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  • Writer's pictureJulie Fergus

Advice for Newbies - Design

Updated: Jul 12, 2021

Good design is important for all businesses in some form; the vacation rental requires good design. As a professional home designer and successful rental owner I can speak to this with expertise.


Let me start with design mistakes I see from online listings and expand upon that.

  • Lack of bedside tables and lamps. I acknowledge that not many people need reading lights in bed. The lamps are more of a convenience for getting in and out of bed in a new place, and provide a decorative element. Tables (or a wall mounted shelf) are needed for phones, water, tissues, etc. Make it easy for your guests. Provide an ample surface next each side of the bed where a person will sleep. Supply a power source there as well because people can not live without their phones, and they will move furniture around to get to a receptacle. Also, many people have the CPAPs and need a place to place and plug them in.

  • Cookie cutter décor. Trendy décor is the not advisable because there is not much differentiation when your décor looks like many others in the marketplace. This applies for all levels of properties. When a property catches your eye as you scroll through it is usually because it is different in some way. Come up with a unique element or color and use it to make a statement that will be memorable. Don't rely only on what is available on the internet and big box retailers for furnishings. I have had very good luck with Craigslist and consignment / second-hand shops.

  • Non existent décor. Properties with no décor will not grab a travelers attention. What I mean by no décor is that there appears to be no thought at all given to the furnishings, bedding, or decorative elements. Your rental needs decoration to make it inviting and comfortable.

  • Awkward seating arrangements. This is an area to not go too far outside of the box. Keep the layout simple. Keep seating pieces close together yet allow for movement to and from the seating. Avoid pieces that are too big for the space in small rooms, and avoid small pieces in large rooms.

  • Bad lighting. Do not rely on ceiling mounted light fixtures to illuminate rooms; they do not offer ambience. Most often vacationers and travelers want to relax when at your rental. Provide many lighting options and lighting from soft to bright.

  • Sterile atmosphere. There is a balance of keeping décor simple and interesting and inviting. Having no decorative elements makes for a boring. sterile, and cold atmosphere. It is recommended to not include personal photos, it is nice to have photos. I like to include dog photos in my pet-friendly rental. If your rental is in a beach location, include beach scene photos; if in a rural country setting, perhaps shots of local farms, barns, or town images.

  • Bad use of color. Color can enhance a space greatly, but when not used "correctly" it can be dreadful. When in doubt, use less color on walls and put the color into the furnishings.


Let's look at photo examples to convey the principles. Notice that lamps are in every example. Lamps are for lighting and to be decorative elements. Don't skimp on lamps.

This room has sloped ceiling and and multiple windows. While it is not ideal to partially cover a window, this layout was the best for the flow of the room. An antique bed-frame make for something different and not cookie-cutter. Chests double as night tables. A side chair provides a place to sit to put on socks (or pile clothes). Tip: if you have dormers, or sloped ceilings, paint the slope the wall color.



For tight spaces on either side of a bed, use wall mounted swing-arm lamps and small tables. A wall mounted lamp keeps the small table top free for water and cell phones.



This is not cookie-cutter décor. Once a color scheme is developed use that to coordinate fabrics and patterns. Mix different sized of pattern to make them work well together. Add unique elements like the lamps and vintage orange chair.



This family room is long and narrow. The sectional provides for a cozy anchor on one end, the red club chairs provide a place for a person to sit and read or to be moved forward as needed to engage with the Tv or the people on the sectional. Notice the large rug that accommodates all of the pieces; it ties them all together. As for color, notice the ceiling. The color being on the ceiling is a visual accent without overtaking the space.



Not every space needs to be light and bright. The walls and floors in this example are dark vintage wood. And that is what makes the space unique. Adding in a few lighter furniture piece will add contrast. Rockers are a great because they are lightweight making them easy to move around, and usually unique. Not many living rooms have rockers.



The porch has a colorful punch. Porches are an opportunity to be a bit more bold. This will make an eye catching thumbnail photo for a rental listing. What can you do that will be a bold eye catching element that would stand-out against other rentals in your area?


The key take-aways are: use splashes of color, incorporate unique elements and / or vintage finds contrast new furnishings, provide multiple lamps in each room or space, mix different scales of patterns, and group seating closer together with one or two pieces away as an accent.


These are a few examples of design principles. I hope it gives you a bit of inspiration and direction. Best of luck with your rental design and décor.




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