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!

  • tokillamockingbirdfromtexas

    LOVE it!

  • Great idea if your rooms are built correctly. I love your before and after of the floor plan and wish I could make it work for my second queen bedroom. Unfortunately for me, my small rooms are not very conducive to getting rid of my closets. The one room it would work well in is the room I have focused more for children – the closet hides away a collapsible highchair, a basket of toys as well as the bedding for the pull-out bed in the living room. It also hides the workings for our security system and wi-fi. When a large group of just adults comes I like them to not have to feel like that room is a kids bedroom.
    I love your idea and can see it working well in my own home. Thanks for the insight.

    • Cottage Mom, unfortunately, it doesn’t work in some rooms. However, if there’s any other closet or space to store the high chair and toys, you could do it if you disguised the wiring by hanging a curtain in front. The curtain becomes your “headboard.” I’ve seen it done in a couple of boutique hotels and we did it for a client when I worked for Windsor Smith and it looked stunning!

  • Love the alcove idea! We have put dressers into the closet and hung up coat/hat racks for the convenience of our guests who are there for just the weekend and really don’t want to take the time to unpack to repack again. Ultimately I hope to install a closet system inside the closets…but now may need re-think about the alcove idea.

    • Donna, putting the dresser inside the closet is another way to gain space. Is this the room that you’re talking about? I love the wood ceiling!

  • JanStevensDesign

    So TRUE!! In fact, years ago, I left my clothes in my own walk in closet. What a hassle and such an inefficient use of time and resources.

    You have inspired me!!! We have a huge walk-in closet. It was great and definitely fully used when my aunt lived in the house but it is now certainly a waste of space. This past summer I had talked to my handy man about cutting it down to a smaller closet for the guests use and then locking up the back side as my owners closet but now………….

    I am thinking about gutting the linen closet that is located in the master bedroom. It is tight and difficult to use. We can Open it up and make it into a “hotel room closet”: No doors, just a 3′ open space where they can hang their clothes and store their shoes. Of course we can hang the ironing board and iron in that closet……Just like a hotel room. Currently it is difficult to use and has bi-fold doors that bang into the entry door that bangs into the walk-in closet bi-fold doors ……its a tight mess.

    We can then reorganize the Walk-in to suit our needs: linen storage, vacuum, cleaning supplies etc, …..poof, now we have our owners closet with a locked door.

    • I think you should go ahead and do it. It looks like there is a lot of room in there. Also, if there are absolute necessities you must keep in there, you can always put a curtain (hanging from the ceiling) in front of them. Vincente Wolfe (one of my all time favorite designers) does this all the time in his interiors.

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  • Ria

    I totally agree. One of our rentals is a tiny, 750 sq ft, cottage on the shore in Nova Scotia. It has two tiny bedrooms upstairs that are waiting to be renovated (saving up our pennies). Each has a tiny closet with no door. Our plan is to blow out the ceiling and get rid of the closets and, instead, add two armoires. The house will most likely never be anything other than a vacation/holiday home, so why not have a more spacious bedroom?

  • I really love the bed alcove for sense-of-security concept and will look out for ways to try to do it, thanks so much for that Mercedes. It seems like the opposite of putting a bed under a window, which I always steer away from no matter how pretty it may look in magazines!

    Here’s a picture of the very simple type of clothes rack we use these days in Istanbul for It really does the job for guests (so we’re told :)) and we’re able to give bespoke work -our own design/dimensions- to a local metal-worker, in a conscious attempt to support struggling local business. Win-win :))

    • I love that idea, Julia, especially because it’s so compact and unobtrusive. You should consider designing vacation rentals. Have you considered it?

      • Gosh thanks Mercedes. Up to now I’ve only designed for our own operation in Istanbul (currently x16 there) which has kept me busy with location-specific challenges. I would definitely be ‘up for’ more, perhaps in England where I’m mostly based these days. So now, after your comment, I’m considering it… huge thanks to you for the confidence boost :))

  • Thank you to Mercedes she inspired me to take another look at our closets in our vacation rental. Our bedroom is large so it wasn’t important to gain square footage. But the trips to the post office with guests forgotten items was so annoying. The large walk in closet was unnecessary for the guests and only useful to hang their favorite clothes and then to leave them behind……….regularly. Our Linen closet was cramped and too small for all the linens. A third closet, utility closet, was really too small for the cleaning supplies, brooms, vacuums etc. With new inspiration we shuffled the closets and their usage: The small linen closet became the guests closet ……..the perfect size for a weeks worth of clothing, the ironing board and iron. WITH NO DOOR!! After all the goal was to make sure the guests didn’t forget anything. The really large walk in closet became our linen, cleaning supplies, storage supply closet with a locked door. Now our linens are easy to access, supplies are secured and all out of site of our guests. The 3rd small utility closet has a broom, the vacuum, and back up toilet paper & paper towels…….a few things the guests might need during their stay. It all works. the Housekeepers love the organization and our guests don’t forget their clothes hanging in plain site.

    • I love the idea of not having a door, Jan. Many a time have I left clothes in a vacation rental all because it had a door and I forgot about it. Great idea!

  • Hi Mercedes, I meant to post this for a long time. This is what I did after I read your blog about closets. In my VR the challenge is space. It is small in a European way. (What in America is considered as small, it would be considered in Europe still relatively large). In the tiny bedroom I had a closet with one shelf and a bar. Not much space for clothing storage! Then your suggestion to get rid of doors and while doing this I added few more shelves. Here it is! The first picture is before I bought the VR (a necessary disclaimer given the mess inside :-)), second picture after I read your blog. Third picture a little decoration in the cloth hungers picking up the lilac tone of the Casita. I think I read this tip also in your blog. Since there are no doors anymore I tried to make the inside prettier. Thanks much for this blog. This was one of the best tip from you that I have used and put into practice!

    • Oh wow! Such a transformation! I love it. And it doesn’t look like it cost much to do. I especially admire the blue shelves you put over the heater – it makes the entire wall wider and less cut up. I would love to use this in my upcoming ebook. May I?

      • The change was done custom-made by a carpenter and relatively simple. We put some finishing to hide the tracks of the sliding doors and add the shelves. I would be very flattered if you put this in your e-book! I wish I had a professional picture of the bedroom which shows the closet. I place here a picture of the bedroom with a bigger perspective so you get a sense of the overall space. Thanks!




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