The Quill List! Featuring: James Station Caboose in Lynchburg, VirginiaMay 12, 2023
Welcome back to another Quill List feature property!
This week we are talking with a person I have admired for a very long time in the short-term rental space. Amy Corbett is incredibly kind, outrageously bold, and ever-welcoming to all with her company All Belong Co.
Read on to hear Amy's story and learn about the formation of this unique Caboose property in Virginia.
Amy, tell us a bit about yourself.
My husband and I + 2 kids live in beautiful Lynchburg, Virginia, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. We're co-founders of All Belong Co, a short-term rental business that offers consults, design, and management. We've currently got 31 unique destinations in the All Belong Collective! About 25 of those are around the Lynchburg, VA area, and the rest are in different markets and states!
How did your short-term rental journey begin?
Ahh, this is a loaded question for us!
Here's the gist of it: We're a unique family with a rich story that includes infertility, open adoption, transracial adoption, alopecia, mental illness, and more. After 17 years of serving in campus ministry, we decided to step down when there was a lot of political and racial turmoil in the US several years ago that was so bad it was affecting our health. We didn't have a "what's next" plan but knew it was time to leave salaries and benefits behind. We decided to take a year off to focus on healing and continue hosting guests in our basement apartment we'd just listed on Airbnb.
We scraped by for a few months until homeowners began asking us for help in starting their own Airbnb's. Eventually, we decided to get an LLC, give this new side gig a name, and we haven't slowed down since! It's our passion to create spaces where anyone can belong.
What was your design process for the James Station Caboose?
We're big on adding reclaimed elements in our designs, (the entire caboose is a reclaimed project!) so when we tore down the dilapidated home where the caboose now sits, we saved as much as we could reuse it in the space. For example, the ceiling in the caboose is made from the old wood floors in the home. And we reused large pieces of the concrete foundation to create a cool urbanite retaining wall for the parking area.
Almost every train car renovation I saw online looked dated, dark, and frumpy. I knew I wanted a modern interior with lots of natural light, while still honoring the fact that it's a vintage train caboose! It was a challenge to figure out how we'd use the 326 sq. ft most efficiently. Especially challenging was figuring out how and where our guests would enter the caboose. We were sad to lose one of the original caboose doors to create the bedroom, but we love that the other original door (located in the bathroom) is still functional for guests to use and enjoy!
The caboose overlooks the James River, so I knew I wanted to enlarge the bay window on that side to really capture the view and let the light in. We then intentionally left the bay window on the opposite side original to honor its history.
We also looked for original items in the caboose we could repurpose. The bathroom sink is the original sink from the1950ss. The closet is one of 2 large metal lockers that were original to the caboose. (we painted and moved around into our layout)
I feel like the project took shape as we figured out each element. (After all, I'd never designed a train caboose before!) I had a Pinterest board of ideas that served as a guide, but much of the process was trial and error.
How did the idea to renovate a train caboose into a rental come about?
This is the crazy part!! We owned this lot overlooking the river, BUT it also overlooked train tracks and a working factory. Whatever type of STR we put there, we would have to forewarn our guests of the potential for train noise.
One day a friend shared an article that they were selling train cars in North Carolina, and jokingly said, “You should get one and make an Airbnb out of it!” Well, we put 2 and 2 together- if you’re STAYING in a train car, watching the trains go by would be part of the experience. So naturally, we looked on Facebook marketplace, and wouldn’t you know, there was our caboose for sale 3.5 hours away in West Virginia. The cost of bringing and setting the caboose was twice as much as purchasing the caboose itself!
Did you do all the design yourself or did you hire some help? And why?
I designed the space using valuable input from our talented contractors as we went. For example, our lead contractor, who is very artistic himself, decided to hang the reclaimed siding wall in the kitchen upside down on purpose and I loved it!
Can you share a fun story about the caboose?
Pretty cool fun fact: As I mentioned, we found the caboose on Facebook marketplace! It had been a concession stand at a kid's ballpark and the owner had shut down and was selling it. Just to have the caboose moved 3.5 hours away cost twice as much as what we paid for the actual caboose!
Do you feel having a well-designed rental property affects your overall business positively?
Absolutely. You've got just a few photos to earn a guest's trust and guarantee predictable revenue for yourself, so it's vital to ensure your property stands out through design. The mistake too many hosts make is in thinking short-term rental design is the same as residential design. It's not.
STR design involves tackling the challenges of marketing, hospitality, guest safety, functionality, durability, and the logistics of frequent turnovers. It’s not just about what looks good.
Talk to us about the power of having such a unique property and how you offer your guests an outstanding experience through other special touches.
Having a unique property has been so rewarding to give a true experience to our guests while staying consistently booked for us. A few other things we offer are clip-on hammock chairs for inside the caboose, branded coffee mugs, T-shirts, Christmas ornaments, etc., and books about trains for all ages.
No matter what age you are, and whether you're a nostalgic train lover or not, there's something unique in this experience for everyone.
Do you have any favorite resources for furniture and decor?
We use Minoan for a lot of short-term rental purchasing and recommend this to other hosts. Here is a link to find out more and shop our space. Also, we love to shop from Etsy, which is where we sourced our headboard.
Is there a story behind that perfectly scaled and unique little coffee table you have in there? Or a source you can share with us? And for the little burled wood side table. (I'm a little obsessed!)
I found the coffee table at an eclectic furniture store in Charlottesville, Virginia, called “Circa” and immediately knew it was the one! The side burled table was a fun find at a discount home goods store!
Any final thoughts that would be interesting to share?
For more reclaimed items inspiration, the porch swing is attached to reclaimed railroad ties.
The "LOVE" mural on one side of the caboose (done by a local artist!) is now an official Virginia state tourism sign! Virginia's motto is "Virginia is for Lovers," so you'll find over 300 unique "LOVE" signs across the state, and when we were thinking about how this caboose could stand out as unique, the idea of a LOVE mural to tie it to our location fit the bill.
Amy, I am endlessly impressed with your business, your motto, your heart, and your unique rentals. Thank you for sharing them with the world! We cannot wait to see what you do next!
Photography of James Station by Mullins Media Co. I @MullinsMediaCo
Until next time, happy hosting to all of you!