Designing for short term rental

The cost of owning a vacation home is significant.  Property taxes, utilities, insurance and maintenance all add up to a hefty price tag.  While we love our vacation home, we can’t use it all the time so thought we could cover some of the costs by renting it out.  At first it seems like a daunting task but it comes with many upsides – the biggest one is seeing your place through the fresh eyes of your guests.  I’ll share my insights on designing for short term rental, room by room.  

The short term rental market, such as Airbnb or VRBO, is becoming more and more competitive with travellers expecting increasingly unique experiences.  Not wanting a sterile hotel room, potential guests are looking for something very personalized, with space to spread out and enjoy.  Your airbnb styleing needs to be Instagram worthy!  And speaking of Instagram, don’t forget to create a profile and hashtag for your vacation property! 

think about your target market before you do any designing

We are very fortunate to own two vacation properties, one on a lake and one on the ocean each with similar primary target markets but distinct secondary target markets.

Lake House

1.  Families on vacation – staying for a week

2.  Europeans travelling from Jasper/Banff through to Vancouver/Whistler and want a four day stop in between, wanting a truly “Canadian” experience

3.  Fishers – late spring/early fall and ice fishing in winter

Beach House

1.  Families on vacation

2.  Families travelling for personal reasons – visiting family member, attending wedding, etc…

3.  Skiing in the winter

Luckily, we can take advantage of what would otherwise be dead times of the year which also means that we needed to design for these times as well.  For instance, we have to think about where guests can store their ski equipment and dry out their snow gear as well as where they can clean fish.  Yuck.

Your decor should reflect your location

If your vacation rental is on a lake, guests want to feel like they’re at the lake – not at a mid century modern in the city.  Your decor should be a reflection of your surroundings.  And it’s okay if it might be a little bit kitchsy like this “to the beach” sign, just be careful not to go too over the top, as it really is the little touches of personal style and whimsy that attracts people to pay more to stay in a short term rental.  Guests want a memorable experience rather than just a place to sleep, otherwise they could have just booked a hotel room and your vacation rental styling has a huge impact.

If you don’t already have decor that reflects where you’re located, try using Wayfair.  You can search for a type of item, and then filter by style such as coastal, farmhouse or rustic.  I also like Birchlane where you can shop entire looks by style such as coastal.

How to curate your own coastal style
Seaglass, float, shells and nautical chart

A vase filled with shells from beach walks is an eye-catcher and invites guest participation.  People can’t resist adding to the collection.  

I spray painted these metal counter stools for a quick and easy update.

Guests really appreciate decor that reflects the owner’s personality, travels or even history such as this quirky boat shelf which holds treasures found on walks. My grandfather, who passed away before I was born, created this lamp base.  It fits in perfectly at a lake side cottage, in fact it looks like it was made for the space.  And whether lakeside or seaside, these colourful buoys fit right in.  

Tips for vacation rental decor accents

determine how many people you can host

You’ve heard of “heads in beds”?  At our ocean front property, we have three good sized bedrooms, each with a queen bed.  So that’s six guests potentially.  We also have a pull out queen sofa bed so that means we can sleep a total of eight.  BUT we only have two bathrooms and we’re on a septic so it can’t handle too many toilet flushes, showers and laundry.  It’s listed it for a total of six people but with four available beds so they don’t all have to be couples.  

Our lake house has two tiny bedrooms, one with a queen and one with a full sized bed.  We have a sofa but it’s not a pull out but someone could sleep on it.  We list it for four guests.

These are our own properties that we also use so we want to ensure that we don’t do anything to annoy our lovely neighbours so we don’t allow large groups or parties.  Installing a “Ring” motion activated exterior camera allows us to monitor how many guests check in.  

Neither listing is baby-proofed, nor do we provide cots and high chairs so no children under two are allowed.  In my experience, the most damage is actually caused by young children like chocolate stains on the sofas.  And I just don’t need the stress of worrying about how they might hurt themselves.


How to outfit your short term rental
One of three bedrooms at The Beach Chalet. I painted the side table and bedframe a beachy colour. Furnishing your short term rental doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg. Paint is cheap!

When on vacation, people just needs bedrooms to sleep and drop their luggage and clothes. It doesn’t matter if the rooms are tiny as they won’t spend much time in them, but the beds and pillows must be comfortable.  Endy Mattresses are great as not only do they get rave reviews, but they are much easier to transport to your vacation home than a regular mattress.  I’ve used them myself as well as specified them for clients.  

As our two bedrooms at the lake house are close together, I’ve used the same duvet covers for each.  The blues tie together with the rest of the decor throughout the house creating a cohesiveness.   In the summer time, I switch to coverlets for the warmer weather.  And here’s a tip: search for kids coverlets or quilts as they are way more fun.  

In our beach house, all the beds are the same size so I use white sheets.  Guests immediately know that they’re clean and I can bleach them to keep them fresh.  At the lake house, as the beds are different sizes, I find it saves me time to have different coloured sheets for the two beds.  The queen bed is the coordinating beige colour and the full bed has sheets in navy.  I use the speed setting on my washer and dryer as I find the sheets are less wrinkled and I can turn over between guests much faster.  Don’t worry about wrinkled bedding.  Just spritz with a lavender spray and smooth out with your hands.  

It’s essential that there is a light on both sides of the bed, as well as a place to charge a phone, put down a book and glasses (yes, I’m at the age where I need reading glasses) and a glass of water.  If there’s not room for a decent sized bedside table, opt for a shelf and plug in sconces.  

With only one bathroom in the cottage, we’ve installed mirrors in each bedroom.  This way the bathroom doesn’t get tied up as people put on makeup.  We’ve also installed hooks for hanging towels in the bedrooms so everyone knows which towel belongs to who.  If there is space, I include a luggage rack as well.

This bedroom at The Lake House is oh so tiny but still has all the essentials. We have had zero complaints on the size of the room. And the garland is handmade for next to nothing.

Tips for Designing for short term rental bedrooms

Living areas

If your home sleeps six, then you better be able to seat six comfortably in the living area.  Easy wear rugs (think indoor/outdoor) or even washable rugs in the living space and pulls together all the colours throughout the lake house.  

Slipcovers on your sofas means that you don’t get too concerned if something is spilled.  The leather ottoman is perfect for putting up feet and relaxing which is the point of this lake side rental.  Even cushion covers can be swapped out easily if one becomes stained.  

If you notice the light switches in the photo above, they’re labelled.  This helps guests if your switches aren’t straight forward, saving them fumbling around trying to figure it out for themselves.

Being only 1000 square feet, we need the lake house to read large.  Hence the white paint with the coastal blue accents.  As the lake view is the star of the show, we don’t want to distract from it.  Shiplap walls add to the feeling of a cottage, rather than a drywalled city home. 

The wood stove is cosy for those chillier days at the lake house

The trick with colour is repetition.  You can have up to five colours but ensure that they’re picked up throughout the space.  So the turquoise on the pillows in the beach house shown below is picked up in the painting, the pumpkins on the mantle and the side table.  Repeat the colour at least three times for continuity.  If you want to learn more about choosing a colour palette, click here

Log home for sale

With two full sized sofas and an accent chair with a foot stool, everyone can put their feet up at the Beach Chalet, enjoying both the fire and the view at the same time.  Note how the white sofas are protected with an easy to wash throw.  We also invested in an upholstery cleaner – money well spent.

Tips for designing vacation rental living areas


At our Lake House, we can seat six at the peninsula, six at the dining table and six at the outdoor table on the deck.  Even though the rental is only for a maximum of four people, sometimes our guests ask if it is okay to have visitors join them for dinner.  This way, everyone is comfortable. 

It’s similar at the Beach Chalet although the dining space is smaller so we have a difficult time seating more people than the maximum six guests.  I adore these coastal dining chairs. And the bench at the back means that the view isn’t impeded. Notice that it is a pedestal table which means that it’s easier to get around with no table legs in the way.  And it can extend from round seating for four to an oval which fits up to eight. 

With a narrow deck, there isn’t room for a dining table so this coffee type bar was the solution.  It’s made from a log found on the beach and retains its live edge.  

A big part of the experience at both locations is dining al fresco, watching either the lake or the ocean as guests dine.  

tips for designing for short term vacation rental dining areas

Designing kitchens

Just like when it comes to selling a home, kitchens can make or break a rental.  As more and more people cook for relaxation, many want a fully equipped kitchen in their vacation rental.  We gutted the kitchen at the lake house and installed an IKEA kitchen complete with a quartz topped peninsula.

vacation rental kitchen

We have a dishwasher as who wants to wash dishes on vacation?  There is ample room for two chefs in this kitchen with a very large U shape.  Glass cabinets and the stainless steel appliances reflect light back into the kitchen.  Under cabinet lighting means that the work surfaces are illuminated as we don’t want anyone cutting themselves if they couldn’t properly see what they are chopping.  An outdoor barn light over the sink and barn board beams add a rustic vibe to this lake side retreat.  And often outdoor lights are a fraction of the cost of indoor lights and look amazing!

If our location hadn’t been so remote, I would have put the quartz on the main work surfaces and put the butcher block on the peninsula (too difficult for measuring and fabricating). Everyone leans their arms on the peninsula countertop while sitting there on bar stools and as stone is 15% colder than the air around it, makes it a bit chilly.

Let’s just say that designing around that post was challenging.  Quartz countertops are easy to clean and hard for guests to damage. The dishwasher is “panel ready” which means that it just looks like another cabinet. The aqua tile and round window are show stoppers as are the kettle and toaster that matches the tile.  Making your home instagram worthy is key.  And both kitchens are fully stocked with every pot, pan, dish and utensil a vacationer could need.

tips for designing vacation rental kitchens

Designing Bathrooms

The Beach Chalet has two full sized bathrooms.  The outer walls are log which we (gasp) painted white.  We added a large IKEA vanity, new flooring, new toilet, fun shower curtain and framed the existing mirror and voila, it is a completely new bathroom.  We kept the existing tub/shower combination as it was in good condition but replaced the shower head.  Bathrooms MUST be clean and nothing says cleaner than white.

Do you notice a theme? Yep, a similar IKEA vanity was installed at the Lake House.  We got the largest glass shower we could fit in the space as the hubby is 6’5″ and likes a bit of elbow room.  Floor to ceiling white subway tiles are easy to keep clean.  The large circular rope mirror evokes lakeside as do the blue towels and hand soap.  

Tips for designing vacation rental bathrooms

designing mudrooms

Extraneous jackets, shoes, skis, wetsuits, fishing gear, and more is out of the way when stored in a mudroom.  At the lake house, which gets quite a bit of snow, we even installed heated floors to help dry up any that gets tracked in.

Hooks are so much easier for hanging up jackets and coats than a closet.  Baskets are perfect for storing casual shoes.  A bench with a cushion makes for a comfortable spot to put shoes on.  

tips for designing vacation rental mudrooms

I love changing things around and decorating for every season.  Having two vacation rentals allows me to indulge my creativity, constantly improving the design and therefore the experience.  Let me know what design tricks you’ve used in your vacation rental by commenting below.

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