This post is Part II (find Part I here) of a three-part series on creating a design concept for your vacation rental……
What makes one vacation rental stand out over all the others in an area? What makes their bookings go viral?
It’s a tough question, but when you look around, you can’t help but notice that some vacation rentals are so visually and emotionally compelling, that bookings become almost contagious. As soon as people’s eyes hit the photos, they want to book on the spot.
They dream of cooking in the kitchen, eating at the table, sleeping in the bed, lounging in the living room, kicking around on the patio, showering in the bathroom and even (get this!) working in the office space. Not only do they want to do all that, but they want to guarantee that they can do it before someone else spots the same awesome place and books it before they do.
The adrenaline kicks in. Reservation made.
And so on and so on and so on…..
What is their secret? Do they know something you don’t?
The answer is Absolutely! They definitely know something you do not!
They may not have been consciously aware of it, but in some portion of their brain they knew how to harness the most powerful design tool out there. And its 90% responsible for getting people to click the “book it now” button.
It’s called the Design Concept.
How do I know this? Because I learned and applied it in my graduate school work – for years. And then I applied it from the get-go in my residential and commercial projects afterwards. All good design starts with a design concept.
In my last post, I wrote a detailed article on what the design concept is and why it’s imperative that you use one. If you didn’t read it, now would be a good moment. :)
For those of you short on time, I’ll summarize:
A vacation rental design concept is the overriding theme, mood or vibe of your rental. It defines your home-stay’s long-term aesthetic vision – your ‘brand,’ so to speak. When you create your design concept, you consider:
Your home’s architecture.
Your home’s location.
Your home’s typical guests’ tastes.
Your own style and sensibilities.
It’s one thing to talk about creating a design concept and quite another to actually make one and follow through. That’s why this article – Part II of Creating a Design Blueprint for Your Vacation Rental – features a couple who not only conceived an aesthetic vision for their vacation homes, but followed through with incredible finesse.
And they are crushing it in bookings.
Meet Robin Wallace and Tim Snowber
Robin and Tim, personal friends of mine since our kids were in elementary school together, have been one of the main inspirations behind starting 1 Chic Retreat. When I created the A-List Category for example, I was specifically thinking of their stunning vacation cottages in Silver Lake, California. My thinking was that if more owners knew how to employ design strategies like Tim and Robin, they could also have the phenomenal success that Tim and Robin (and other A-Listers) are experiencing.
Earlier this year, after weeks of waiting for a time when no guests were present (a rare occurrence), I toured all the cottages with the couple and was beyond impressed. It was obvious from the get-g0 that they had had a vision from the very beginning and followed through with aplomb.
The couple rent out a total of 4 units, all located within 5 minutes of one another, which they began buying in 1997. Back then, they were buying to rent out long term, but in 2008, after acquiring the Cape Cod cottage, they decided to try their hand at short-term rentals. “When we did the numbers, it was a no-brainer,” says Tim. “And with our background in design, we knew we could create something that people would want to rent.”
Robin has a background in fine art and photography and Tim’s is in set design and woodworking. Together they conceived a design concept based on Old California – the California one thinks of when reading Raymond Chandler or Tales of the City or watching movies like Chinatown.
“We wanted to tell a story with our cottages,” says Robin. “Like a guest could walk in and feel the history of not just the house, but of this part of California. Be a part of something larger.”
Design Concept: Old California
The design duo adhered to all four considerations in the creation of the Old California design concept. Let’s break it down.
The cottages and apartment were all built in the 1920’s, therefore an Old California style was appropriate for the architecture. “Restoration is a big concern in Silver Lake,” says Robin. “People appreciate the old style and move here to be a part of that. We wanted to honor the bones of the building and remodel and furnish accordingly. We wanted it to feel original, but with modern conveniences added in.”
Architectural salvage yards played a huge role in the remodel of the homes. Antique doors, windows, tile, columns and mantels were sourced and installed instead of big box store equivalents. “No PVC anywhere,” Tim adds. “Except for plumbing, of course.” Reproduction elements were also used, such as the cement tile on the front porch and the kitchen counter tile.
Tim and Robin remarked that guests really appreciate the vintage feel to the cottages and they regularly give glowing reviews. Here’s one:
5 out of 5 Stars — We knew immediately when we arrived that we had found a very special place. The house is beautifully done, maintaining the vintage craftsman details throughout. Great furnishings and everything you could possibly need. But most of all, incredibly comfortable, especially for a family with two young boys. What we loved the most, however, was the light… the breeze floating in the open windows… the sunsets… and the view! This is L.A.! It was so enjoyable to “live” here for that week. We dream of coming back. Tim and Robin are world class hosts and this is a wonderful place to experience the joys of life in L.A.” — Claire, Brooklyn, March 2012, The Two Bedroom (published on Flipkey)
2. Location, Location, Location
Silver Lake is an imperfectly compelling place, it’s funky storefronts and eclectic restaurants are embraced by a hip crowd. There are no gated communities with manicured lawns, nor huge shopping malls; instead independently owned coffee shops, second hand bookstores and vintage clothing shops rule the roost. Almost everything is historic or vintage; Robin and Tim’s Old California theme fits perfectly into the neighborhood.
When you look outside the gallery windows or stand on the porch and see the Hollywood sign and the Griffith Observatory, as well as the California bungalows and adobe houses below; then you look around inside Robin and Tim’s homes, it’s a visually seamless experience. It’s as if you ‘belong’ in your surroundings, as if the experience of staying in Silver Lake is enhanced somehow by the interior and exterior design. Old California outside. Old California inside.
I call this ‘blending,’ and it occurs when the vacation home’s design blends with the landscape outside. People like to feel connected to the outside world, feeling their inside experience is married to the outdoor experience; it makes them feel at ease. It’s a weird, but true human phenomenon.
We can highly recommend this lovely place to anyone who is looking for a quiet and private place in Los Angeles. We stayed in Silver Lake cottage for one week with our little daughter and felt home just from the first moment. Shops, cafès, supermarkets – everything you need is nearby, the neighbourhood is quiet and beautiful, the cottage is like an oasis and we especially liked the way the place is furnished, we missed nothing. It’s just the opposite of an anonymous hotel. When we arrived after a long and exhausting flight, Robin and Tim welcomed us like friends, they even provided nice food. More than that they helped us with any question we had. They are perfect hosts and they made it easy for us to feel comfortable. — Annette, Cologne, Germany
5 out of 5 Stars — The bedroom and bathroom are more minimally decorated and hotel-like in a good way, with clean white sheets on the full/queen bed and a big shower/tub stocked with handmade potpourri soaps. — Alysa, NYC, June 2012 The Cottage
3. The Aesthetic Tastes of a Typical Guest
People who live and vacation in Silver Lake tend to be urbane, sophisticated, artistic, educated and a little alternative and the Cottage in Silver Lake definitely appeals to this sensibility. Tim and Robin say their guests lean on the older side of middle age, but they get plenty of younger families and couples as well. The Old California concept appeals to people of all ages. “It brings back memories for older people and the younger crowd thinks it’s funky and original,” Tim remarks.
“People always comment on our decoration and choice of furniture and decorative objects,” says Robin. “We bought most of it locally, in garage sales, antique shops and Craig’s List and did not spend a lot of money.”
4. Owners’ Personal Tastes
“I’m definitely a vintage-y kind of person; we both are,” says Tim, who sourced all the doors and windows at local salvage yards for the renovation of the homes. “The Old California thing was easy for us because it’s what we love. I don’t think we would have bought historic homes if we weren’t attracted to restoration and story. It’s a lot of hard work, not just starting vacation homes, but maintaining them and because we like it, it’s easier.”
“We’re always adding and editing,” says Robin. “And because we have a design vision, it’s easy to buy stuff that fits in.”
The cottage feels like your cool (though not painfully hip) LA friends have decorated it. It’s a west coast rustic vibe in the living/kitchen space, with vintage nature prints on the walls, but also with a nice flat screen cable TV. – –Alysa, NYC, June 2012 The Cottage (published on Flipkey)
Make yourself at home in this cottage…it’s easy to do. You will wish it was yours. It is clearly loved by the owners who must want you to love it just as much. The location allows for easy access to the neighborhood treasures of Silverlake and all of LA. You can walk to bars, cafés, restaurants, shops, and the hillside streets that host some of LA’s architectural treats. It’s easy to park on the street. The patio is idyllic – you will want to relax in its shady nook and spend an hour or two with some wine, cheese, and perhaps, a book or your best friend or both. The cottage has everything you need- a complete kitchen equipped for fixing a snack or a feast. The linens, toiletries, and electronics are on par with any fine hotel. Select the cottage for a weekend, a week,or a month or longer…you will be in no rush to leave but will long to return . I did just that. – Randee, NJ
And on top of the design savvy….
After reading great guest review after great guest review, it’s evident in spades that Robin and Tim have not only crushed it in design savvy; they are also remarkable hosts. Here are some of their guest happiness secrets, the key to glowing reviews:
- Kitchen comes well stocked with basics like olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, sugar, fruit, eggs, bread, spices, etc. This thoughtful touch eliminates the need for guests to buy basics while on vacation.
- The linens are on par with any fine hotel – 500-thread count white sheets, big, fluffy Egyptian cotton towels, and soft, white spa robes. “All the linens are white,” say the couple. “White equals luxury in the hospitality business.”
- Lightning fast wifi. A lot of guests work on vacation and need it. “And a lot of our guests come here specifically to work, so reliable and fast wifi is key.”
- Terrifically responsive hosts. Robin and Tim respond to phone calls, emails and text messages. If guests have concerns or questions, they get a response right away. “No delays is our motto,” says Tim.
- Wine and cheese plate welcome gift.
- Hand-made soaps in all the bathrooms. Among her many talents, Robin is a pro at making soap. “It’s more economical in the long run and guests love the artisanal touch,” she explains.
- Commitment to environmentally friendly cleaning products. “We don’t use any toxic chemicals in our rentals,” says Robin. “Guests appreciate it big time.”
- Extremely comfortable mattresses that guests remark upon. “People love our mattresses!” says Tim.
To Wrap it Up…
So is some of this clicking for you? I certainly hope so!
Robin and Tim make all this seem easy, but in the beginning, they too were scratching their heads.
“It wasn’t like we said ‘Let’s sit down and make up a design concept.’ It was more like listening to the house and the outside community and coming up with something that fit,” says Robin, explaining how they formulated their vision. “It took several weeks of brainstorming. But after we created the Old California blueprint, it was easy to start the remodelling and decoration. We didn’t have to think about it too much; something either fit or didn’t.”
“We cut out images that fit the concept and kept building from there,” says Robin. “I started a notebook that I filled with magazine tear outs, photos, even book covers. In the beginning, we took it with us on shopping trips. Later, we didn’t need to. I don’t even know where it is anymore.”
The point here is that taking the time out to formulate a design concept pays itself off in spades. Not only will you have a compelling, inviting, thoughtful vacation rental but the anxiety of “What should I do? What should I buy??!!!” is taken off your plate. You will know what sort of plates to buy, art to hang and bedding to purchase because you will have a blueprint that guides you along the way.
And you’ll have a leg up on 95% of the other owners out there who have not created this all powerful tool.
But wait! What if I already have a vacation rental and I never made a design concept? Is it too late?
Nope! It is most certainly not too late.
In fact, you can make up a design concept at any time.
In fact, I encourage it.
In Part III of the Design Concept series, I’ll take an existing vacation rental owned by Steve Sasman of the Vacation Rental Owners Guide and show you how we came up with a design concept for his Arizona vacation home. Steve wishes to make some design changes in 2015 and asked me for some advice.
Guess what I asked him first?
You got it: What’s your concept?
So stay tuned for Part III in February. In the meantime, it’s your turn. Take these lessons and share in the comments below how you could apply the principles to your own vacation rental. Or maybe you already have a design concept and would like to share how you came up with it. I’m all ears and look forward to a great brainstorming session in the comments below. You can also post to the 1 Chic Retreat Facebook page. I would love to see what you come up with.