Q & A with Superhost Diana of Rock Ridge Casita
Sep 16, 2020
The best part about having a business in the STR (Short Term Rental) space is the people. I continue to meet inspiring, warm, creative people and I'm happy to keep sharing some of these amazing inspirations with you here on:
Quill Decor's Host Profiles
Today we're going to meet the owners of Rockridge Casita, a 5 star Airbnb tucked into the backyard of a Bay Area residence. Diana and her husband both work full time jobs, and on the side they run this very successful Airbnb with earnest intentions and the fullest of hearts.
This thoughtfully designed Airbnb PLUS property is in a garden shed turned guesthouse. As if this meticulously groomed backyard with its twinkly bistro lights wasn't welcoming enough, they have a beautiful blonde co-host to greet you with her warm wet nose. The calming company of Mia, their gentle golden retriever, comes at no additional charge. When can I book?!
Please enjoy reading my interview with Diana about her design inspiration, her experience becoming an Airbnb PLUS Host, and more. Let's dive in!
Tell us About yourselves!
We are a family of four living in Rockridge, a lively neighborhood in North Oakland, California.
Rockridge is one mile from the UC Berkeley Campus, a couple miles from downtown Oakland and about 30 minutes on the train (across the Bay) from San Francisco.
We have two kids: a six-year-old daughter and four-year-old son, plus our friendly old girl golden retriever, Mia who really is the star of the show. My husband and I both work full-time (building housing, and in philanthropy) and we love hosting on the side.
How did your Airbnb journey begin?
In 2009 in San Francisco my friend Ben who works in tech told me he had a beer with a friend who was starting a crazy concept called Airbnb where you just need an air mattress to host travelers in your home. Ben wasn't so sure the idea would stick. I thought I'd sign up and try it.
So in 2010 I became an Airbnb host in my small apartment in San Francisco - my roommate had moved out so I rented the 2nd bedroom to travelers and we would share our tiny bathroom. Then when my husband and I moved to Oakland, we continued hosting in our guest room, until we had kids. Then, we were quickly outgrowing our little house which is 1350 square feet.
In 2016 when I was pregnant with our second kiddo, we weren't going to have room in our house for any guests or family to come stay. We had dreamed of converting our old backyard shed into a guest room. We figured out the financing and worked with our architect friend Ming Thompson to design the space.
We immediately started hosting on Airbnb as soon as it was completed. Our own friends and family visit a lot, too, but we love Airbnb hosting and its great side income. Our neighborhood is full of small craftsman-style houses built about a hundred years ago right after the big San Francisco earthquake in 1906, so most families in Rockridge also live in small houses without guest rooms.
So when we started hosting in the casita on Airbnb, we quickly realized that most of our guests would be relatives and friends of neighbors coming to visit. It's really fun that our casita has become a guest room for the community.
We did the interior design ourselves. We definitely collaborated as a team - my husband and I have a lot of ideas and our friend (who was our architect) Ming added plants and lighting ideas.
Tell us about your design process. Did you do all of the interior design yourselves, and what inspired you?
I get inspiration from places I've traveled - like the big black barn pendants were something I saw against a white rafter ceiling at an outdoor restaurant in Kauai. The concrete-looking kitchenette counters were an idea from a nonprofit retreat center that I love in northern California. And the simple Ikea bathroom vanity was from an Airbnb we stayed in in Portland, Oregon.
And then there are a few designers that I love to follow and get ideas from. Like the indigo pillows and throw were definitely an inspiration from Amber Interiors in L.A. and the creative hooks in the hall I bought from her shop.
Our main goal for the casita was for it to feel spacious and bright despite its small size (it's about 280 square feet).
Our biggest splurge, and I think our best decision, was to add windows into every possible place. And we kept the overall look neutral with whites, blues, and wood, and pops of images that remind us we're on the California coast.
Were there any fun purchases or decorating stories along the way?
When you first walk into the casita you'll see a piece of abstract art that was my very first art purchase when I was living in San Francisco. It was in a shop and I saw it from across the street and was drawn to it. It's very flowery but modern and fits well in here popping up behind the tropical plants.
And then there's the story of the Heath tile. I love Heath tile and its a local company that I wanted to support - but their tile is very expensive. So for the shower tile I went digging through their back shed of "seconds" which are leftovers from people's house projects or pieces that got messed up in production.
I found these pretty, long skinny rectangles in white and there was enough for the shower. I thought I was smart saving so much money buying their seconds, but then it turned out to be a nightmare of a tile puzzle during installation and it took our tile guy a week to develop a pattern and install it. So, we paid him a lot for his time! If I could go back I'd get something larger format that's easy to install, but the result is pretty - Heath tile has a lot of variety in it which is unique and beautiful.
How did you become an Airbnb PLUS property and what was that process like?
Airbnb Plus is an invitation-only program for top Airbnb properties. We had to meet a checklist of specific criteria and I was feeling frustrated that we weren't part of the program so I kept calling Airbnb to ask.
Then I pitched Sunset Magazine on a story of our space, and when the article was in Sunset, Airbnb Plus called me back. The process of getting into Airbnb Plus then took a couple months: they sent us an interior designer to look at our space, together we created a few ways to improve the space like adding a tv and an outdoor bench and swapping in a new rug, and then they had new professional photos taken.
The upside of Airbnb Plus is that guests know they'll be staying in a high quality, vetted space. We are listed at the top of local Airbnb searches and so we get more visibility.
The downside is that we pay a hire Airbnb fee - instead of the usual 3% that hosts pay to Airbnb, we pay 8%. Its worth it to us for now, but we may reassess after testing it out for one year.
Also, in Airbnb Plus you cannot list your place on any other sites - but we never have, so that wasn't an issue for us. The other strange issue with Airbnb Plus is that we cannot edit or add any photos into our listing and have very little control of our listing. So, in the future, if I ever want to change my listing or edit my photos, I may need to leave the Plus program to do that.
What advice do you have for anyone interested in turning a backyard studio into an Airbnb?
Start by considering what guests want.
Guests want a place to sit and lounge, a place to work, a place to make coffee and have a good shower. They want a space that feels super clean.
And, most importantly, guests want space to put their own things.
They don't want to shove aside your clutter or find a spot in a full closet or feel cramped with unnecessary furniture. Often people fill their Airbnb spaces or backyard studios with furniture that can't fit into their house. We made sure to start with nothing, and then slowly only add the essential things.
It's ideal to start with a clean slate and keep things as minimal as possible, while still adding personality and style.
What keeps you motivated to keep renting out your space to strangers?
We have only had great experiences with guests. Our guests are friendly, respectful, and leave our space clean. We've been hosting for 10 years and have met interesting people from all over the world. We hope to someday visit our Copenhagen family guests someday! And we have repeat guests from Washington State who we keep in touch with and always share a meal with when they come.
We believe in the original intent of Airbnb which I felt was to open our homes to strangers with kindness, to welcome people of all backgrounds, and to be eager to learn about other people.
Airbnb I think unfortunately has veered from its original intent and many hosts just want to make money and don't care much about their guests. There are hosts who are buying up many properties and don't really interact with their guests much, and this hurts communities and impacts rental markets. We definitely host for the money, too, and it makes living in the Bay Area manageable financially for us.
But we also do it to welcome strangers and to teach our kids that our home is for sharing.
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Happy Hosting my lovelies,
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