Our long awaited ABSOLUTE KITCHEN ESSENTIALS guide is ready!GET IT HERE


The #1 Best Way to Decorate a Vacation Rental or Airbnb

while increasing your ROI



June 27, 2014
Illustrative Drawing by Mercedes Brennan

The typical thought process that goes into furnishing an Airbnb or vacation rental is something like this: if you have a low to medium priced short-term rental, you buy low to medium-priced furniture; if you have a swanky rental, commanding a high nightly price tag, you buy high-end furnishings.

This advice is reiterated over and over again in vacation rental how-to books and marketing blogs and is basically summarized as so,

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.

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

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

If they had a $200 nightly budget allotted to a vacation rental and were narrowing down their choices in the approximate price range, would they choose the homes with the high-end furnishings or middle of the road ones? Assuming the views, amenities and location are the same.

“Well, duh!” they’ll say. “Of course, we’ll pick the one with the nicer furnishings. Why would you ask such a dumb question?”

I ask because I want to state an absolute truism in the vacation rental business and that is

Guests prefer a luxurious look over a low to medium-end look every time. Doesn’t matter what price range the rental is in. Guests always want high-end because they are on vacation and feel they deserve it. And all the power to them!

No potential guest is going to say to herself, “Gosh, my budget is not extravagant, so I’m going to look for a mediocre place with furnishings that look like they came from Al’s Furniture Warehouse.”

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

Would you really want to spend your precious vacation time in a homestay with furniture bought here? Bet not! Photo courtesy of Alexander Rabb on Flickr.

Thanks, but no thanks.

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

So my point is, yes, know your audience. Know that your guests want to be surrounded by luxury and feel pampered in your vacation rental. In the $600 per night home and in the $100 nightly home. Make it your mantra when you shop for your Airbnb or vacation rental.

“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 because if you do, you’ll regret your short-term rental investment.

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

If you follow this shopping technique, you can do it. Easily.

Your principal objective is to get something for nothing (or almost nothing).

First of all, admit it. It’s really fun to buy something amazing that is new or slightly used for a fraction of the original price. 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 very same reason such amazing 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 I am both a very determined person and incredibly lucky. I always take a companion along because some of the sellers are a tad iffy.

It’s an adventure.

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

Craig's List Barbara Barry Kallista Vanity

This $7,935 Kallista bathroom vanity by Barbara Barry can be had for $1,500 on Craig’s List in San Francisco. It includes the mahogany vanity, the Carrara marble sink top, the sink and the brushed nickel faucet. Score!

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 about twice that.

Side Table by John Keal on Craig's List

Wow! If you have a mid-century modern vacation rental, this would work perfectly! Originally $699, but hand over the cash and it’s only $199 on Craig’s List.

Jonathan Adler's Trousdale Floor Lamp

The Trousdale Floor lamp is no longer available from Jonathan Adler, but a similar lamp, The Buenos Aires, retails for $1,950. $300 is not a lot to spend on a floor lamp.

Restoration Hardware King Sleigh Bed on Craig's List

King size sleigh bed in solid distressed oak by Restoration Hardware can be had for $1,100 on Craig’s List Chicago. A bed like this can literally make a bedroom in a vacation rental.

Craig's List Moroso Sofa

This Moroso Italian sectional costs $9,000 in stores. It is only slightly used and the Craig’s List price is $2,000. Moroso Italian sofas last years and years; when the fabric gets tired or dated, just reupholster. Great bones in this beauty! Imagine it with new pillows and you have instant Wow factor.

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, 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

Fabric: Osborne and Little, Brunschwig & Fils, Schumacher, Bergamo

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. ;)


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 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 up 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 my clients to 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 own bathroom features Heath field tile in Opal Blue. 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 sold goods. The middleman presence, unfortunately, makes the mark-up 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 an extraordinarily great place to buy estate sale goodies.

Bedding at a Santa Barbara Estate Sale

I bought all the bedding in this room in a recent Santa Barbara estate sale for less than $175. It included 600-count Italian sheets, duvet and pillow shams plus the high quality down comforters inside the duvets. The bedding was never used! It will go in a vacation ski cabin in Idaho.

Chaise Lounge

$300 down-filled chaise lounge in a Woodland Hills estate sale. Supremely comfortable with heavenly fabric, it felt almost brand new due to it being kept in a guest room that didn’t get much 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 recent consignment store trip. All this stuff is going to a cute little 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 Brass Drum Coffee Table

Fabulous brass drum coffee table listed at $500 on Chairish; however, you can make a lower offer and keep your fingers crossed. Go for it!


You might be surprised to read this but I don’t go to auctions. At least the ones where the guy is calling out “Going once, going twice, and SOLD to the young woman with the Prada dress for $2,000!”

I have actually always wanted to go to one of those auctions but in the meantime, I’m sort of addicted to two online auction sites. Even though it’s a bit maddening to get outbid, online auctions are wonderful for great deals.

I’m sure you can guess that one of them is eBay, right? I love eBay for all sorts of reasons, but especially for high-end furnishings. The other site hardly anybody knows about (and let’s keep it that way, ok?) and it’s iGavel.


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.

Julia Faucet by Waterworks

High-end faucets are impactful in vacation rentals. There is something about the weight and feel of hand polished stainless steel that makes guests notice. Here’s a Waterworks set that came out of a famous Malibu 5-star hotel. The retail price on these are $1,200. On eBay? $299.


Jonathan Adler pillow on ebay

You don’t have to bid on every eBay item; some have a simple ‘Buy it Now’ option like this Jonathan Adler pillow. The retail prices on Adler pillows are over $100.


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. 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 vacation rental. I bought the antique Chinese folding screen on iGavel. The price? $275. 

Let’s put it all together 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!

Illustrative Drawing by Mercedes Brennan

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, $35. Total cost $925. Approximate retail estimate? $4,075!


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 on 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.

Here’s to a booked up week ahead!