Decorating an Airbnb (or other short term rental property) is a slightly different art than decorating a personal home where clients live. As an interior designer who's been at it for 15 years, doing both commercial and residential design, I find Airbnb design is THE MOST fun kind of project for lots of reasons.
Whether you're designing an Airbnb that you own, or doing it for someone else, hold onto your hats and let's get this party started.
I mean, don't get me wrong, this process isn't easy. There's SO MUCH to do, and SO MUCH to purchase. And time is money. You may be tempted to just start stuffing generic-not-so-bad Ikea/Target crap in the whole place to call it done, open it up, and start getting some return on that investment.
But I really encourage you to take a breath, step back, and focus on the design of your Airbnb at the outset. The key to your success in this endeavor is standing apart. It's advantageous for you to think about how your rental looks in photos, but also how it feels to be in that space and use it. Your designing an experience for all those many future guests!
I'm here to help you do just that.
(Quick Disclaimer: I'm not anti Ikea or Target. In fact, I totally 100% encourage folding in some Ikea and Target items here and there...As you'll see in the GET-THE-LOOK info at the bottom of this post. The key is mixing in these items with the higher end things and vintage finds.)
The owner of this house, a local contractor, came to me for help with furnishing and decorating it. He'd already renovated the home for flipping, but instead of selling he decided it may be advantageous to turn it into an Airbnb. So we didn't get to do any of the finish selection or kitchen or bathroom designs for this home. By the time I was hired we had nice millwork and finishes to work with decorating around, and although there were finishes I would have done differently, it was a relatively clean blank slate. My favorite parts of this charming bungalow are the gorgeous hardwoods and that amazing natural light that streams in through the large windows throughout.
The contractor gave us a gift of having the walls all painted a beautiful clean bright white, with new trim to match. Starting with a bright white palette certainly paved the way to rental decor success!
The first step for me in any endeavor can be summed up with the old adage: 'know your audience.' Before I even began to search for Airbnb design inspiration, I sat down and mapped out who would be staying in this 3 bedroom bungalow. (I go into detail about how to go about defining your ideal guest and why that's an important element to Airbnb ownership success in my Airbnb Design E-Course.)
After I defined the details of our ideal guest down to their names, occupation and where they were traveling from, I was then able to start to search for design inspiration that would speak to these people directly.
This is how you attract the type of guests you'd like staying in your Airbnb. You design it for THEM. Not for you.
I knew immediately the design style that would fit with my ideal customers preferences AND the houses unchangeable elements: Contemporary Cottage with Mid Century Elements (with a little boho glam layered in for added bling and charm.)
If you have no idea what I meant by that prior paragraph, just take this QD Style Quiz from the vantage point of your ideal guests. And viola...Or if you didn't think the outcome was just right, take it as many times as you like!
Once you have an ideal design style, head over to Pinterest and search for that exact style. If search for Contemporary Cottage Mid Century Living Rooms, you'll see living rooms that should be in line with your particular style that will hopefully feel inspiring for your space.
Also! Search Airbnb and specifically the Airbnb Plus properties. There are some really gorgeous ones, very professionally done! And very inspirational! Here are a few beauties for you to check out:
For me the inspiration search looks something like this: Search around Airbnb Plus, Pin away, fall down a rabbit hole, climb out of the rabbit hole, find more inspiration, pin it, stumble upon some cool blogs to read, keep pinning, and then...stop.
Stop? Yes, stop. Stop pinning. Stop Searching. Why? Because your time is finite, and if you ever want to get this house decorated for guests and ready for business, you've got to get cracking on the one million decisions that need to be made.
So stop, then look at what you've gathered. Hone in your inspiration to about 4 of your fav images for each room, and then get away from Pinterest for a hot minute.
Your 4 fav images all pulled together in yummy goodness are what make up an inspiration board or MoodBoard, as I call them. I pull them together into one board in Powerpoint like this:
Once I feel I'm heading In the right direction with my audience in mind, in this case- The Most Amazing Airbnb Guest Ever, and my style, I'll start to gather a better sense of the physical space I have to work with. For the living room, what are my furniture layout options? How much furniture do I need and what sizes will work best for the specific room.
After choosing a layout that seems best....
It's budget spreadsheet time!! This is truly one of my favorite things to do!! Insert the jazz hands. 🤗
Hear me out...I'm a very linear, left brained thinker, possibly even more than I am a creative, so this really works well for keeping me organized and on track. But if the idea of a spreadsheet makes you want to shut this blog post down now, don't worry. And don't run yet. You can create a list of needed items in whatever form or fashion works for you! Pen and notebook? Sure! Whatevs.
But do start a list of some kind for needed items for each room. In my spreadsheet I'll draft out a list of needed items and an ideal price range for each one. (In my Design Course, I provide a detailed pre-filled budget spreadsheet for your own design project with ideal items for each room of your space and reasonable list of price ranges for each item.)
Okay, so. Now that I have my ideal guest, my design style, my fav inspiration images, and budget with list of needed items, NOW I begin some virtual shopping.
Pinterest with it's many many many furniture adds now-a-days isn't a bad place to start. You can start off creating boards specifically for potential items for purchase, OR you can begin some vision boards by taking items over into another space. I typically use Power point for this because it's super duper easy. And it removes backgrounds fairly well which allows me to layer items in my boards. And that makes me very happy. But it's not crucial. You do you.
Vision boards are a place for your ideas to come together visually, they don't need to be presentable necessarily. (Unless you're presenting your boards to a client, then they need to be presentable. But you knew that. If you like my methods, take my course because, you guessed it, I'll go into detail teaching my Vision Boarding method. This course is valuable for aspiring Airbnb designers and owners alike!)
(This is the Final vision board. It went through many variations, and didn't start out looking this polished. Not even close. It's usually a hot mess right up until the very end.)
From my original Mood Board, you'll notice the color scheme changed quite a bit but the design intent stayed the same. Mid Century Cottage style carries a level of relaxed sophistication that leaves you feeling 'at home' which is something I wanted for my guests.
One focus for our aspired guests was return visits. This Airbnb is in a college town so parents will often come to visit their kids again and again each year. We wanted to cater to these guests and make them feel totally comfortable in this home-away-from-home so they'd book up every trip they wanted early on thus filling up this Airbnb's calendar and making it a MORE SUCCESSFUL BUSINESS.
The emerald green velvet sofa was one of the first items I selected, and then I turned to the rug and built the rest of the room around those two things. I added lots of gold touches for some fun bling. (Our sofa legs came with brushed nickel legs so I spray painted them!) And I also made sure there was a fun and balanced amount of black within the accents of this room to keep everything grounded.
We ended scoring several items for this living room 2nd hand, which adds depth, character, and dare I say a little bit of soul to this adorable little bungalow. It also kept us under budget. Yep. Saving money is hella fun, and buying 2nd hand is a great way to do it!
Shop this living room below. I'd encourage you to try and layer a few old, well loved 2nd hand or vintage pieces to each room of your design. Even just a few pieces with a history and story that goes back farther than the Ikea factory where they were recently born will add SO MUCH life to any space you design. It does take a bit more time, but it's so worth it for making your space stand out from the crowd, making your Airbnb more successful!
1. Metal Curtain Rod | 2. Curtain Panels | 3. Floor Lamp | 4. Velvet Sofa (similar) | 5. Blue Lamp | 6. Artists Figure | 7. Marble Top Side Table | 8. Succulent with Pink Vase | 9. Picture Frame | 10. Rug (similar) | 11. Leather Pouf | 12. Agate Art (similar) | 13. 11 x 14 Brass Frame | 14. Handmade Marbled Paper | 15. Agave Art Print | 16. Bird Print | 17. Turtle Tray (similar) | 18. Pink Crane Pillow | 19. Plaid Blanket | 20. Fawn Pillow | 21. Sheepskin | 22. Jade Plant | 23. Mudcloth Pillow | 24. Round Table (similar) | 25. Rattan Chair | 26. Task Lamp | 27. Dragon Tree
(The black table to the right of the sofa in the above board, plus the killer gold coffee table and walnut mid-century tv stand in room photos above were all deals we snagged at a local vintage store. The white planters we used were from Ikea.)
Happy Designing, Happy Decorating, and Happy Shopping!
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