How to Design and Furnish a Vacation Rental That Attracts the Modern Traveler

When it comes to vacation rentals in 2020, guests are looking for a complete getaway. The modern-day traveler doesn’t only want an escape from the nonsensical events of this year; they want an entire experience. And a very clean one at that. 

A guest’s first impression of your home starts the moment they see your listing. From the linens you use to the natural lighting in your home, furnishing your vacation rental will play a huge role in getting more bookings in today’s competitive market. 

We spoke with Alexis Austin, an interior designer who specializes in vacation rentals, on how she upgrades and completely re-furnishes vacation rentals for today’s modern traveler. Here are some of her best tips for creating a unique and luxury experience that travelers want to escape to. 

  1. Create a listing that stands out

If your vacation rental doesn’t appear clean, modern and inviting, it won’t get booked. Photos, for instance, are one of the first things travelers see when browsing vacation rental properties. That tiny thumbnail next to the listing title serves as the first impression for your home, so it has to stand out. 

Since Alexis works with TurnKey, each home she designs also comes with professional photography, and listings are written by our professional copywriters to ensure that the first impression matches the beautiful home she designed. 

living room furnishing a vacation rental
Phoenix, AZ property designed by Alexis with McM furnishings and decor

Additionally, if the experience doesn’t feel luxurious and worry-free, you’ll struggle to receive the positive reviews that will encourage more bookings and return visitors

“It’s a different experience than if the home hadn’t been designed. They are going to feel those little touches of having softer linens, layered bed sheets, and softer lighting,” Alexis said. “We pay attention to the little things guests will notice, and I think people appreciate that kind of luxury in a home.”

  1. Know what modern travelers want

According to the Wall Street Journal, travelers are looking for “pampered-privacy” somewhere they can social distance AND experience luxury. This makes private home rentals one of the best options for modern travelers.

The modern traveler also wants a home that is well-decorated, minimal, clean and that feels exclusive. If your home has a patio or deck with a view, make sure there are adequate seating options outside. If your home is near the beach, plan to provide extra towels available for beach use. If your home has a private pool, adding an outdoor patio and a grill will help create a more luxury and exclusive experience for them.

Additionally, modern travelers are becoming more familiar with home sharing platforms, and expect all of their needs to be considered at a rental. They aren’t just looking for a home with room for eight to sleep comfortably, they are looking for a specific experience that is more exclusive than when they are at home. For instance, a modern traveler looking for a vacation rental with a private pool and patio may also expect an outdoor kitchen and an alfresco dining table.

Outdoor kitchen furnishing a vacation rental
Phoenix, AZ property redesigned by Alexis with luxury style and an outdoor kitchen perfect for evening cookouts.

Alexis explained that “designing for a vacation rental is different than designing a private home because it functions differently.

“Instead of working with the homeowner and their family’s specific needs, you have to design for how we know the home needs to function as a rental and create a space that feels both luxurious and comfortable for the guest. We are maximizing space and seating capacity and making sure there is enough space for everyone in the living room to sit comfortably and to be able to entertain. We have to consider the amount of people that can comfortably sleep in the home, and make sure that the dining table has enough chairs to match that.”

  1. Furnish your property with functional pieces

In addition to making sure guests feel pampered and comfortable at your rental, Alexis advises that each piece of furniture should also work to be functional for the guest, and not necessarily match the homeowner’s specific needs. 

“As soon as I walk into a room I start considering if that room needs a King or Queen bed, or if it needs a pullout sofa, and then a coffee table that’s easy to move so the guest can maneuver in the space more easily.” 

These are just a few examples of the small touches to consider when furnishing your vacation rental property.

Sleeper Sofa furnishing a vacation rental
Queen sleeper sofa with easy-to-move ottoman in Phoenix, AZ designer villa furnished by Alexis

“I make these mental notes when I do the initial walkthrough in a house, whereas with a homeowner’s private home it’s their specific needs I consider.”

  1. Trust the experts or your interior designer

If you’re working on upgrading your vacation rental to attract more bookings, working with a vacation rental expert or interior designer who specializes in vacation rentals is an effective and fast way to make changes that will have an impact. Most importantly though, you will need to trust who you are working with. 

Alexis recommends that homeowners working with third-parties do their research beforehand and then “let them go for it” to achieve the best results. 

furnishing a vacation rental
Alexis adding final touches to this 8,000 Sq. Ft. Phoenix, AZ Estate

“The outcome is better when you trust that the designer has your best interest in mind,” Alexis says about the redesign process. “This is our passion and our livelihood. We are here to make sure you have the best possible end-result, the best possible reviews, that people are repeat clients, and we want to make homeowners proud.”

  1. Invest in high-quality furniture

If you want to attract the modern vacation rental traveler and start maximizing your rental revenue, investing in high-quality furniture is essential.

Alexis has worked with both large and limited budgets in her home redesigns, and always advises homeowners to invest in items like beds, main room sofas and lighting fixtures.

“It’s a cliche but it’s true: The more you invest the more you will get back,” Alexis said. “With vacation rentals, I’m not just creating a well-designed home, I’m creating an experience.” 

Vacation rental furnishing bedroom interior design
Phoenix, AZ estate that Alexis completely furnished and designed from start to finish.

To help create the best experience for guests, Alexis advises that you invest in couches that won’t pill or sink after a few years, comfortable beds and high-quality linens to get the best return.

  1. If your budget is small, update the accent pieces

Not everyone has the budget to invest in a full-home redesign. In these instances, Alexis recommends that homeowners incorporate smaller updates that are still impactful in sprucing up their home. 

“When working with a small budget I would assess what is in need of the most attention. Most often it is bedding and lighting, followed by artwork and accessories. I will try to make some of the larger items – sofas, bed-frames, dining room furniture, etc. – work, but we will update the pillows and accent pieces to breathe more life into the space.”

furnishing a vacation rental bedroom
Sedona, AZ luxury property designed by Alexis.

“If you are keeping the sofa, let us bring in new pillows and a rug.” 

Alexis explains it’s important for the designer to be able to adjust and replace pieces that are dated or worn and upgrade them with more modern ones. “Again it’s about trust. If the night tables are off-scale in a bedroom or don’t work with the theme, allow the designer to make those smaller changes and trust that they know it’s going to elevate that existing piece.”

  1. Prioritize good lighting

Modern travelers not only expect homes with natural lighting at vacation rentals, they expect homes to have “natural appearing” lighting as well. Long gone are the days of fluorescent lighting to artificially brighten up a room. Modern travelers want large windows to let in natural light and soft lighting to enjoy their dinner.

furnishing a living room vacation rental
Phoenix, AZ contemporary property with lots of natural light and bright colors designed by Alexis

According to lighting experts at ArchDaily, “Lighting is the most important element to consider when designing a space.” With the ability to alter the mood, size, and versatility of a room, lighting should be more than an afterthought in designing your home. It should be one of the main considerations. 

On a recent home design for a new TurnKey listing, Alexis worked with the homeowner on updating the lighting, and the project “completely elevated the house to a different level.” 

Furnishing a dining room vacation rental
The modern lighting structure elevates the dining room while providing more natural feeling light to the space

Alexis explained, “The homeowner wasn’t afraid to spend money where we needed to because she knew that what we were going to produce was going to make her more money in the long run.”

  1. Be flexible

Alexis says that in the process of designing a vacation rental, you should always expect and prepare for inevitable last-minute changes. “We are doing this quickly, so we have to be able to make quick changes if something doesn’t work out or isn’t in stock. You have to be flexible when it comes to wanting any specific pieces, because waiting on an item will slow down the whole process.”

On Alexis’ last project, a bed was out of stock and never showed up to the property. “At the time it was stressful because we are running against the clock.” Rather than trying to figure out how to find that same piece of furniture, Alexis was flexible and something better ended up being available. 

Alexis in one of the homes she designed for TurnKey

“I think that’s what happens when you’re able to be flexible with the design. Oftentimes something better comes along. You just have to trust the process and that everyone is going to survive and the house will get finished. Something always is going to go wrong. So be flexible.”

About Alexis

Alexis Austin has been working with TurnKey over the past two years, primarily in our Arizona markets to help design nearly a dozen homes. With a degree in World Arts and Cultures from UCLA, she has always been inspired by keeping the integrity of the home while working to find decor and furniture that amplifies it. 

Alexis started Interiors by Alexis Austin in 2013, starting with kitchen and bathroom renovations and transitioning into full-home restoration and interior design over the past two years. Today, about 80% of her business is designing vacation rentals. 

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