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The Absolute Best Way to Furnish Your Vacation Rental or Airbnb

And Save a Ton of Money at the Same Time!

 

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This post was originally published in 2014 and has been updated. 

Got a new vacation rental or Airbnb you’re about to furnish and put on the market? Or, do you already have a short-term rental and want to buy some new furnishings in order to stand out from your competition?

If the answer is yes, have you thought about how you’re going to go about this?

Because there is a smart and a not-so-smart method to buying furnishings for vacation rentals and Airbnb’s. Unfortunately, this is an area where some of the biggest mistakes are made.

And it ends up killing your bottom line.

Let’s back up for a second and talk about the reason mistakes are made. It all starts with a seemingly logical assumption. This assumption, repeated over and over in vacation rental marketing blogs and books goes something like this,

“Keep your furnishings consistent with your rental rates. If you market your property as “luxury” and charge rental rates on the higher end of the spectrum for your area, your renters will want a certain level of luxury in your furnishings, linens, appliances, and entertainment options. However, if you market your rental property as a low to medium priced home, there’s no need to go high-end. Know your audience and keep them in mind when furnishing your property.”

Ok, so, wrong, wrong, and more wrong.

Do not follow this advice if you want strong bookings and higher rates.

From a pure spreadsheet perspective, this reasoning appears to make sense. After all, if you spend too much money on expensive furnishings in your short-term rental, your bottom line will go pear-shaped.

However, ask those same number crunchers to imagine – just for a second – that they are not number crunchers, but rather, potential guests about to go on vacation.

Let’s say they had a $300 nightly budget allotted to a vacation rental and were narrowing down their choices in the approximate price range, assuming the views, amenities, and location are the same. What do yo think they’d book: the vacation rentals with the high-end furnishings or vacation rentals with low-end furnishings?

Duh! High-end all the way, baby!

Rhetorical as the question is, it illustrates an absolute truism in the vacation rental business:

Guests prefer a luxurious look over a low to medium-end look every time. Doesn’t matter what price range the rental falls in. Guests always want high-end. Why? Because they’re on vacation and feel they deserve high end.

It’s an emotional thing.

Think about it, do you believe (for one second) that people are going to reason this way:

“Gosh, my budget is not extravagant, so I’m going to look for a mediocre place with furnishings that look like they came from a discount furniture warehouse. That’s where I belong.”

The Enemy of Vacation Rentals: the Big Box Discount Furniture Warehouse

Be honest and ask yourself if you would want to spend your precious vacation time in an Airbnb or vacation rental with furniture from this place? Photo courtesy of Alexander Rabb.

Didn’t think so.

Guests reject average. Average is lame. Average is a losing propostion.

So my point is, yes, know your audience. Know that they never, ever, ever want low-end but rather want to be surrounded by luxury and feel pampered in your vacation rental, whether it commands a $800 per night price tag or a $200 one. Make it your mantra when you shop for furnishings.

“But it doesn’t make sense to spend an armload on high-end furnishings for a low to mid-priced short-term rental,” the number crunchers counter. “Profits will not pencil out.”

I agree. Investment returns will indeed dwindle if you buy a $1,200 Perrin and Rowe bathroom faucet or $45 per square foot Ann Sacks tile for a short-term rental.

In fact, I am absolutely against spending thousands of dollars on expensive stuff.

So the question becomes, how do you furnish a low to mid-priced rental with high-end furnishings and still not damage your bottom line?

Here’s how:

The Absolute Best Way to Furnish Your Vacation Rental or Airbnb

First of all, your principal objective is to get high-end furnishings at low-end prices. Buying something fantastic for a fraction of its original price is a short-term rental owner’s prime mission.

I’m speaking of Craig’s List, outlets, estate sales, consignment shops, and auctions.

I’ll start with my personal favorite – Craig’s List – because the deals are wicked good.

Craig’s List

Maybe the mere fact that buying something on Craig’s List is difficult is the same reason such good deals can be had. I mean, you have to reply to a long URL instead of a person, maybe someone will get back to you. Once they do, you have to hope they won’t sell it to someone else before you drive to their house or warehouse (or parked pickup truck) and hand over the cash. Then there’s the issue of having a truck with which to haul the stuff and finding (begging) someone to help you load and unload.

When I score items on Craig’s List, I feel like an absolute superstar because being successful entails the perfect storm of determination, luck, and labor. And I’ll add in bravery because some of the sellers are a tad iffy, which is why I always take a companion along.

It’s an adventure.

Here’s a sampling of some super high-end furnishings currently on Craig’s List:

sofa Airbnb

The seller of this gorgeous Jonathan Adler sofa says, “The Lampert sofa is on sale at Jonathan Adler for $3695! (see link below) This one is used but in very good condition. It was just recently professionally steamed. I am not home very often so this has not seen a lot of wear. This couch is too small for my current place, which is the only reason I’m replacing it. ” Craig’s List Chicago

Craigs list Airbnb

Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams Cedric Cube tables are made of rosewood and cost over $1000 each retail. The pair on Craig’s List? $400 for the pair! Craig’s List New York

Jonathan Adler's Trousdale Floor Lamp

Wow, a Trousdale Floor lamp can be had for only $300 from this seller. Although it’s no longer available from Jonathan Adler, similar floor lamps go as high as $2,350 retail on the website.

faucets vacation rentals

Waterworks faucets go for $2,000 retail. This one can be had for a mere $250! And yes, guests do notice and appreciate gorgeous faucets in vacation rental bathrooms. Craig’s List San Francisco

buying craigs list for Airbnb

This one-year-old Restoration Hardware Spanish Monastery dining table is solid oak (score!) with a waxed finish. The seller states, ” forced to sell because we are remodeling our kitchen and breakfast area and the new floor plan will not accommodate a rectangular table.” Craig’s List price: $700; original price was $2,200. Craig’s List Chicago

Flatweave Rug from West Elm

A bright, flat-weave rug can brighten an otherwise generic space; never underestimate the power of a little yellow to make people smile. Here’s a West Elm 8′ x 10′ rug going for $290. These retail for approximately twice that. Craig’s List New York City

Many Craig’s List items are only slightly used or brand new. Commonly, homeowners are moving and don’t have room for existing furniture in their new place. Pricey, high-end furniture has almost no resale value, so people list it on Craig’s List and accept what they can get.

Other typical sellers include stores going out of business, people “changing their look” and contractors selling items they didn’t use in a project and can’t return.

Do you think it took me long to find the above items? Not at all. I found them all in less than 15 minutes. There is a ton of high-end stuff on Craig’s List; you just have to know what to look for.

Here are some tips:

1. Identify manufacturers you like. If you don’t know many, buy some design magazines and write down names that you love. Make a list and put the names in the search box. Here are some of my favorites that work in the USA:

Furniture: Ligne Roset, Minotti, Barbara Barry, Design Within Reach, Williams-Sonoma Home, Restoration Hardware, Crate and Barrel, Pottery Barn, Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, Baker Furniture, Burnhardt, Roche Bobois, Kelly Wearstler, Jonathan Adler, Calligaris, Moroso, B&B Italia, Donghia, Poliform

Plumbing: Kallista, Perrin and Rowe, Waterworks, Lefroy Brooks

Lighting: Flos, Circa Lighting, Schoolhouse Electric, Rejuvenation, Arteriors

Fabric: Osborne and Little, Brunschwig & Fils, Schumacher, Bergamo, Zak + Fox, 

Rugs: ABC Carpet and Home, Stark, The Rug Company

2. Look in areas of the world where your chances of encountering upscale items are good. A little farming town with not a lot of cities around is not likely to yield a modern Italian sectional.

3. Lastly, negotiate, negotiate, negotiate! Most sellers will take a lower price. They want to get rid of this stuff and are willing to drop down the asking price if they’re not getting a lot of calls. Suggestion, though: negotiate once you get there, not beforehand. Getting there is half the work. ;)

Outlets

As in the real deal and not the stores you find in dedicated Outlet Malls that are popping up all over the world. Before the word “outlet” became a marketing term, it meant a deep discount store managed by a manufacturer in which seconds or overstock items could be found for a fraction of their retail price. Yes, there are still outlets, but you have to do a little research to see where they are.

My advice is to call or google search a manufacturer you like and ask them if they have either a physical or on-line source for samples, seconds or overstock. Oftentimes they do! And if it’s online, all the more fantastic for people who can’t get there easily.

Baker Furniture, for example, has a site called Baker Odds and Ends, which lists floor samples in US stores. Once you find an item, call the store’s contact number and arrange a purchase.

Tulip Chair by Baker Furniture

A Baker Tulip Chair, normally going for $930 each in stores, can be had for $372 at Baker Odds and Ends. These chairs will last a lifetime. In fact, kids can even rear up on them and they won’t break!

Some outlets do not sell online, requiring you to go to their physical location. However, that’s not a bad thing; it eliminates most of your competition, which is why some of the greatest deals can be scored.

Heath Ceramics, for instance, the famous ceramic tile and objects manufacturer in Sausalito, California, dedicates a portion of their factory to second and overstock tile. But they don’t sell over the internet. You have to lug yourself there, step through a rather dark room and try to find the tile you like (which is pretty easy because Heath tile is gorgeous). Outlet prices range from $5 to $12 per square foot approximately. Quite a deal when you consider that retail prices start at $28.75 per square foot and up!

Heath has a web page dedicated to listing all their seconds and overstock tile so once you find what you want, call them up and ask them to set it aside until you can get there. They will hold items up to 24 hours. I recommend that my clients make a vacation out of it if they live far away. Sausalito is right next to the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County and has lots of chic vacation rentals in which to stay. ;)

Heath Ceramics in Sausalito

Seconds and overstock tile can be bought for as little as $5 per square foot at the Heath Ceramics Factory in Sausalito, California. You have to open a lot of boxes in a stuffy dark room, but it’s worth it!

Bathroom by Mercedes Brennan of One Chic Retreat

My bathroom at home features blue Heath field tile set in a brick pattern. It was only $6 per square foot. Would you ever guess these are “seconds?”

Estate Sales

If you can handle the adrenaline of a really good estate sale, this party is for you. Most estate sales are held by third parties these days, who get a percentage of goods sold. The middleman presence, unfortunately, makes the markup heftier than buying directly from an owner. For this reason, I prefer individual sellers on Craig’s List; however, I still recommend going to estate sales if you have the time and inclination.

Finding estate sales is not easy. Sometimes, you’ll get lucky and see a hand-made sign along the roadside, but you can also search Craig’s List mid-week and see advertisements for the coming weekend. Make sure to go early and buy as soon as you are 90% sure you want something. I guarantee someone will scoop it out from under you (shamelessly) if you’re not assertive.

Craig's List Montecito Estate Sale

Montecito, home of the 1% crowd, is full of estate sale goodies.

Bedding at a Santa Barbara Estate Sale

I bought all the bedding in this room for less than $175. It included 600 count Italian sheets, duvet, and pillow shams plus the high quality down comforter inside. The bedding was never used!

Chaise Lounge

I saw this $300 down-filled chaise lounge in a Woodland Hills estate sale. Supremely comfortable, heavenly fabric, it felt almost brand new because it was kept in a guest room that didn’t get a lot of use.

Consignment Shops

Great deals can be had in consignment shops, especially ones that are a bit out-of-the-way and NOT in trendy or upscale neighborhoods. In fact, don’t even bother going into those. I am always flabbergasted at the prices in tony consignment shops. You might as well buy retail. However, finding one in a run down strip mall can yield some pretty impressive results.

Consignment Furniture Finds for a Vacation Rental

A photo of a consignment store trip I took last year. All this stuff went into a vacation cottage in Idaho. Don’t you love the cowhide footstool?

Chairish is a new online consignment shop where you’ll find all sorts of vintage and trendy items for your vacation rental or Airbnb. Don’t be turned away by the list prices, though. I have made pretty low offers that have been accepted. Just press the button that says ‘Make an Offer’ and hope for the best. Don’t be afraid to low-ball it; it never hurts to try.

Chairish for Airbnb

A stunning Adrian Pearsall round button style chair found on Chairish. I love the tapered dowel legs with globe casters. I can totally see this in an urban apartment short-term rental. $600 on Chairish, but there’s a very solid chance they’ll accept a lower offer.

One recent fabulous addition to Chairish is its Samples tab. You’ll find chic brands normally only available to designers, like this little Henredon gem that sold for only $299! Yeah, that’s $299 for a solid, mahogany bed.

chairish for airbnb

Come on! A Henredon bed for only $299?! Stamped with a maker’s mark and made in North Carolina, where they make incredibly high-quality furniture, this would cost thousands retail.

Ebay

So eBay. Ebay has a huge inventory of almost everything you can think of. Want German studio pottery? There are lots on eBay. How about a stainless steel apron sink (which retails for $1,200) with a Buy It Now price of $250? Almost everything can be bought on eBay. I favor plumbing fixtures, lighting, art, kitchen sinks, dishwashers, cabinet pulls, fabric…. okay, I’ll stop. There’s too much to list.

The trick to using eBay is similar to Craig’s List. Make a list of searchable terms, put them in your query box, find what you want, bid your largest bid, win (or lose), pay with handy-dandy PayPal and voilà, your stuff gets shipped to your front door. A lot easier than Craig’s List, right? Yes, but then again, the prices are not nearly as good as Craig’s List, but they’ll do.

They beat retail.

Let’s look at some goodies….

ebay pillow airbnb

A $165 John Robshaw down pillow can be bought on eBay for $65.99. I know that price isn’t rock bottom, but my mantra in vacation rentals and Airbnb’s is, “Thou shalt not cheap out on pillows. Ever.” Ebay.

Julia Faucet by Waterworks

High-end faucets are impactful in all ranges of vacation rentals. There is something about its shine and heft that makes guests notice. It’s weird but they do notice. Here’s a Waterworks unit that came out of a famous Malibu 5-star hotel. The retail price on these is $1200. On eBay? $299.

iGavel

iGavel Auctions is not streamlined like eBay; in fact, it’s a technically awkward, very user-unfriendly online auction site where I continue to shop because I can get both affordable and unusual things. Pay attention to that last adjective, ‘unusual’ because successfully designed vacation rentals feature unique, sometimes quirky, decorative items to differentiate themselves from hotels. iGavel is just the ticket.

Airbnb art

This original acrylic painting is already framed (saving you money there) and has a starting bid price of $200. About the artist: “Tony Cacalano was born in New York City in 1936. He graduated from Yale University with B.F.A. & M.F.A. in painting. During his time at Yale, Tony studied with major 20th-century painters and historians. He has been The recipient of several grants, including the prestigious NEA Grant in 1987. Tony resided in VA. Beach and Ghent area of Norfolk, VA. in the 1960s & 70s.”

Check out the antique Chinese screen I won a few years ago. I used as a headboard in my vacation rental.

Vacation Rental Chinese Screen

Bedroom in my Thousand Oaks Airbnb. I bought that gorgeous black antique Chinese folding screen that sits behind the bed on iGavel for $275. Similar screen on First Dibs start at $3,000.

Let’s put some of these major scores in a room and hang out

Now is the fun part! Decorating your space with your upscale, luxurious finds will make you happy, your guests happy and allow your vacation rental to stand out from the crowd. Woo hoo!

Chaise Lounge – Woodland Hills Estate Sale, $300; Jonathan Adler Trousdale Floor Lamp, Craig’s List, $300; West Elm Flat Weave Rug, Craig’s List, $290; Jonathan Adler Pillow, eBay, $65.99. Total cost $955.99. Approximate retail estimate? $4,075!

Conclusion

I hope you see the benefit of approaching Airbnb and vacation rental decorating in this way. It provides a long-term design strategy that will save you thousands of dollars (or whatever currency you are using) and attract a lot more guests to your short-term rental.

People will respond to the luxury and appreciate the fact that you put time, taste and effort into their holiday lodgings. They will never guess that you bought stuff on Craig’s List or eBay or at an estate sale; they will only sigh and brag about how they stayed in a “boutique vacation rental.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below. Have you found a good source of luxury furnishings for affordable prices? What is your approach?  What have you tried and did it work for you?

Thanks as always! If you like this post, please consider sharing it by quickly tapping one of the social share buttons below.

  • Great article, Mercedes! My perception of being a vacation rental owner is that you want to do your best first, then take it up a notch. Offer some things that your guest is likely not going to have at home. Personally, I know what I like, but I have zero brand recognition. I appreciate the instruction on ways to learn what I should be looking for!

    • I agree, Debi! You have hit the nail on the head with that wisdom. The real deal is people want the home they WISHED they had away from home, right?

  • Thanks for the shout-out, Julia! We agree on the message getting out there for sure.

  • JanStevensDesign

    So agree, Mercedes, quality and good taste is so important. In addition to quality I like to add brave and unexpected to my vacation rental decor.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/5bcb69283b25ecb5f4e099523e6265ccea1fad1617623b087ca1ce756922a113.jpg I have taken on a new property that is just plain vanilla and the occupancy is reflected in the low bookings. My new owner is resistant to add “new toppings & sprinkles” but I am working on it.

    In contrast, the Eastman Waterfront Cottage with its colourful hand painted furnishings from the 1940’s plus new modern comforts and accents is in huge demand…….business is booming and we just raised rates as dictated by the high occupancy rates.

    Our own case study shows that not only quality but brave decor makes a huge difference.

    • Oh my gosh, what a juxtaposition, Jan! Design is so key to high rates and occupancy. It’s unbelievable! Love your style!

 

GET THE FREE LIST OF SHORT-TERM RENTAL ESSENTIAL ITEMS

THE 31 MUST-HAVE ESSENTIALS THAT GUARANTEE GUSHING GUEST REVIEWS

On the house!
100% Privacy Guaranteed