The Airbnb That Missed the Mark: A Wake-Up Call for Hosts

Mar 22, 2024

above image: Meet Carol, the listening ear to all of your frustrations as an STR guest

This is not the first blog I've started with the line "I was recently on vacation with my family, and we stayed in a short-term rental"... but, here we go. 

I was recently on vacation with my family, and we stayed in a short-term rental. It photographed really well, but what I realized upon checking in is that 1.) the photographs must have been made a while ago because the rug and sofa looked new in the photos, and in person they were gross. And the sofa smelled. And 2.) it was designed to photograph well but that was it. It wasn't designed for experience. In person, it was lacking, with only harsh overhead too bright lights in the living area. (MORE LAMPS! Always.) To put it another way, although there was a lovely striking piece of modern art above the sofa that looked great in the pictures, what wasn't obvious is that it was the ONLY piece of art in the entire apartment. 

above: Some nice images of this recent vacation to Lisbon, Portugal to prove that the lackluster rental didn't ruin our trip. 

They had some cool lamps and a nice headboard in the bedroom but otherwise, it was disappointing. When lying in bed all we saw all around was white walls a white ceiling and a window that faced an alley. It felt like a white dry-walled prison cell. It was the opposite of all the things you want a bedroom on vacation to be... at least if you're me. I realize not everyone is a designer who cares so intently about their surroundings. I should also mention that I'm what the internet calls an HSP (highly sensitive person). I swear I'm not making that up, it's a thing.

It's exactly these kinds of rental experiences that inspired me, Valerie, to create an alter ego, Carol. Carol runs a "short-term rental designer support line", offering a shoulder to lean on for anyone who's endured the peculiar challenges of less-than-ideal rentals — like that infamous smelly sofa or walls adorned with white, white and more white and a few pieces of lackluster generic art.

Say NO to beige and clichéd wall art, and YES to splashes of colors and unique finds!

Carol is the embodiment of Southern charm and wit, taking each call with a seriousness that belies the humor she brings to her audience. While she might be fictional, the struggles she addresses are REAL.

Carol is a way to channel my frustration with sub-par rentals into something positive and humorous. It's a nod to the reality that, sometimes, the places we stay in while traveling can be far from the images we had in our minds when we booked. And yes, maybe even especially those places booked by our well-meaning spouses.

Interestingly, this theme of "generic bad art" and stale design in rentals isn't just a figment of Carol's (or my) imagination. It's become such a notable phenomenon that even Saturday Night Live couldn't resist poking fun at it, highlighting how many Airbnb designs seem to have been cloned from a single, uninspired template. 

Through Carol, I hope to not only entertain but also spark a conversation about elevating the standards of short-term rentals. It's about expecting more from these spaces - more creativity, more thoughtfulness, and more personality. After all, isn't part of the joy of travel discovering the unique charm and character of different places?

For a dose of Carol's wisdom and wit, check out her latest adventures here. And remember, whether you're dealing with "dirty human head" smelling sofas or generic pieces of bad art, you're not alone. Carol and her quill pen microphone have your back. 


For good measure, and in the spirit of constant evolution and improvement, here are 6 ways to focus on improving your rental. 

1. A Little Color Goes a Long Way Those pristine white walls? They're screaming for some love. No need to go overboard, but a splash of color or a tastefully chosen wallpaper can transform a space from “clinical” to “inviting.” Think about adding an accent wall or some vibrant artwork to break up the monotony.

image above: Hello Circus


2. The Sofa Situation Your couch shouldn’t make guests think twice about sitting down. If it's seen better days, consider giving it a good clean, a new cover, or even swapping it out for something that says “relax” more than “run.” Check out this blog on how to shop the best sofas for your Airbnb. Or shop the board below for my favs!

1.All Modern | 2.Article | 3.West Elm | 4.Pottery Barn | 5.Joss&Main | 6.Wayfair |  7.Joss & Main  | 8.Eclectic Goods 


3. Wall Art That Speaks Volumes Blank walls are a missed opportunity to express the character of your space. You don’t need a gallery's worth of art, but a few well-chosen pieces can spark interest and conversation. Local artwork, interesting prints, or even some of your own photographs can add that personal touch that makes a space feel special. Take a look at The Dolly House for a well-thought-out, eclectic and fun place to stay with not a boring white wall in sight!

image above: The Dolly House, Nashville


4. It’s All in the Details Never underestimate the power of the little things. Quality coffee, a comfy throw, a shelf of interesting reads – these touches make your place feel like a home away from home. They show you’ve put thought into your guests' experience, which goes a long way in the hospitality game. This blog tells you everything you need to know about creating a luxury experience.

image above: The Nordroom


5. Set the Right Mood with Lighting Good lighting can change the entire feel of a room. It’s about having a mix – some soft ambient lights, a couple of reading lamps, and maybe some decorative string lights. It lets your guests adjust the vibe to suit their mood, making your space feel adaptable and cozy. Trust me, if there's one update you need to make to your Airbnb right now... it's to add more lamps.

lillian mirror

image above: Pooky


6. Listen and Adapt Always, always pay attention to your guests' feedback. It’s free advice on how to make your Airbnb better. Did they find the bed comfy but wish there were blackout curtains? That’s an easy fix that could make a huge difference in your reviews.

a person holding a black book with the word guests on it


In the end, Carol isn't just a character; she's a reminder that design matters, humor heals, and sometimes, the best way to deal with a less-than-ideal situation is to laugh it off and share the story.

Happy travels, and may your rentals always be chic (or at least, not smell like human heads).


Other great reads for you...

There's no place like Target... Shopping for your Airbnb

5 Budget-Friendly Tips to Enhance Your Airbnb's Outdoor Space

The Airbnb That Missed the Mark: A Wake-Up Call for Hosts

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