How to Increase Your Bookings: Interior Design Tips For STR's

How to Increase Your Bookings: Interior Design Tips For STR's

Owning and operating rental properties is one of the most common ways to invest in residential real estate. Short term rentals (STRs), properties typically rented on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, have become HUGELY popular. Airbnb launched in 2008; in 2013, they had 300k listings; today, that number is over 6 million - pretty crazy when you compare that to only about 750k hotels worldwide.

With the meteoric rise in demand during, and then continuing post Covid, when it comes to jumping into the STR owner market, it kind of seems like “everyone is doing it”. As a designer specializing in the STR market, here’s my two cents - everyone IS doing it. Last year, the short term rental market officially reached a saturation point, resulting in lower occupancy rates for hosts. With so many options to choose from, STR owners and hosts need to find ways to stand out on small screens, as potential renters are scrolling for their next vacation booking.

So, how do you stand out? The answer is simple. Follow these simple tips.

tip 1:Be thoughtful in your design decisions

Just as you should have in your own home, I always make sure every seat in the living room, as well as with outdoor spaces, has a table within reach to set a drink on. I like to use bunching tables instead of a large coffee table. Guests will move your things around, and small tables make it easy for different family members to multipurpose smaller individual tables simultaneously - maybe one is being used as a footstool, one as a 2-person game table, 1 as a snack table, and one as a coloring spot for a little one. I like to use dining benches instead of individual chairs so that families can squeeze as many members as they want around the table, without being restricted by the number of chairs you provided.

I always use patterned rugs (if a rug is necessary; if not, skip it for easier cleanup!) that will hide stains, performance fabric on any upholstered items, and I don’t use upholstered surfaces in eating areas or with beds. I don’t eat in bed at my own house, but there’s something about being on vacation….for some, it means just about anything goes!

One of my favorite short term rental tips is to design like you’re the cleaning crew - whether you are or aren’t! I design and furnish a lot of STR beach houses, and the cleaning crew might as well be a pit crew. They have a limited amount of time to get in, clean and sanitize, and get out! So the easier you can make their job, the cleaner your house will be! Some examples of ways to do this (and there are many!) are using beds that go all the way to the floor (no place for dust bunnies to hide!), using either wall mounted bedside tables, or again, to-the-floor designs, and not decorating with a ton of tshotshkes (knick-knacks) that the cleaners have to pick up and clean around. Let’s face it - those are going to get misplaced or broken eventually anyway!

tip 2:  Have a clear design concept in mind

Gone are the days where you take every mismatched or tattered piece of furniture from your current home that you don’t like, throw it in your rental and start advertising that you’re open for business. Guess what - the same annoying and maddeningly frustrating attribute of social media exists in the STR world too. What do you think I’m talking about? Yep, you guessed it - a &#%!@?! algorithm. If you want to move up the search results, one of the best ways to do that is to have lots and lots of beautiful pictures for your listing profile. So, decide what you want your home to look like and implement a cohesive design.

To clarify, I’m NOT talking about THEMES. Yes, I’ve taken my kids to Legoland, and yes, they loved staying in one of the pirate themed rooms, but unless your house is right next to an extremely popular amusement park, and you want to market specifically to young families that will value that aesthetic year round, I’d steer clear of anything that screams “THEME”. For beach houses, I may choose faint blue and green pastel paint colors, but you won’t catch me hanging fisherman’s netting from the ceiling (Ok, maybe in a kids room, ‘cause let’s face it - they love that stuff!).

That is not to say to shy away from going bold. If you think standing out with tons of bold color will set you apart from the crowd of neutrals, and you are actively using bold design as a way to fill your pipeline, then go for it! Just make sure you’ve done your research; you don’t want to be repainting and buying different furniture in 6 months when you’ve decided your neon purple walls are scaring away potential guests.

tip 3: Always assume that guests will make a mess and furniture and decor is inclined to get damaged 

There are many rental design tips that I could offer here too, but to be brief, go with easy to clean surfaces, performance fabrics, make sure you’re protecting fade-likely surfaces from the harsh rays of the sun, use something like waterproof laminate flooring in lieu of carpet, wipeable paint on the walls, etc.. And DON’T furnish your STR with any pieces that mean anything to you! Decorate UP - that means potentially wallpapering or embellishing ceilings, hanging art out of reach, etc. I love to use a patterned wipeable peel and stick wallpaper in the kitchen - especially under a kitchen island bar overhang, where swinging feet will destroy a paint job in no time flat.

tip 4: Make sure you have a desk

My short term rental tip number four is thanks, in large part to Covid. Due to the events of 2020, so many people work from home all or part of the time. Make sure you have a place for them to do that comfortably. Just a solid surface, strong wifi, and a supportive chair - with curtains or blinds to block harsh sun - should do it!

tip 5: Make sure to have a few instagrammable spots

A large sized windowless wall in your rental is a great place to make an IG wall. Use your imagination - this is the place to paint a colorful mural, utilize pretty plants, create a “frame”, paint a bold geometric design, write the name of the city or destination you’re drawing guests from, etc.. Even a small spot with a fun photo collage on the wall, or an interesting piece of art, can easily become an IG backdrop. Having a few of these is important! When guests post pics of themselves in your home with an eye catching backdrop, people will undoubtedly ask where they’re staying, etc.. It could definitely lead to future bookings for you.

closing thoughts 

As of December, 2019, there were a reported 399,000 “super hosts”, defined as hosts that can provide an extraordinary experience for guests. On average, Superhosts earn 60% more revenue than the standard host, on a daily basis. So, if you’re in the STR game, you might aim to make it to that elite status. Making the investment in thoughtful design is going to be an investment that goes a long way to getting you there. 

At Lori Shaw Interiors, we specialize in short and medium term vacation rental design, furnishing and listing prep. We also offer audit services; if you feel that you could be earning more from your rental property, consider investing in an audit, where you’ll learn what we would recommend you do differently!

Lori Shaw