A beautiful entry should be a warm welcome and serves as an exciting first impression of your home. Some things to incorporate are plants, rocking chairs or other seating, a welcome mat and green wreath on the door.
The Whole House
Art is important and so are window treatments. Books and decorative accents on the shelves are great but don’t go overboard. Knick-knacks and dust catchers are no-nos. Rugs are a personal choice. They really do add to the feel of a room. For my personal home, I think they just add dirt, so I avoid them. For our vacation rentals it is just too bare without them, so we include them in at least a few spaces. Mix old and new furnishings when you can. It creates a high end feel and will charm a wide range of potential guests.
Warning! Warning! A final tip for the do it yourselfers out there: The worst thing you can do is go out and put in a ton of effort to create what people will call a cheap space. If you are going to do it, do it well, in every aspect. Instead of trying to save 25%, try to buy things that will last 5-10 years. In the long run, it will cost you less. No Ikea. Don’t go to Walmart. Avoid the cheap stuff.
We also encourage people not to get too far into a theme. Unless you are Disney, then definitely go for it! Make your short-term rentals look like a page out of a magazine and everyone will want to stay there! Finally, here’s a note on multiples of products: If you can, buy extra (like, a lot of extra). When you discover that something has been lost or damaged, it’s a little more palatable to know you don’t have to go find a certain pattern or purchase and deliver the item before the next guest arrives. We do the same for sheets, dishes, forks, glasses, and outdoor cushions and pillows.
Now, go fulfill all of your fantasies! Congratulations on being in the position to make these choices and call us when you are setting up. We would love to help you!