The place came fully furnished. That’s the good news and the bad news. While I don’t strongly dislike any furnishings in the beach rental property my husband and I just bought, which is instantly livable and rentable, I wouldn’t have picked them out either.
I am jonesing to replace the dark brown fake leather sofa set with a lighter-colored sectional, to update the kitchen, to change the wall color and to revisit the artwork.
But interior design Rule No. 1 is don’t buy anything until you have the whole plan in mind. The good, if annoying, reasoning behind this is that when you have a master plan, your design is more likely to cohere. Piecemeal decorating rarely works.
So, I am sitting tight, like a hot tea kettle on the verge of a whistle.
To get my decorating ducks in a row, I call interior designer Alex McBride, program design manager for Vacasa, a full-service property management company that handles every aspect of vacation house rentals for 40,000 places throughout North America.
Among the company’s services is interior design consultation, which McBride oversees. “My job is to help new owners optimize their property by thinking of everything from headboards to pizza cutters,” she tells me. Her goal is to design places that have wide appeal, high durability and repeat customers.
Although I sort of know what I’m doing when designing and decorating my own home, I also know that rules change when you’re outfitting a place you’ll be sharing with strangers. You can’t be weird.
“In your own home you can unleash as much of your individuality as you like,” McBride said. “But decorating a rental [property] is different. For starters, no family photos.” Got it.
What other differences should do-it-yourself decorators keep in mind when furnishing a vacation rental house?
◼️ Resist the urge to jump right in. Get to know the place, then let the locale lead you. Whether your getaway is a beach condo, a cozy cabin, a rural farmhouse or an urban loft, lean into what makes your destination special and take your design direction from that. If you’re on the coast, for instance, pull in shades of blue, as well as natural tones of sand and driftwood. If you’re in the mountains, incorporate cool greens and earth tones.
◼️ But don’t get too kitschy. Avoid overtly themed décor like pillows that say: “Life’s a Beach,” or a throw blanket imprinted with images of bears and pine trees.
◼️ Go 3D. Your design will look more sophisticated if you include actual objects such as pine cones and shells, rather than images of them, McBride said. For instance, rather than a photo of vintage life preservers, get actual old ones and use them indoors.
◼️ Curb the color. Although your primary home may be full of color, aim for a neutral palette in a rental. That will appeal to the largest number of customers..
◼️ Choose durable materials and upholstery. Sand, mud, sunscreen and snowy boots can wreak havoc on carpet and furniture. Thus, avoid carpeting, especially in a light color. Instead opt for hard floors. Cover upholstered pieces in durable fabrics like Crypton, canvas, Sunbrella or leather. When available choose commercial (as opposed to residential) grade products.
◼️ Bring on the amenities. The little touches are often what brings guests back. Aside from the basics — dishes, cutlery, cookware, serving dishes, soap, towels, linens and a blow dryer — think of what would help guests better enjoy their stay: marshmallow roasting sticks, gourmet coffee, beach towels, board games, a small library of books, lightweight folding chairs, thoughtful toiletries.
◼️ A place to work. With so many people working remotely, guests welcome a small workspace. You don’t necessarily need to have a traditional desk, a drop-down shelf that folds away, or a small desk that can double as a nightstand could suffice. Make sure you provide Wi-Fi and ample outlets for devices.
◼️ Where to save. Although you may need to spend a bit more on durable furniture items, you can spend less on rugs and art. Rugs will likely need frequent replacement, and, to guard against “attrition” you don’t want gallery level art, or anything of high value.
◼️ Go easy on accessories. Unlike your main home where you might like photos and mementos around, keep rentals spare. Guests want surface area to set their reading material, phones and beverage glasses on, especially in bedrooms.
◼️ Time it right. Although you may need to go off the rental market while you remodel, you also don’t want to turn down a rental because you’re waiting for a sofa to arrive. “Maximizing both looks and revenue may mean compromising on a choice,” McBride said.
My tea kettle is whistling.
Marni Jameson is the author of seven books. Her newest book, “Rightsize Today to Create Your Best Life Tomorrow,” is due out in January.