How to Create Viral Bookings for Your Airbnb or Vacation Rental

Using a Design Blueprint




On the house!
100% Privacy Guaranteed
September 8, 2014
Cottage in Silverlake

This post is Part II (find Part I here) of a two-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 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. And then I used it working for Windsor Smith and use it every day in our work. All good design starts with a design concept.

All good design starts with a design concept.

In a prior 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 design concept is the overriding aesthetic theme, mood or vibe of your short-term rental.  It defines your home’s long-term aesthetic vision – your ‘brand,’ so to speak. When you create your design concept, you consider:

  1. Your home’s architecture.
  2. Your home’s location.
  3. Your home’s typical guests’ tastes.
  4. 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 features a couple who not only conceived a design concept for their vacation houses, but followed through with incredible finesse.

And they are crushing it in bookings.

Meet Robin Wallace and Tim Snowber

Tim Snowber and Robin Wallace

Tim Snowber and Robin Wallace, proprietors of The Cottage in Silverlake.

Robin and Tim, personal friends of mine since our kids were in elementary school together, have owned stunning vacation cottages in Silver Lake, California since 2008. If more owners knew how to employ design strategies like Tim and Robin have, they could also have the same phenomenal success.

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-go that Tim and Robin had had a vision from the very beginning and followed through with aplomb.

Cottage in Silverlake

The cottages (one is actually a Bungalow style apartment), built in the 1920’s, are located 2 miles from Griffith Park, The Los Angeles Zoo, the Observatory and the Autry Museum.

The couple rents 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.”

“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

Vacation Rental Old California Concept

The design duo adhered to all four considerations in the creation of the Old California design concept. Let’s break it down.

1. Architecture

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.”

Craftsman Vacation Rental in Silver Lake

The 1920’s Craftsman architecture is quite common in the older neighborhoods of Silver Lake. Tim and Robin built a privacy fence in front in keeping with the style. Even the house numbers are Craftsman.

Restored Silverlake cottage

The gallery windows in the dining room were found at a Los Angeles salvage yard “for a song.” The dining set is antique.

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.

Silverlake Vacation Rental Porch

The reproduction Bungalow style cement tile outlining the concrete porch gives the cottage an authentically vintage feel.

Bougainvillea enhanced wrap around porch

The wrap around porch painted a vintage rust color, is enhanced by nostalgia evoking Bougainvillea.

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

Sign in Silverlake

Silver Lake was built up in the 1920’s and 30’s and has evolved into a hip,  historic tourist attraction. Many landmarks have been restored.

Silver Lake is an imperfectly compelling place, its 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.

Seamlessly, actually.

The view outside the dining window

This is the view from the kitchen and dining room windows. The interior and exterior design at the Cottages in Silver Lake echo the landscape outside.

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 and 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.

Salvage wood planters

The front yard planters, filled with tea roses, are made of repurposed wood found in Los Angeles salvage yards.

Sun Room in Silver Lake cottage rental

The sun room evokes Old California with its antique furniture, Hudson Bay camp blanket, and vintage yellows, blues and whites.

Holiday Let in Silver Lake, California

All the bedrooms of the Cottages in Silver Lake sport 500 thread count sheets and uber comfortable mattresses. The vintage suitcases, used as a nightstand, contain extra blankets.

Kitchen in Silver Lake

There is nothing sleek and modern about the cottage kitchens; on the contrary, vintage items prevail and charm you instantly. Vintage glasses and cups, antique spice holders, an aged tin Estero Lemons sign and an antique range all contribute to the Old California story. All kitchens come stocked with basics such as olive oil, sugar, eggs, fruit, flour, salt, pepper, and spices.

Guest Review:

5 out of 5 stars — 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

Craftsman Cottage Vacation Rental

An embroidered Old California pillow sits atop an antique bed in the Craftsman cottage. Running your hand over the velvety soft cotton duvet makes you want to tuck yourself in and start reading that novel you’ve been putting off.

Bathroom in Silver Lake Vacation Rental

White and black field tile from Daltile line the shower walls. The washstand is a reproduction of those found in the 1940’s. White towels are plush and very white. “Guests love our towels,” says Robin. “We don’t go cheap on our linens anywhere in the cottages.” Robin makes her own potpourri soaps and each guest gets a new bar.

 Guest Review:

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.

Silver Lake Vacation Rental

The light sage green walls, along with the rust-colored sofas and hand painted trunk are colors of Old California. Vintage tennis rackets sit atop a window.

“People always comment on our decoration and choice of furniture and decorative objects,” says Robin. “We bought most of it locally, at garage sales, antique shops, and Craig’s List and did not spend a lot of money.”

Silver Lake cottage

Vintage drinking glasses, toys, a trophy fish and antique books all add to the Old California nostalgic feel of the home.

Privacy Screen in a Garden

The privacy screen was fashioned from antique trellises. The sage green paint helps blend it into the succulent dominant landscaping.

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.”

Vacation Rental in Silver Lake

Vintage oil painting, antique chest of drawers and ceramic pitcher stand elegantly in the foyer, just as if they have always been there.

Guest Review:

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)

Assorted soda and other vintage bottles

An assortment of soda and other vintage bottles make up part of the decoration in the cottages. “The rust, dark greens and blues are colors of Old California,” says Robin. “It’s an inexpensive way to decorate and guests love them.”

Mason jar hanging lights are found in various locations throughout the cottages. They add a vintage element and are easy and inexpensive to fashion. "Just go to Ikea for the lighting and and you can find Mason jars just about anywhere," says Tim.

Mason jar lights are found throughout the cottages. They add a vintage element and are easy and inexpensive to fashion. “Just go to Ikea for the cords and and you can find Mason jars just about anywhere,” says Tim.

Temporary rental in Silver Lake

Antique candlesticks sit atop the mantel. Mismatched colored candles mimic the colors in the vintage Bryce Canyon poster above.

Guest Review

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:

  1. The 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.
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.”
  4. 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.
  5. Wine and cheese plate welcome gift.
  6. 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.
  7. Commitment to environmentally friendly cleaning products. “We don’t use any toxic chemicals in our rentals,” says Robin. “Guests appreciate it big time.”
  8. Extremely comfortable mattresses, by Custom Comfort, 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 remodeling 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 put in the kitchen, 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.

Once you make one up that fits with your short-term rental, you can start editing.

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.




On the house!
100% Privacy Guaranteed