The One Bizarrely Effective Color Secret You Need to Know (NOW)

For Your Vacation Rental




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May 23, 2014

People looking for an Airbnb or vacation rental are people with an agenda. Short on patience, intent on skimming, rather than diving deep, they don’t go to a listing site to window shop vacation properties. They are driving 90 miles per hour looking at photo after photo after photo……..

Trying to find something halfway attractive. It’s not easy, believe me! I’ve been there more times than I like to remember!

Endlessly searching for vacation rentals

Your potential guest’s attention span is a mere 8 seconds! You better be offering up some pretty good stuff to get their clicks. Photos courtesy of VRBO and Flickr.

And the average attention span of a typical browser is 8 seconds.

That’s 8 seconds to grab their attention!

It’s an absolute truth that cannot be ignored in the vacation rental business. More listings are added to the listing sites every day and it becomes harder and harder to be noticed by potential guests. Even if you’re paying to be at the top.

So what can you do as an Airbnb or vacation rental owner to not only catch potential guests’ attention, but give them their heart’s desire in less time than it takes to finish reading this sentence?

I’m about to reveal an incredibly effective and powerful design tip that stops people’s attention without fail.

Wildflowers Boost Mood

Did you know that merely looking at a field of wildflowers instantly boosts your mood? Photo courtesy of Faria!

And weirdly, it has to do with a field of wildflowers.

Field of wildflowers? Huh? What does that have to do with designing a short-term rental, you wonder?

Before I explain, take 15 seconds and look at the photos below. Throw in some special effects, such as a soft breeze and the warm sun against your face as you look at them.

East Canyon, Utah

The power of colorful, natural settings have the power to embed themselves in our deepest memories. East Canyon, Utah. Photo courtesy of Clint Losee.

Texas Wildflowers

A Texas field of wildflowers will stop anyone in their tracks. To gape. With awe.  Courtesy of JMT Images.

Wow! Wow. Crazy beautiful, right? How do you feel? I’m guessing pretty good, maybe inspired? Positive? Wildflowers are instant happiness boosters.

Yes, I said instant.

And anything that immediately boosts mood should get your attention in designing your vacation rental. Happiness boosters mean people stop and pay attention. They want to soak up some of the good vibes.

What if I told you it’s possible to bring the mood-boosting visual impact of a field of wildflowers into your vacation retreat?

Imagine how popular your holiday home would be if it filled people with a similar sense of wonder? Wouldn’t that be great? It would stop potential guests in their tracks. No more 90 miles per hour browsing. Destination found. Who wants to leave a field of wildflowers?

Wildflowers stop people in their tracks

People stop for fields of wildflowers. You want the same response in your vacation rental. Photo courtesy of David Clow.

So how do you translate such a stunning natural landscape into a vacation rental? And more importantly, why?

Let’s address the why first. Because truly great vacation rental design is most successful when you understand why it impacts people.

Once you understand why, you will immediately want to take action. And quickly.

Cave Art of Gwon Gwon

We humans evolved to love beautiful natural landscapes because they helped us survive the challenging conditions of our pre-history. Gwon Gwon Cave Paintings, courtesy of Robin Alasdair Frederick Hutton.

There is a hard-wired physical reason our bodies and brains respond to green fields of wildflowers; it has everything to do with our earliest human experiences. When we lived as hunter-gatherers, we associated such beautifully colorful places with food and water.

Brightly colored plants – orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, red, turquoise – meant water; enough to produce flowers. Water, in turn, meant grazing animals. Grazing animals, in turn, meant good hunting ahead and plenty of rich protein for the tribe.

Wildflower field with deer grazing

The presence of wildflowers signalled a good food source for our Paleolithic ancestors. Grazing animals were drawn to such places, which meant meat for the tribe. Photo courtesy of Cornelia Kopp.

Likewise, flowers grew in spring and summer and meant warm months of hunting and gathering ahead, as well as a break from the continual worry of finding shelter from harsh weather. It meant longer days, more activity like mating, hunting, dancing, socializing and ceremonial events.

People felt optimistic.

My big, fat point here is that a field of wildflowers meant people felt happy. And we still feel happy and safe when we look at them. Didn’t you feel pretty upbeat just a minute ago when you were looking at those flowering beauties?

So the way we see beauty isn’t merely an “eye of the beholder” thing; it’s a core part of our human nature with deep ancestral origins. See the late Dennis Dutton’s TED talk on the subject. It’s worth it, especially if you’re a vacation rental owner. And it you’re a beauty nerd like me, read his book The Art Instinct, for an even deeper exploration of the topic.

So enough academics. Practically speaking, how do you translate a field of wildflowers – vibrant skies, trees, shrubs, flowers, clouds – into your vacation rental?

It’s actually not terribly hard to do. It’s a four step formula.

The Field of Wildflowers Color Technique

Start by tweaking your vision into seeing the indoor and outdoor spaces in your vacation rental as “natural landscapes,” instead of merely rooms or outdoor areas.

Find photographs of colorful spring landscapes that inspire you.  Then, envision the same color scheme built into your interior and exterior spaces.

Let’s look at some short-term rentals that remind us of  fields of wildflowers before we get into the how-to’s. These rentals are wildly successful. They book up. One of the main reasons is their color schemes are doing three essential things:

They demand attention, create desire and compel action.

Reservations are not an issue.

Let’s take a look…

The Real Thing

Prairie Wildflowers

Prairie in Bloom. Photo courtesy of Pam Morris.


One Fine Stay's Putney High Street

The bright shots of pink, red, blue, green and orange infuse this London living room with a vibrancy uncommon in the rainy city. The walls are painted a very light grey, similar to a sky color at dusk and the bright white ceiling evokes fluffy clouds. The green flowers bring in a shot of nature, which is essential. Putney High Street on One Fine Stay.

The vivacious greens, pinks, blues, greens and oranges, in the London vacation house above, mimic the prairie wildflowers above. At the same time, see how those same colors don’t overwhelm the room? It’s the same in natural settings.

The Field of Wildflowers Technique is not about dominating a room with psychedelics, but contrasting occasional shots of color with calming ones, such as beige and browns (mirroring dried grasses or soil), blues and greys (colors of the sky), greens (trees and shrubs) and whites (fluffy, billowing clouds). A little color goes a long way.

The patio color scheme follows the same principles (and is in the same rental).

The Real Thing

Wildflowers at Mount Rainier

Mt Rainier Wildflowers. Photo courtesy of Michaell Matti.


Vacation Rental Patio on Putney High Street

Intense shades of color are as important outside as in. Don’t the purple and pink seat cushions remind you of wildflowers? Such saturated colors lift our spirits! London anyone?  Putney High Street on One Fine Stay.

Here’s another example in an Irish vacation rental:

The Real Thing

Wildflowers in the Anza Borrega Desert

Anza Borrega Wildflowers in spring. Photo courtesy of Beau Rogers.


Gatsby House on Welcome Beyond

The blues and light purples, combined with the cloud white trim and earth toned tile, look much like a field of lilacs at sunset.  Gatsby House on Welcome Beyond.

And here’s one on Airbnb:

The Real Thing

Wasatch County Wildflowers

Wildflowers in Wasatch County, Utah. Photo courtesy of Dave Merrill


Catskills Vacation Rental Bedroom

The calming blues and turquoise – “sky” – found in the blanket, pillows and ceiling beam, along with pink, yellow and red in the artwork, books and bedside flowers – “wildflowers” – are effectively combined with white walls – “clouds” – and subtle shades of green in the pillows and artwork – “trees” in this New York rental.  Bonner Lodge in the Catskills. Airbnb.

 How to Do It

Step 1: Create the “Sky”

Clouds against a blue sky

A blue sky with scattered fluffy, white clouds is the favorite sky among all people of all geographies. Harnass its power into your vacation rental. Photo courtesy of Cinzia Rizzo.

People of all cultures and geographies universally love mostly clear skies with occasional fluffy clouds. It doesn’t matter if it’s morning, afternoon or evening; the fact they are mostly clear, with big puffs of fluffy, white, billowing clouds seems to please everyone. They calm people, bring them into the present, make them momentarily forget about their to-do lists.

The dominant color backdrop in your vacation rental will be the colors found in these favored skies. It is the first step in the Field of Wildflowers Color Technique. It is the peaceful element in your rooms.

Pay attention to that last adjective – peaceful.

Your guests yearn for a place to unwind and relax. They want to feel peaceful. They are looking to forget about their chores and work life. Give them some gorgeous sky and they will love you!

Here’s what you do:

A. Start by imagining some of the best skies in your life.

Maybe the sunset on an afternoon when you were falling in love, or the early dawn of a hiking trip with friends comes to mind when you think of spectacular skies. Or looking out the window at an approaching storm cloud while a hearth side fire crackled in the background.  Alternatively, go outside and look at the sky now. Maybe you’re lucky and it’s gorgeous outside. Lie on your back, soak up those colors. Notice how calm you start to feel! If it’s winter when you’re reading this, look at some of your favorite photos to visualize. Skies come in many shades depending on the weather and time of day – blue, pink, light grey, yellow, violet.

B. Choose the “atmosphere” elements.

The atmosphere is the part of the sky between the clouds. It can be pale blue, grey, silver, lilac, a whisper of yellow or pink at sunset. 

Paint is extremely effective at creating the “atmosphere” element. 

Pick out pale, airy paints with a matte finish; summer and spring skies reflect so much light that you have to stay with light colors. They are most like the sky.

Choose a color that makes you feel serene and content. Then paint the walls of your space with it.

Here are some possible “atmosphere” paint options: 

Colors by Devine

Gretchen Schauffler, the founder and creative director of Devine Color, created the Silver Skies Palette with the heavens in mind. “The striking change of the skies enchant with saturated, magical hues. I enriched purples and blues with hints of moss, red and amber as they mark the heavens. This collection ranges from moody to imperial so you can set your sights on a perfect piece of sky,” says Schauffler.  Devine Color is available at Target and on Amazon.

Sky Colors by Benjamin Moore

Cyan, grey and rose wash our skies at different times of the day and year. The above swatches are lovely wispy colors, so faint that they bring the sky into the room. They add a crisp background that contrast nicely with bright spring colors. Benjamin Moore Paint.

E. Choose the “cloud” colored elements.

The most logical and easiest approach is to paint the ceiling a “cloud like” white to contrast with the “atmosphere” color on the walls. Because our eyes are naturally drawn upwards towards the clouds when we are outside, likewise, the same is true in interior spaces. When we look at a matte white ceiling, it evokes a similar peaceful feeling.

decor 8 and livingetc

The blue walls in this showcase house, a collaboration between Livingetc and Decor8, represent the “atmosphere” color; the ceiling sports the “cloud” color.

The white ceiling method is not the only way to do it however.

If you want, you can paint your walls cloud white and then bring in another “atmosphere” color somewhere else, perhaps on a beam, wall tile, in a painting, on the ceiling (great for ceilings that are too cavernous and high), or in one wallpapered wall. Some people prefer the cloud color as the dominant one. It doesn’t really matter. There are no absolutes. Be creative!

Chic Bedroom in Paris

Here is a clever example of bringing both “atmosphere” and “cloud” colors into a bedroom. The walls, ceiling, and beams are painted in the “cloud” color and the headboard is a deep blue, much like the “atmosphere” on a summer day at noon. I don’t normally recommend such a dark color for the “atmosphere” but because it is such a small headboard and cloud white dominates the rest of the room, it works.  Rue Michel le Comte Holiday Home, Casamidy.

Casamidy Paris vacation house

This Parisian vacation rental‘s living room’s lower wall is painted an “atmosphere” blue, while the ceiling and top wall is painted a “cloud” white. Clever!

Here are three whites that work beautifully:

Cloud-like white paints

The colors of fluffy, delicious clouds, floating by on a summer afternoon, can be had with matte white paint. I prefer it on the ceiling, but the method can be applied to walls as well. Benjamin Moore, Valspar and Farrow and Ball‘s luminescent whites are brilliant options.

D. Make sure your “sky” or “cloud” colors (or a combination of both) make up 40-50% of the room.

You want to make these the dominant backdrop colors against which you will contrast your “leaves, earth and wildflower” elements.

Step 2: Create the “Greenery”

Fig Tree against a blue sky

Green is the color associated with life, sustenance, hope and renewal. It literally meant “food” to our ancient ancestors. Always have a bit of green in all of your vacation rental spaces. Even a bathroom. A little goes a long way. Photo courtesy of Lotus Johnson.

Green is an essential part of any beautiful spring or summer landscape. It is the vitality component to the Field of Wildflowers Technique. The color green is associated with life, hope, sustenance and renewal. And your guests seek these feelings on vacation.

They want to wake up and feel more alive.

Here’s how you make that happen for them:

A. Pick out some green (or partly green) furniture and accessories – a sofa, some pillows, the zigzag patterns of a sofa throw, a painting – and put them in the rooms of your vacation rental. There are tons of possibilities.

Feel like painting your chest of drawers a Kelly green? Go for it! How about a sofa throw? A stack of green books? An actual potted plant? The list is endless.

Here’s some inspiration:

Italian vacation rental

The green bedspread, window shutters and sprig of olive branch all add “greenery” to the bedroom above. Shrubbery put in a simple glass vase is always a great idea. Podere Palazzo.

Casamidy Rental

Lime green upholstery electrifies an otherwise traditional chair and adds essential “greenery” to a Parisian vacation apartment’s living room. Rue de Condé on Casamidy.

Vacation Apartment in Lisbon

Olivier vacation apartments in Lisbon are so well designed, they have been featured on various news shows and magazines. You can see why! Here in the artist studio, “greenery” is found in the floor cushion patterns. The walls are pure “cloud,” a technique effective for causing great contrast between the “wildflowers” and the “sky.”

B. The Real Deal: Put some real flowers or sprigs of leaves in a fetching vase or jar.

An authentic dose of nature is a surefire way to please potential and real guests. There is a lot of research on the psychological impact of flowers and greenery (and someday soon I’ll write an article on it). People’s endorphin levels rise at the mere sight of real flowers and green leaves.

By the way, I’m talking about the real thing, not artificial flowers or greenery. There is a vibrancy to real plants that artificial plants and flowers, no matter how realistic they look, do not have.

And let’s face it: 99% of fake flowers and plants are tacky.

Springtime flower arrangement

Never underestimate the power of real flowers and green leaves. What about in the middle of winter, you ask? Branches of green leaves work just as well!

Step 3: Create the “Earth”


Bring earth colors into your rooms. Why? They literally “ground” the space. People relax around earth colors. 

Most of us won’t have to add anything here. Why? Most vacation rentals are overwhelmed with earth colors already. We are generally earth tone dominant.

It’s the reason I’m writing this blog post to begin with.

I’m talking about our beiges, tans, wheat, browns.

You find them in wood (ceilings, doors, floors and furniture), metals (brass or bronze) neutral upholstery, tile floors, cabinets, stone countertops and fabrics.

I’m not knocking these colors. In fact, they are an essential to the Field of Wildflowers Color Technique.

We need them. They ground us. Bring us down to earth.


We must keep them to a minimum. If you overwhelm a room with earth tones, it’s equivalent to sending this landscape message to your potential guests:

Plowed Field

Too many vacation rentals are sending this color message to potential guests. No wonder they don’t get many clicks! Photo courtesy of Gideon Chilton.

Not exactly a Scenic Overlook.

So enough said. You already have the earth components in place, right?

Let’s move on….

Step 4: Create the “Wildflowers”

field of wildflowers

Adding the “wildflower” colors into your vacation rental is the best part of the Field of Wildflowers Technique. Have fun and let go of color inhibition! Photo courtesy of Canong2fan.

Wildflowers tend to come in primary and secondary colors, like red, blue, yellow, orange, pink and violet. These colors are electrifying. They energize us. They make us feel positive and “up for anything.”

Think about that for a second. Wouldn’t you want to feel this way on vacation? Happy, positive, energized?

Heck yes!

And if you saw these bright, vibrant colors when you were clicking through a bunch of earth-tone dominant vacation rentals (that make you feel like you’re in the desert with no water), wouldn’t you click away at those photos?

Heck yes!

So, don’t hold back. Animate your guests and potential guests with energizing colors. Get them out of that plowed field we saw earlier.

How to do it:

This is the fun part! No inhibitions allowed! You have already created a gorgeous, peaceful “sky” and some vibrant “greenery;” your “earth” components are present.

There is only one more thing to do. It’s time for the “wildflowers.”

Go for those hot pinks you’ve always coveted or Chinese red! Sprinkle in some yellows, oranges, Mediterranean blues and violets. Armchairs, sofas, headboards, painted furniture, pillows, bedspreads, blankets, rugs, artwork, lampshades, books, wallpaper, decorative objects all work. You name it.

Just make sure the colors are exciting. The colors should make you happy, positive, energized. That’s the point.

No drab colors allowed.

Not one.

Here’s some inspiration:


The White Pepper Etsy Shop Pillows

These vintage pillows found in The White Pepper Shop on Etsy are fantastic for adding inexpensive pops of color to your vacation rental. Find them here.


Adding a Timorous Beasties White Moth Lampshade to a room is a brilliant way to imbue

Adding a Timorous Beasties White Moth Lampshade gives a shot of electricity to any room.


Everett Sofa by West Elm

The West Elm Everett Sofa, in Retro Ikat, is a spring landscape in itself (and it hides dirt too).


Nine Streets Kantha Throw

Fold a Kantha throw at the bottom of a bed or on the arm of a sofa for vibrant wake-me-up color. From Nine Streets.


Natural Curiosities Butterfly Prints

Paule Marrot Butterfly prints are heart-stoppingly colorful and literal reminders of a spring landscape. From Natural Curiosities.


Timorous Beasties Wallcovering

Get noticed with this hip wall covering. Try it on just one wall or frame it and put the panel behind a sofa. Fresco by Timorous Beasties.


Colorful Classic Books

Never underestimate the power of beautiful books. Not only do they add color, but guests will read them. After all, they finally have the time. These beauties are available from Juniper, but look around in your local second-hand bookshop and you will find similar sets at better prices.


Azilal Rug from Morocco

Rugs are an easy way to add “wildflower” elements into a room. Look for brightly colored ones like this Moroccan Azilal. On Chairish.


Check out the gorgeous room below for an illustration of all four elements – sky, greenery, earth and wildflowers – creating The Field of Wildflowers Color Technique.

Livingetc and Decor8

When all four elements are present, the Field of Wildflowers Color Scheme is created. Here, the blue wall and white ceiling bring in the “sky;” green chairs represent”greenery; wood floor is “earth;” and books, artwork, pillows and stool play the role of “wildflowers.” Collaboration between Decor8 and Livingetc.

The Field of Wildflowers Color Technique is not the only color method out there. In fact, with time, I’ll do more articles on the use of color, but it is the one color scheme, that if you read no other post on color – ever – will be more than sufficient in making your vacation rental’s color palette stand out brilliantly.

And once you start standing out, getting potential guests to pay attention to your lovely abode will be effortless. People will actually want to click-through your photos, even share them on Pinterest or other social media sites.


Now get to work! :)

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below. If any of you have any color related questions about your own vacation rentals, please post your question, along with a link to your home stay, and I’ll do my best to address them. I love helping my subscribers!

  • Thanks for the brilliant article, Mercedes! I just had all the walls of one of my rentals painted a tan color, a lot like the color of beach sand. I also have tan sofas. I wish I had read this article three weeks ago! There isn’t any blue or white in it. Is there a way to remedy this? Thanks for this amazing article! The hard wired beauty response makes a lot of sense. I’m going to listen to the TED talk you recommended. It’s Saturday and I actually have time. Thanks!

  • John, Thanks for commenting! As to your rental, it sounds like it is earth-tone dominant. Try to add some “sky” in there. Paint one wall a sky color (that looks good with the tan) or try a rug with lots of sky colors. You can also partially reupholster or fully reupholster your sofas (by “partial” I mean, perhaps the bottom cushions or the back cushions only) in blues. Another trick is to pick blues and greens as your “wildflower” components. Because you have the tan on the walls, I’d avoid more reds and oranges; instead go for blues and greens and whites. Good luck!

  • Wow this article was sooo interesting to read and I learned so much. Love the academics and the practical tips. I recently visited Target and I noticed myself staring for a long time to the Shabby Chic collection. The pastel colored flowered products were just so beautiful and romantic that I still can’t stop thinking about it. It had the same effect on me as looking at beautiful flowers in nature. Can’t wait to watch the Ted talk, read the book and do some wildflower decoration in my house. Thank you Mercedes!

    • Thanks Veronica! Now I’m excited to check out these shabby chic products at Target. I love Target because their prices are great and they also have great style. Thanks for the tip! And have fun with the TED talk. It is really eye-opening.

  • JanStevensDesign

    Mercedes, you just “verbalized” everything that I enjoy looking at. I had no idea why I love flowers but now I know!!! One of the properties that I manage and design is in need of a new sofa. The owner has a khaki green futon in place that is uncomfortable and drab……IT NEEDS TO GO!! But now with the new knowledge acquired I will have to give serious thought to the color of the new comfortable, inviting, sofa…….thinking it is going to be a cherry red but maybe a bright green? The cottage is a pan-abode with cedar walls (earth dominant), white ceilings (sky) and new grey laminate floor (sky). His Grandmother painted all the furnishings back at the the turn of the century (literally flowers). The cottage has a great history and guests love the story… we need to make it pop in the photos? What do you think of coral red?

    By the way, since these photos have been taken in October 2013 the sisal rug is gone, the grey painted plywood floor has been replaced with beach washed grey laminate, all the artwork framed, the red brick linoleum removed, and there is a new wool grey and black zig zag rug (the contrast is rather eye catching with all the flowers).

    • Wow! What a cute cottage. Makes me want to rent it this summer! I love lakeside vacation rentals. Coral red is great but since the cottage already has a lot of red (the wood walls have a red tone as well as much of the furniture) I think a deep blue (atmosphere on a summer day) or an emerald green would work better.

      I’d love to see the updated look. Such a cute place!

      • JanStevensDesign

        Mercedes, when we update with the final sofa and new photos I will certainly share. Hopefully it will be a as beautiful as wild flowers.

    • Jan, I am blown away! I would love to interview you for how you accomplished this. Love the rug, blankets, basket and how it all comes together. Congrats on a job well done!

      • JanStevensDesign

        Hi, Mercedes. Love to talk with you about the decor of this cute little cottage. Yes, lets schedule a time for the interview that will work for us both: 1-702-281-3529. Will you be at the HomeAway Summit this coming weekend?

        • Yes, I will be at the Summit! We can connect there if you want.

          • JanStevensDesign

            GREAT. I will arrive in San Diego around 1:30 and estimate arriving at the Hyatt around 3:00 at the latest. I will be staying and flying out on Sunday leaving the Hyatt at 2:30. If you would like to meet up that would be great or if you would like to chat ahead of time and meet up that be great too.

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  • Mango Butler

    Haha well I think I got this down :)

  • Guest

    Thanks for this Mercedes, inspiring me to experiment some wildflowers in central Istanbul, which surely needs them. Up to know it’s been (locally inspired) seagulls and fish, which perhaps also have their place!

  • Thanks for this Mercedes, inspiring me to experiment some wildflowers in
    central Istanbul, which surely needs them. Up to now I’ve only been brave enough for
    (locally inspired) seagulls and fish, which perhaps also have their

  • Barbara C

    Hi Mercedes, I bought a condo in Newport last year and decided to rent it out. The bedroom is an odd space with very little natural light and very dark blue walls with dark grey trim. The rest of the loft style apartment has exposed brick and dark burgundy walls and mustard color beams. I really can’t afford to paint the entire place but I want to do the bedroom over. Much to my surprise, most renters love the dark walls, I can’t stand the blue and was thinking of going to a dark charcoal. I’ve been to torturing myself with this as I like a lighter space. Any advice on making a dark room look sexy?

    • Dark blue walls look great if you put white against them – white sheets and duvet, white trim, white art, bright white ceiling. As is, the objects on your wall are dark like the wall, so they are swallowed up by the dark blue walls. Look at the blue room below to see what I’m talked about. The walls are very dark, but the white headboard, sconces, art, ceiling and bedding brighten it up. Good luck!

  • Barbara C

    Thanks Mercedes – I’ll let you know how it turns out!

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