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).

For the den of his Montauk beach house, host Robert McKinley chose “a rich, enveloping color” Cassis by Domingue: “I like having one room in the house that’s a cocoon.” Photograph by Nicole Franzen.

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

The couple went with a clean, “summertime” palette: sand, white, blues, and greens, and “nothing too glossy or industrial-feeling,” says McKinley. An airy paper lantern ($150) offsets the bulkier pieces in the room. The Tuareg mat ($1,500) connects the different wood tones of the coffee table and the vintage sofa.

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?’”

McKinley selected a no-fuss, modern platform bed ($650) for a Zen-like setting in the bedroom. Heavy-duty washed linens ($450, king duvet set) soften the bed’s clean lines. To make the entryway inviting, the pair hung hats from their travels (Africa, Italy, the Maldives) over a rattan console.

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.”

The glossy lamp and vibrant painting were both flea-market finds. Ideal formula to fill out a blank spot on a bedroom wall: sculptural seat plus small side table, with framed print above.
“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

Vintage Revival

Photographs by Alice Gao

Location: Tucson, Arizona
Superhost + Home: Katie Petersen (with Will Nathan)

An ornately patterned vintage rug ($2,200) anchors the room. “I like Persian rugs because the dyes were made by hand,” Nathan says. A streamlined leather couch from the Netherlands keeps the space open and airy.

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.”

The wooden chair ($88) is from an antiques shop in town. If you’re new to antiques, start small by filling a bookshelf. “I like collecting scrapbooks and ephemera,” says Nathan. Back issues of Arizona Highways ($15 each) are a top seller, says Nathan. “Ansel Adams was the photographer.” The restored building’s grocery sign was repainted just the way it looked in 1933, when the residence was converted to a tortilla and tamale factory.

Desert Beauty

Photographs by Alice Gao

Location: Pioneertown, California
Hosts + Home: Carlos Naude and Whitney Brown

A lone side table and pair of clean-lined chairs illustrate the couple’s design approach: “Simple, but purposeful. Don’t overdo it.”

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.

Ceramic dishes by Neenineen (from $24 each) sit on shelves above a sleek sink-and-faucet combo (about $600). A luxe leather chair ($1,500) and a magazine basket from Mexico create a sophisticated seating area.

“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
To balance all the straight lines in the house, Naude proposed a “round only” rule in the living room, starting with a curvy couch ($8,000) and shapely chairs ($1,500 each). Naude even added a domelike vintage MALM fireplace (about $3,000). The round rug ($1,480) and table ($1,800) continue the circular theme. “Whitney said, ‘You’re crazy — that’s too many round things!’” Naude remembers.“But in the end, she was like, ‘You’re right.’”

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.