The Quill List! Featuring: Quiet Shelters in Kanab, Utah

Sep 22, 2023

Welcome back to another Quill List property feature! 

For this feature, we're heading out west to Kanab, Utah to meet with a charming host named Heather. I am so impressed by how much time, effort, and attention to detail Heather put into her two stunning properties. They're very different but have the common thread of thoughtfully infusing the soul of the surrounding area by curating found, handmade, and refurbished objects inside. 

Pour yourself a cup of tea and enjoy a read through this inspiring Q&A with a one-of-a-kind host. 

Heather, tell us a bit about yourself.

Hi! I'm Heather Morgan. I'm a lover of the outdoors, small towns, traveling, and the arts. I grew up in the dreamy coastal town of San Clemente, California. After a stint in the bustle of urban life, I felt nature and a slower pace calling my soul. Today, I split my time between a quaint community in the San Bernardino mountains of California and the equally charming town of Kanab, Utah.

My professional journey has been as diverse as my personal interests. It ranges from teaching psychology at a university, to yoga instructor, to working with South American nonprofits documenting indigenous artisans' life stories, to present-day photography, design, and hosting short-term rentals. The love of learning through exploration and travel is deeply woven into my personality. After years of embracing the traveler's role, I've found gratitude and fulfillment in the opportunity to be the host. Curating experiences, facilitating journeys, and crafting spaces where guests can create their own enduring memories has become a passion. To answer the question of what I do today, it's an amalgamation of different skills I've learned and continue to learn along the way.

How did your short-term rental journey begin?

My short-term rental journey began in 2013. Seeking a supplemental income to assist with my mortgage, I started renting out a room in my home on Airbnb. Most people in my life at that time had not heard of Airbnb, and many thought I was bold for opening my space to "strangers." I recall feeling pretty nervous about welcoming my first guest. However, as a diverse array of individuals—from couples to hikers, writers to international cyclists—stepped into my space, I discovered that most people are inherently kind, eager to share, and genuinely delightful. The relationship between host and guest was jointly rewarding. While my space offered guests a needed quiet rejuvenation in nature, their stories and experiences enriched my own life.

Southern Utah had long captured my attention. The curves and swirls of the red rock desert were hypnotizing. One memorable hike out of Buckskin Gulch (a must-visit if you're unfamiliar) solidified my love for the region. Upon exiting the towering slot canyon, I looked at my partner Dave and said "One day, I will have a home here." That very evening, I set up an alert on Zillow for properties in Kanab, Utah. Five years later Quiet Shelters’ beautiful adobe home cradled by red cliffs and sagebrush popped into my inbox. I now own and manage two rentals in Kanab and feel truly fortunate to be doing what I’m doing.

What was your design process for the first house, Tranquil Abode?

I will preface my answer with two of my favorite quotes from Christopher Alexander.

1) “The more living patterns there are in a place - a room, a building, or a town - the more it comes to life as an entirety, the more it glows, the more it has that self-maintaining fire which is the quality without a name.”

And

2) “To seek the timeless way we must first know the quality without a name. There is a central quality which is the root criterion of life and spirit in a man, a town, a building, or a wilderness. This quality is objective and precise, but it cannot be named.”

Grounded in this philosophy, I believe every place or space embodies an ineffable quality. The crux of design lies in tapping into this essence, fostering a sense of belonging and tranquility within a space. When designing a vacation rental, I draw inspiration from the environment, considering both the natural hues and materials of the land and the community's history. I strive to curate pieces that radiate stories to infuse the space with meaning. The transition from the outdoors to the indoors should be smooth, devoid of any mental incongruity. I can best describe the feeling I aim to invoke in a guest as a sigh of relief and contentment. The sentiment: “This is exactly what I need at this moment,” is what I yearn for them to experience upon entry.

The essence of the adobe house is intimately intertwined with the surrounding landscape. The desert, in its sparse elegance and vast openness, encourages introspection. Drawing from this, I aimed for a clutter-free, simple, and authentic design with natural imperfections. I wanted the design to provide an unobtrusive backdrop, allowing guests the space to declutter their minds and immerse themselves in reflection, should the moment arise.

The walls mirror the hue of the red earth while the trim is the exact color of sage on the property. The sofa pillows reflect the shapes and shades of nearby cliffs, and the handmade Ukrainian linen sofa covers match the tones of White Pocket’s recreational area. The coffee table is old beams I found and repurposed. The side tables we crafted with concrete and a bucket. The adobe brick throughout is fashioned from mud on the property.

There are very few pieces that are new, and each piece has been chosen for its intrinsic value and meaning. I deemed it essential to include handmade pottery throughout the home because of the region’s indigenous ancestral history. Exploring the nearby trails pottery shards that have withstood centuries of erosion are present. Once I happened upon a fully intact gray pot dated to anywhere between 500AD to 1000AD.

Did you do all of the design yourself, or did you hire some help?

I did all the design on my own because I enjoy it. The time, thought, and personal effort, allows me to intimately know and share the space with our guests.

 

Are there any fun stories along the way to setting up your rental?

We acquired the adobe house in April of 2020, right as the world went into lockdown. With traditional shipping routes disrupted, I turned to Etsy, Facebook Marketplace, antique stores that remained open, and hours upon hours of driving in search of distinctive, quality pieces.

The wooden benches in the adobe were the creation of a 65-year-old man who, having lost his job amidst the pandemic, turned to woodworking—a trade his father had practiced. To make ends meet, he began crafting benches for sale on Facebook. Elsewhere, while driving through Mesquite, Nevada, I encountered a woman who was selling gorgeous handmade stoneware and pottery she and her late husband had collected from their global travels. Not only did we share stories of her adventures, but I also purchased the Adobe Mexican lotus dish set and dining table centerpiece bowl from her collection.

 

 Our wooden dining table hails from Arizona. Upon discovering it, I promptly asked my partner Dave to retrieve it—even if it meant taking on an additional six hours to his already 7-hour drive from California. Once there, he faced the Herculean task of loading it by himself. Let's just say, a Quiet Shelters dining table isn't known for its portability! Dining spaces, for me, are sacred and will be a centerpiece in all our properties.

The outdoor patio table at the adobe is a personal design. There is a rock yard near the house with massive boulders. I searched through acres of rock to find the color I wanted and had it sliced to the appropriate dimensions. Getting that 700lb rock slice onto our patio was an ordeal, but thanks to the generosity of our Kanab community, we succeeded.

I wanted a deep sofa for the cabin. A dark deep leather library-type sofa you could curl up in. I fell in love with Restoration Hardware's Maxwell's sofa, but it was out of my budget. Through 6 weeks of searching I found one that had barely been used, but as a fun tidbit, had been graced by Julia Roberts.

Every design choice is meticulously thought out and takes me more hours than it probably should. But the work and time is what makes the design special. While some items serve as temporary placeholders, many seem predestined for the spaces they now inhabit. A particular favorite is an art book table in the cabin: a primitive folding kitchen table that journeyed westward on a covered wagon. It came from a woman who sold primitive pieces from her mobile home patio “Rusty’s Primitives on the Patio.” It turns out she had once been my neighbor. Just think of the tales that table could tell.

Why did you decide to add the log cabin to your portfolio of homes?  How did you decide on the log cabin style of decor? 

The log cabin was brought to my attention by a friend in the area. It was previously run as a short-term rental and was going up for sale by owner. The A-frame loft and authentic log construction caught my eye. Each window offered amazing views of the vermillion cliffs. I recognized its potential to cater to those seeking a more traditional Western or pioneer-style abode.

Log cabins rank among the top-performing vacation rental categories on Airbnb, which is evident from the influx of international guests we host at the log cabin, drawn, I believe, by its iconic Western design. For the cabin's interior, I aimed to stay authentic to the aesthetics of a pioneer home. Warm wood tones dominated my palette, with minimal colorful deviations. The term “primitive” became instrumental in my decor hunts—leading me to primitive tables, vases, and other decor items. The objective was to curate pieces that felt aged yet sturdy. Pieces that only could be found in our cabin. Our coffee table, for instance, dates back to the early 1900s, serving once as a cobbler's table. The dining table is crafted from an old Mexican door, retaining its metal keyhole. Some might say wood on wood on wood on browns and ivories is underwhelming, but I leaned into it. The space blossomed into a warm rustic calming embrace. It’s strong without being showy.

You have 2 rental houses each with a very distinct aesthetic. I love that they are so different, and yet they have a similar vibe. You can absolutely tell they are branded to Quiet Shelters Retreats. Can you share a bit about why you made them different and if you feel their having a distinct style makes them more easily marketable online? 

I'm delighted by this question, as it's one I've pondered a lot. The distinct styles emanate from my design philosophy that each structure and location carries its own “quality without a name.” Each house resonated well with the environment and history. One with the land in southern Utah and the other echoing the western roots and pioneer spirit of the area. I didn’t want to make each house fit into one style because intrinsically (their living breath) they are different. Rather, I aimed to infuse both with the essence of what it means to stay at a Quiet Shelters home: a connection to oneself and others, an escape from the rapid pace of modern life, an appreciation for the awe-inspiring environment, and a lo-fi, aesthetically pleasing retreat, peppered with modern nuances.

The distinctiveness of each property initially made me question if separate social accounts would be appropriate. Yet, as time passed, I realized that both homes inherently embodied the core values of the Quiet Shelters brand. Given that they were birthed from my personal vision, shared characteristics were inevitable. This similarity was further underscored by guest reviews, with many noting congruent experiences in each. So, I'm now convinced they harmoniously coexist within the shared Quiet Shelters narrative.

How do you feel having well-designed rental properties contributes to your success as a host, especially given all of the increased competition in the rental market lately?

Without a doubt, good design is instrumental to success as a host, especially given the ever-growing competition in the saturated short-term rental market. It's important to note that 'well-designed' isn't always synonymous with 'luxury' or 'high-end'. It's about creating a space that resonates, feels authentic, and prioritizes the guest experience. Guests often remark on how “thought out” our homes are. When effort is put into the crafting of a space, whether you work with a designer or do it yourself, guests notice.

Newer short-term rentals have been popping up in our area. And while they are very nice and clean, they have difficulty standing out amongst the crowd. It is the same leather couch, the recurring Longhorn photo, the standard white walls etc. I strive to think outside of the current trends with a goal of putting something together that leans towards the “timeless”.

Our design ethos is an immersive experience. It's the finer details that matter, from the chosen fragrances of our toiletries to the curated records and books that reinforce the property's ambiance, down to the specific coffee blend we serve. I will say as far as furnishings, buying things that are well made and durable is important. “Buy once and not twice” was something I learned early on. That advice is spot on for a vacation rental.

What is something special and unique about your properties or the experience you offer your guests that makes you stand apart in the short-term rental marketplace?

One of the defining attributes of Quiet Shelters is our holistic approach to the guest experience. It's more than just a place to sleep or a substitute for a hotel room. When guests tell us they opted to stay in for the day just to soak up the atmosphere of the space - even with three national parks at our doorstep - I know we're on the right track. Our spaces welcome guests with wonderful earthy scents and candles, hand-picked libraries and records, outdoor seating areas with spectacular views, curated Spotify playlists, personal guidebook recommendations, warm ambient lighting and reading nooks, well-equipped kitchens for preparing a meal, and more.

Beyond what is included materially, we try to guide guests on how to use the space to its fullest potential. We help them notice how the light shifts and what patios are best used at certain times of the day. At our cabin, we remind guests to indulge in the spa tub with Epsom salts after a day of hiking. We provide in-home massage services and 24/7 support to our guests. As they drive through the desert to our properties, we send a link to tune into our “Don’t Rush, it’s Sunday” Quiet Shelters playlist. A guest’s decision to choose Quiet Shelters is a privilege we don't take lightly. Our mission is to make each stay meaningful and to ensure every guest feels seen, appreciated, and deeply cared for.

What are your favorite resources for furniture and decor? 

Some of my go-to marketplaces for sourcing unique items for our rentals include Minoan and Faire. Etsy is a favorite for its vast collection of handmade items, giving us the chance to connect directly with artisans. I also prioritize local businesses whenever possible; for instance, our coffee is supplied by a small-batch, fair-trade roaster in Utah.

I am a Facebook Marketplace junkie when I’m searching for vintage or antiques. It demands patience and a broad search radius, but the results are worth the effort.

Lastly Antique Row in Prescott, Arizona holds a special place in my heart. We've embarked on countless drives to and through Arizona, always with an eye out for unique finds.

Any final thoughts that would be interesting to share? 

My final thought is to pick up 'Desert Solitaire' by Edward Abbey. It's humorous, sarcastic, and describes the red rock desert so provocatively that you'll undoubtedly feel compelled to experience it for yourself.

(All photography by Quiet Shelter's Heather Morgan.)


Heather, you have single-handedly inspired me to want to come to Red Rocks as soon as possible. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful space with the world. I am certain that each guest who stays with you leaves feeling revived and recharged from the peaceful environment you have so lovingly created.

To visit Heather's gorgeous website and see more pictures of her unique rentals head here: Adobe Retreat by Quiet Shelters. Log Cabin by Quiet Shelters. Also be sure to give her a follow on Instagram: @QuietShelters

Until next time, happy hosting to you, my reader!  

 

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