Cost Effective Tips For Decorating Your Vacation Rental

Written By Jade Shojaee

Designed by Nan Waltz

Designed by Nan Waltz

Online travel sales are projected to reach nearly 756 billion dollars in 2019 in the United States alone and more travelers than ever are looking for more personalized experiences than what a hotel can provide. Living like a local is the new goal for tourists hungry for experiences rich in cultural immersion, home (away from home) cooked meals and – you guessed it- unique places to stay with all the comforts of home. That’s where you come in.

Luckily, renting out your vacation home is easier than ever but travelers in 2019 expect more than ever before.

  • How do you make your listings stand out among the hundreds of thousands bobbing the internet today?
  • Great marketing strategies? Of course.
  • Professional photos? Absolutely. But what happens when the guest arrives and your property isn’t warm, welcoming and well decorated?

Just like in real estate, the interior of your home is one of the most important factors to consider when putting your home on the vacation rental market and will do much to bring in repeat guests, create organic word of mouth and drive direct bookings to your site. 75% of Redawning travelers say the interior of a home is a major factor in their decision when shopping for a vacation rental to book.

Many property managers and homeowners shirk on this step because, sure, it can be really overwhelming when you’re not a designer. Material costs are going up and labor is expensive. But it may not be as impossible as you think to create a stunning space that will turn heads among the online travel crowd shopping for their next vacation rental. The trick is choosing what aspects of the home you want to invest in. But how do you know what those aspects should be? That’s where we come in.

DIY Guide to Decorating Your Vacation Rental

We’ve talked to some top designers to bring you a DIY Guide to beautifying your vacation home without breaking the bank. See what Hayley Steele, Nan Waltz, and Danielle Calbeck have to say about decorating your space!

If you’re wondering where you should spend the bulk of your budget, the answer is upholstery. Experienced in designing luxury Airbnbs, Calbeck warns property managers and owners that your upholstery is another likely casualty to undergoing guest wear and tear.

What can you do to protect your upholstery? Calbeck has three suggestions:

  • Lean toward linen
  • Stay away from polyester
  • Microsuede is your best friend (Microsuede can take a spill or two without leaving a stain!)
Living Room Designed by Hayley Steele

Designed by Hayley Steele

Where to shop?

Calbeck recommends shopping at Pottery Barn or Restoration Hardware for durable pieces that will look and feel expensive without breaking the bank.

Look for high-performance fabrics, like Sunbrella and always make sure to treat your sofas and chairs with a fiber seal. This will make them more resistant to stains and easier to clean. Nan Walz suggests doing the same to your carpets and rugs.

Tip: Consider providing your guests with cleaning instructions in case there is an accident!

Color Schemes

Keep it simple, keep it neutral.

We spoke with Bay Area Designer, Danielle Calbeck who works on designs for luxury Airbnbs, and recommends keeping base colors simple so your accessories can really pop.

“Greys and whites are in right now,” says Calbeck. “They are perfect colors for laying the foundation of your decor. Brown is another one of those timeless colors. Wood never goes out of style.” The important thing is to keep the space is bright, clean and uncluttered.

“Keep it simple,” seems to be the consensus according to every designer we spoke to.

Designed by Hayley Steele

Designed by Hayley Steele

Hayley Steele, the owner of East Kennedy, a boutique in Los Gatos, California, and a former luxury real estate home stager suggests keeping color schemes toned down. According to Steele, a pop of color in a rug or a bright throw pillow here and there will do the trick.

“Florals, blooms and centerpiece succulents are also a good way to bring in color,” she says. “Don’t do anything permanent in a bright color. Keep it classic or you will have to swap it all out in a year when it goes out of style.”

Steele says layers and textures can be more effective and versatile than color schemes, and not super difficult to achieve. “If your unit has carpet instead of hardwood you can still throw an area rug on it to establish the look you want.” For hardwood floors, she suggests sisal rugs layered with something like a cowhide rug to give your design depth and complexity.

Tip: Feeling overwhelmed? “Start with the big pieces first,” Steele says. “Design and layer around your sofa and chairs.”

Steele loves creme linen sofas and white Mongolian lamb pillows. “They are neutral but stylish and you can always add a fun printed pillow to bring in that pop of color.”

Rug Rules: Steele is a stickler for the two on two off rule which dictates that the two front legs of your chairs and sofas should be ON THE RUG and two shouldn’t be. “A rug that’s too small will change the space for the negative.”

The same rule applies to the bedrooms. Stick to neutral colors and include layers! “Fluffy bedding and lots of pillows photograph well from a marketing standpoint,” says Steele. Additionally, she suggests putting a rug in the bedroom which will make it feel homey and warm. “When people see empty rooms online it deters them from booking the property. They want to stay in spaces that look completed, welcoming and cozy.”


It never goes out of style!

Designed by Nan Walz

Designed by Nan Walz

Let’s talk about wood, there are many ways to utilize it, cabinetry, flooring, and countertops to name a few and even more ways to choose the right (and wrong!) type for your space. Danielle Calbeck, Designer at Jayne Bunce Interiors, in Danville, CA. warns against falling for the latest trends. Once out of style, they tend to leave homeowners with very permanent, very tacky wood overlays.

“I see a lot of homeowners struggling to make their once-trendy colored wood overlays work for them but it’s one of those trends that simply won’t last,” Calbeck says. The moral of the story? Stay weary of trends and avoid colored finishes. Stick to classic browns.

As a vacation rental manager, you know better than anyone that your space is likely to get a lot of wear and tear as usage increases so stick to durable materials. “Depending on who the audience is, kitchen and bathroom cabinetry and countertops can take a lot of beating,” Calbeck warns.

“Don’t invest in top of the top line cabinetry, but do choose something durable.” She recommends quartz for countertops (in bathrooms or kitchens) because it’s versatile and it lasts. “You can make it glossy, finish it with matte, or make it look like granite.”

Avoid stone and marble as they stain more easily and are generally harder to maintain. If your home is in a humid area or an area surrounded by water, marble is likely to make life difficult. Calbeck’s go-to is engineered hardwood, which is a thin layer of real wood on top of a durable man-made material.

“Laminate is also popular right now,” she says. “It’s so durable and looks exactly like wood.” If it’s a pet friendly house, or one near the beach or snow, laminate is your friend. Durable and beautiful.


Windows, shades and curtains matter!

Plant in Windowsill

Every designer we spoke with agrees that, when dressed correctly, windows and walls are the easiest way to make a guest feel connected to your space. With both it’s important to keep colors neutral.

For paint, whites and light grays are always safe. For windows, woven, roman and roller shades are your best friends.

“It’s important to have privacy shades,” says Walz who likes woven roman shades as an alternative to curtains. “Having those up instead of fabric curtains discourages guests from touching them and getting them dirty.”

However if you just love the look and feel of fabric curtains, Steele recommends avoiding printed or brightly colored curtains. Go with soft neutral tones. “And ALWAYS make sure your curtains are long enough to touch the floor. Less is more.”


Windows, shades and curtains matter!

“Accessories, throw pillows, vases on a bookshelf, lamps… get pieces that look nice. They go a long way,” says Walz. “HomeGoods is great for buying accessories. They bring in new inventory every week.”

She also recommends the Magnolia Home by Joanna Gaines line which can be found at Target and is reasonably priced for high-quality materials. Side note, if you have never been to Anthropologie, RedAwning and Nan Waltz recommend taking a stroll through during your next trip to the outlets.

Living Room Chair

Designed by Hayley Steele

Go Local

Help guests experience local flare.

Give your guests the local experience by pulling in local elements. Look for local artists in the area whose work you can accessorize the space with to really hone in on that sense of place. Calbeck likes to include antique framed maps of the area.

Keeping local goods stocked in the fridge (like honey or jams) as well as leaving local soaps or baked goods out to welcome guests is always a nice touch. Giving guests the chance to live the local lifestyle makes their stay experience as close to a luxury hotel experience as possible.


It can make or break a room!

Designed by Nan Walz

Designed by Nan Walz

Keep these two things in mind:

• Lighting sets the mood of the room.
• Bad light will destroy the room.

Designers like to call this a color temperature. Nan Walz, a genius at creating the perfect ambiance, suggests using lamps.

“You can find very reasonably priced lamps so don’t feel like you have to go overboard,” says Walz who is a fan of Parisian cashmere (neutral gray) lamps that she says go with everything.

You can also have a little bit of fun with light fixtures! Walz is a huge fan of choosing lamps or ceiling lights that double as statement pieces.

Everything you put into your vacation rental matters, be sure to think about how others will feel when they first see pictures online then experience the space in person. With the tips and tricks outlined above, you are sure to have a welcoming property!

Designers Interviewed:

Hayley Steele: East Kennedy, Los Gatos
Nan Waltz:,
Danielle Calbeck: Jayne Bunce Interiors, in Danville, CA.