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  • Writer's pictureMarni Jameson

Don’t Decorate Your Vacation Rental Like Your Home

The place came fully furnished. That’s the good news and the bad news. While I don’t strongly dislike any furnishings in the beach rental property my husband and I just bought, which is instantly livable and rentable, I wouldn’t have picked them out either.


Although I yearn to redecorate, a little voice inside me, the one that can only be called my better judgment, tells me I need to follow my own advice.


Oh bother.


I am jonesing to replace the dark brown fake leather sofa set with a lighter-colored sectional, to update the kitchen, to change the wall color and to revisit the artwork.


But interior design Rule No. 1 is don’t buy anything until you have the whole plan in mind. The good, if annoying, reasoning behind this advice is when you have a master plan, your design is more likely to cohere. Piecemeal decorating rarely works. Decorating without a plan is like flying a plane headed for Miami and winding up in Detroit.


So, I am sitting tight, like a hot tea kettle on the verge of a whistle.


To get my decorating ducks in a row, I call interior designer Alex McBride, program design manager for Vacasa, a full-service property management company that handles every aspect of vacation home rentals for 40,000 places throughout North America.


Among the company’s services is interior design consultation, which McBride oversees. “My job is to help new owners optimize their property by thinking of everything from headboards to pizza cutters,” she tells me. Her goal is to design places that have wide appeal, high durability, and repeat customers. I’m in! Unfortunately, this service is available only to Vacasa clients, which means I’m out.


Although I sort of know what I’m doing when designing and decorating my own home, I also know that rules change when you’re outfitting a place you’ll be sharing with strangers. You can’t be weird.


“In your own home you can unleash as much of your individuality as you like,” McBride said. “But decorating a rental home is different. For starters, no family photos.” Got it.


What other differences should DIY decorators keep in mind when furnishing a vacation rental home?

·      Resist the urge to jump right in. Get to know the place, then let the locale lead you. Whether your getaway is a beach condo, a cozy cabin, a rural farmhouse, or an urban loft, lean into what makes your destination special and take your design direction from that. If you’re on the coast, for instance, pull in shades of blue, as well as natural tones of sand and driftwood. If you’re in the mountains, incorporate cool greens and earth tones.

·      But don’t get too kitschy.  Avoid overtly themed décor like pillows that say: “Life’s a Beach,” or a throw blanket imprinted with images of bears and pine trees. “Our design team’s first decorating rule is don’t be too literal. Rather than displaying beachy paraphernalia, evoke the seaside by bringing in coastal colors and textures, such as rope and rattan,

·      Go 3D. Your design will look more sophisticated if you bring in actual objects like pinecones and shells, rather than images of them, McBride said. For instance, rather than a photo of vintage life preservers, get actual old ones and use them indoors.

·      Curb the color. Although your primary home may be full of color, aim for a neutral palette in a rental. That will appeal to the largest number of customers. You don’t need to stick with white, beige and gray. Adding touches of darker sage or smoke will help hide dirt but avoid primary colors.

·      Choose durable materials and upholstery. Sand, mud, sunscreen, snowy boots can wreak havoc on carpet and furniture. Thus, avoid carpet, especially in a light color. Instead opt for hard floors. Cover upholstered pieces in durable fabrics like Crypton, canvas, Sunbrella, and leather, which can withstand wear. “I love linen, viscose, and other beautiful delicate fabrics,” McBride said, “but they will not withstand guest use. Spill red wine on a viscose rug and it’s gone.” When available choose commercial (as opposed to residential) grade products. For tables and case goods, look for solid hard wood or metal. “It’s hard to resist that nightstand made of MDF or particle board that’s only $50, but it’s not going to hold up.”

·      Bring on the amenities. The little touches are often what brings guests back. Aside from the basics — dishes, cutlery, cookware, serving dishes, soap, towels, linens, and a blow dryer —think of what would help guests better enjoy their stay: marshmallow roasting sticks, gourmet coffee, beach towels, board games, a small library of (non-controversial) books, lightweight folding chairs, thoughtful toiletries. A place to work. With so many people working remotely, guests welcome a small workspace. You don’t need to have a traditional desk, but a drop-down shelf that folds away, or a small desk that can double as a nightstand could suffice. Beyond a work surface, wi-fi, and ample outlets for devices are all you need.

·      Where to save. Although you may need to spend a bit more on durable furniture items, you can spend less on rugs and art. Rugs will likely need frequent replacement, and, to guard against “attrition” you don’t want gallery level art, or anything of high value. 

·      Go easy on accessories. Unlike your main home where you might like photos and mementos around, keep rentals spare. Guests want surface area to set their reading material, phones, and beverage glasses on, especially in bedrooms.

·      Time it right. Although you may need to go off the rental market while you remodel, you also don’t want to turn down a rental because you’re waiting for a sofa to arrive. “Maximizing both looks and revenue may mean compromising on a choice,” McBride said. “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.” My tea kettle is whistling.


CAPTION: Clean design. When decorating a vacation rental property, go with neutral colors, and steer away from surfaces that are difficult to clean, like wall-to-wall carpet or high-pile rugs. Use non-porous flat surfaces where possible. For bedding, opt for crisp white cotton that’s washable, hygienic, and is easy to mix and match if one piece needs replacing. Photo courtesy of Vacasa.

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