The Newest Way to Decorate Your Home? Stay at an Airbnb — and Shop It
At some design-centric Airbnbs, you can buy practically everything but the kitchen sink (and sometimes even that).
It used to be that you’d go on a trip and come back with a souvenir or two. Now, some travelers are also bringing home their favorite furniture from their Airbnb. Tapping into the desire for good design — and, amid our ever-growing online consumerism, the delight of trying out a couch, a mattress, or a rug before buying it — certain hosts have reimagined their overnight accommodations as livable showrooms, filling them with fresh decorating ideas and pieces their guests can purchase. Here are three who are pioneering this “curated” concept.
Modern Beach House
Photographs by Nicole Franzen
Location: Montauk, New York
Hosts + Home: Robert McKinley and Kate Nauta
When Manhattanite Robert McKinley and his wife, Kate Nauta, bought the Montauk vacation home they had always wanted — after renting in the area for 11 years — they Airbnb-ed it to offset the cost. But while sharing their space, they also let guests in on their styling secrets. “I love revealing how it all gets done and where we find things,” says McKinley, a designer whose projects have included major restaurants (Sant Ambroeus) and boutique hotels (the Surf Lodge). “And I love the artists, makers, and manufacturers we work with. I thought, ‘How do we promote them?’”
His answer was to renovate the retreat and give it a double purpose as a livable showroom of sorts. Decorated in a clean, summery palette with natural accents (sea-grass rugs, rattan pendants), it’s set up for both relaxation and retail: Through a dedicated site, mckinleybungalow.com, guests can find guidance on where to buy nearly any of the decorative elements, from the wall paint, tables, and beds right down to the polished-brass door handles. The concept quickly garnered press, as well as a steady stream of visitors. “We get lots of small groups of friends, and couples and families who are design-focused,” McKinley says. “Our goal was to tie the Airbnb in to my work and also to make the home something that’s interesting to talk about.”
“We’ll pair sophisticated materials with casual finishes; a mix of highs and lows. That helps the house feel refined but comfortable. We want to encourage people who are coming to the beach to relax.”
— Robert McKinley, Host
Photographs by Alice Gao
Location: Tucson, Arizona
Superhost + Home: Katie Petersen (with Will Nathan)
One of Will Nathan’s revelations as cofounder of the online decorating service Homepolish was the feverish demand for secondhand pieces. “The appetite for them among our clients and designers was massive, but there aren’t great ways to find them,” he says. “It became important to me to give people a way to experience vintage items and take them home.” Months of road tripping, antiques shopping, and soul-searching led the New Yorker to Tucson, where he found a 140-year-old former tortilla factory that was renovated from the dirt floors up. “It was a perfect shell,” Nathan says.
“Our vision was for people to come to this space and find an object that captures their attention and reveals something about themselves that helps direct their path forward.”
— Katie Petersen, Superhost
He styled the adobe-walled rooms with his “truck-full of stuff,” ranging from pre-1900s rugs to a Dutch midcentury couch, then opened it up to overnight guests via Airbnb. Superhost Katie Petersen manages the day-to-day and helps curate the home. (“It’s like I have a magnet in my car that guides me to garage sales,” she says.) Since guests purchase the one-of-a-kind pieces, decorating is a constant work in progress, much to Nathan’s delight. “I’m driven by patterns, historical context, color, or shape,” he says. The beauty of the project goes beyond aesthetics. “There’s a meditation to decorating with secondhand pieces. You think about their incredible journey — all the other hands these things have passed through to get to you. When you find an object you love, you almost feel like you had it already.”
Photographs by Alice Gao
Location: Pioneertown, California
Hosts + Home: Carlos Naude and Whitney Brown
When self-described “design snobs” Carlos Naude and Whitney Brown decided to buy an off-the-grid weekend home, renovate it, and Airbnb it, decor was at the top of their minds — but Naude’s marketing background came into play, too. “We wanted it to be unique, and we thought about how when you travel, you see furniture you love or you sleep in an amazing bed, but you never find out where to buy these things,” he says. That logic spurred the two to pool their talents (design for her, branding for him) to turn their property into a semi-sponsored dream home.
“We came up with the name, Casa Mami, and made a presentation telling key brands, ‘Here’s who we are, here are photos of our house, here’s a mood board of what we want to do, and here’s how we’re planning to market it,’” Naude says. Next, they secured media coverage and traded the valuable visibility for products. “We sought out brands that combined good design and sustainability, like Avocado mattresses. We explained, ‘People will lie on your mattresses, and when guests ask, “How can I buy it?” we’ll hook them up with you and they’ll get a discount.’” Quickly, the minimalist abode drew maximum-level raves, particularly for the riskier pieces — like “funny-looking chairs” from L.A.-based designer Waka Waka — and unexpected details. “We changed the standard hinges to black matte, which we used for the outlets, light switches, and doorknobs, too,” says Naude. “Those are little things people normally wouldn’t notice, but if you make them look good, your eye appreciates them.”
“Everything we buy these days is online, but sometimes you’re just like, ‘Can I touch these sheets? Or lie in the bed I’m going to buy?’”
— Carlos Naude, Host
About the author: Betsy Goldberg is the deputy editor (Home) of Airbnb Magazine. Previously she was the deputy editor of Real Simple and HGTV Magazine, editorial content director at Bed Bath & Beyond, and an editor at UsWeekly, Modern Bride, and New York Magazine. She is co-author of BusinessWeek’s Guide to the Best Business Schools. Her writing has also appeared in Glamour, Health, Martha Stewart Weddings, and Money.