From Cramped to Spacious – How to Get More Room in Your Airbnb or Vacation Rental Bedroom

without adding square footage




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September 24, 2014

I once wrote a blog post titled, Do Guests Actually Need Closets? Here’s an Alternative. And it’s Cool. To be honest, the article didn’t get much traction. Why? My guess is that readers look at the title and say, “Ahhh, yeah, guests do need closets! Where the heck are they going to put their stuff?!” and skip to the next post.

So why am I bringing it up? Again.

Well, one of my favorite things about 1 Chic Retreat is that subscribers write in and make topic requests they’d like covered in the future. I learn about what vacation rental owners struggle with and I can tailor my posts accordingly.

Anyway, lately, I’ve received more than one request to address the challenges of tiny bedrooms. Many of you own small vacation rentals – like apartments, condos and small cottages and cabins – and struggle to fit a bed, dresser and bedside tables into a small bedroom and still have room for guests to walk around.

Which is why we’re revisiting the idea of getting rid of your closet. Again.


Being closet free gives you space and that means not only a bigger bedroom but a freer bedroom to play around with furniture.

So bear with me for a moment and read on to learn why and how….

Four Reasons to Get Rid of Your Bedroom Closet

Do we need our closets?

Do we really need a bedroom closet in our vacation rentals? Not always. Read more to find out why. Original photo courtesy of Emily May.

1. Guests don’t need a lot of storage

Let me back up a bit before I say anymore….

I’m a big fan of closets, but in vacation rental bedrooms, especially small ones, you don’t always need one. You see, closets take up a big footprint and were designed to be used by people who live there.

Bedroom closet

The typical bedroom closet has either hinged or sliding doors, such as the one found here. It assumes a long-term inhabitant and thus is built to hold a lot of stuff. But what if there are no long-term inhabitants? Just short-term? Well, then it’s mostly wasted space. Photo courtesy of Jason Eberle.

But vacation rentals aren’t used by the same inhabitants all the time; on the contrary, guests are people with few belongings.

Yep, few belongings.

In other words, vacation rental guests don’t need a huge closet for their clothes. After all, they only have a few suitcases. The average traveler carries one bag, so in a double room, figure two suitcases, maybe three if someone is extra enthusiastic with packing.

One suitcase per guest

The average guest brings in one large suitcase and thus does not need the storage space of a typical closet. Photo courtesy of Wolfman-K.

2. Closets tempt owners into committing the TMI No-No

You all know the argument: your vacation rental bedroom has a closet and because guests only use a small portion of it, the rest of it can be used for your personal belongings, right?

Wrong! And resoundingly so. I’m even going to get on my soapbox because….

Guests hate it when they see your clothes staring them in the face.

Closet full of owners clothes in vacation rental

Guests do not like to see your clothes in the closet; it’s too up close and personal. Furthermore, they have less room for their belongings. Photo courtesy of Sanford Kearns.

You’re committing the TMI No-No in the vacation rental business.

In case you don’t know what TMI stands for, it’s “Too much information.”

Seeing your clothes in the closet – even if it’s respectfully relegated to a corner – is ‘too much information’ about you; your guests don’t want to know anything about your life and that includes your clothes and shoes and hats and whatever else you are storing in your closet. It makes them feel like you are invading their personal space, even if you make plenty of room for them.

To put it bluntly, it’s icky.

The goal is to make your guests feel your home is their home, however fleeting it is.

Including the closets.

3. Guests often forget the things they put in closets

It’s the “out of sight, out of mind” phenomenon, so common on vacation when people leave their daily routine at home. Guests often check under the bed, the drawers, the counters, but closets are dark and crowded and it’s easy to overlook a thing or two (or three).

Even though guests will (might) pay the postage for forgotten items, it’s still a big hassle, right?

Return package

Returning personal items involves waiting in line, filling out labels and paying for postage; the time you could have spent sipping a coffee. Photo courtesy of Olaf Werngren.

4. The alternatives to closets are chic

Think outside the box for a minute and consider the following as chic and practical alternatives to a closet:

  • The Armoire

Interior by Cassandra Ellis

Armoires adds instant charm and quaintness to a room. This one was painted a french gray in a matte finish. Interior by Cassandra Ellis.

Aren’t armoires gorgeous? Look at the personality and charm they convey. They actually enhance the ‘Wow!’ factor of your bedroom.

Unlike a boring closet.

They can be traditional or contemporary, antique or new. Or, you can have one made in whatever style fits your design vibe.

Pinch Design Armoire

Think all armoires traditional? Think again. This modern marvel by Pinch Design has drawers on one side and clothes rack on the other. Swanky!

Personally, I love the armoire’s versatility. You can put them in many areas of a bedroom, changing configurations whenever you wish; if you have a small space, this is especially important because positioning furniture is key to both making the space more walkable and fooling the eye into thinking the room bigger.

But even in mid- to large-sized bedrooms, an armoire still makes sense, if purely for aesthetic reasons. India House, a vacation rental in South Africa, for example, has painted antique armoires in the bedrooms, and they aren’t particularly small.

India House in South Africa

A white painted armoire, with contrasting antique hardware, fits guests’ hanging garments in the bedroom of India House (as seen on the Miss Moss Blog).

Have an antique armoire that looks like it’s seen better days? Paint it! You can go either matte or glossy and you’ll imbue the bedroom with a contemporary feel and a brilliant swatch of energizing color.

Blue Armoire in Cassandra Ellis House

Farrow and Ball has a color called Off Black, which is more like a muted, inky blue. On an armoire, like the one seen here in Cassandra Ellis and Ed Prichard’s London home, it adds a modern vibe to an antique piece.

If the top of your armoire is flat, put some chic storage boxes up there. They not only add precious storage but add incredible presence to a bedroom.

Armoire with Asian flavor

This guest room’s antique Chinese armoire is topped with a vintage leather suitcase (very inexpensively purchased on eBay) containing extra bed sheets. The room is long and narrow; thus the armoire was diagonally placed in the corner, making the room appear shorter and cozier.

Armoires can be sleek and doorless, like the ones in the vacation apartment, Casa Orlandi.

Sabrina Bignami's Casa Orlandi

These open-faced armoires in Casa Orlandi are both sleekly modern and über practical –  guests aren’t likely to forget their clothes either. Email to rent.

  • The Clothes Rack

Clothes racks seem to be in the public eye these days. I must have been attuned to the zeitgeist buzzing around them when I proclaimed their chic practicality in my earlier post. Since that piece, I seem to see chic clothes racks everywhere.

Funny how that happens.

For instance, I stumbled upon this wood rack in Shelter Half’s bedrooms (a hybrid vacation rental home and retail store), on Welcome Beyond

Vacation rental clothes rack

The bedrooms in Casa Shelter Half in Venice, California, sport simple wood clothes racks for their guests.

I spotted this cool built-in clothes rack in Nook Architect’s Twin House when clicking through Dezeen…

Nook House Bedroom

A chic, minimalist solution for guests’ clothes, shoes and suitcases is to extend a bar entirely across the room like in Barcelona’s Twin House by Nook Architects. The shelf underneath is used for both shoes and suitcases.

The nice thing about clothes racks is guests can see their clothing options right out in the open and because they have fewer garments, their clothes don’t tend to get crowded together.

I recommend racks with plenty of linear feet for hanging at least ten garments, like this one from West Elm.

vacation rental clothes rack west elm

This sleek black clothes rack will look gorgeous in any decor style and is ample enough to fit at least ten pieces of clothing. West Elm

So we’ve summarized all the grand benefits of either an armoire or a clothes rack, but now the question becomes, what to do with your old closet?

  • A Combination of Armoire and Rack

Hey, there’s no reason not to have both an armoire and a rack if space allows. Kirsten Dunst’s New York Soho loft uses both and it looks fantastic!

Sofo Loft for rent by Kirsten Dunst

Even famous film actresses own vacation rentals, such as this loft owned by Kirsten Dunst. The bedroom features both an armoire and a clothes rack. Rent it here.

 What to Do With the Leftover Space (Where the Closet Used to Be)

1. You can take it out altogether and have a bigger bedroom

The fact that the closet walls no longer push into the room make the space luxuriously larger – more space to walk around and breath! A square or rectangular room will always look larger than one cut up by closet walls.

2. You can make a bed alcove

If your closet is wide enough, you might consider making a bed alcove. It’s not hard to do; in fact, the walls are already there. Just get rid of the closet doors, put in some nice molding around the opening and voila!  You’re done.

Take a look at these before and after architectural plans to visualize what I’m describing…..

Before bedroom plan

The typical bedroom layout has a closet jutting out into the room, such as the one seen here. Because the closet footprint is unchangeable and assumes a lot of storage, there’s not much room for anything else. Furniture placement is limited, often resulting in a crowded and awkward layout. Architectural drawing by Mercedes Brennan.

Bedroom with bed nook and armoire

If we get rid of the closet doors, put in built-in shelves and wall lights and then move the bed into the newly created nook, the room is suddenly much roomier. Guests can put their vacation belongings in the corner armoire and they have a bed alcove in which to reside. Furthermore, when guests are in bed, they are able to look out the window, rather than the closet, like before.

Roll your eyes over this stunning bed alcove I found on Designville. I’ll bet it’s a former closet…..

Bed Niche

Creating a bed alcove out of a former closet is a guaranteed guest happiness booster. Alcoves make people feel “nestled,” and therefore relaxed and taken care of.  Seen on Designville.

Bed alcoves are timeless happiness boosters. They hook into our desire to feel protected and nestled while we sleep. They also make people feel special as if they’ve won a prize.

And that translates into a bookings magnet.

After all, how many vacation rentals sport bed alcoves? You see them in boutique hotels, of course, but I have yet to come across one in a vacation rental. Imagine how impressed guests would be with yours?

Wow! Reservation made.

There are all sorts of design options for alcoves too, like painting the inside a different color, hanging some striking reading lights beside the bed, wallpapering the back wall. Built-in shelves are also a possibility, on which chic storage boxes (for your belongings) could be placed. The possibilities are endless.

Ski Chalet by Oppenheim Architecture

An enclosed bed nook with a sliding door by Oppenheim Architecture + Design. If you have a large bedroom, you might consider this as well – you effectively have a bedroom within a bedroom. And that’s an occupant booster.

Your turn

So now you know how to enlarge those small bedrooms that you’ve struggled with. And you didn’t add any square footage either, did you?

While I’ve got your attention, why not give it a try? It’s not that hard.

And let me know how you’re doing along the way.

I’ll give you some feedback.

Cheers and many happy bookings ahead!




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