Sadler House

Sadler House

Rockland, Maine

Choosing Vacation Rental Furnishings: 5 Tips

April 20, 2015 | 19 Comments

All vacation home owners have been dreaming of their homes or apartments since long before they got the keys. If you are one of those people, chances are, whatever place you are able to afford will not be guest-ready the day you close on it. More likely than not, you will have a limited budget to work with, and dreams that are bigger than your resources.

Choosing Vacation Rental FurnishingsAs you start preparing your house for renters, you’re also at the beginning of an unavoidable battle between lavishing all your love and too much money on your new home and being realistic about the parade of guests you’re hoping to bring through your place. As the new love of your life, your vacation home will become a pet project that you have to keep under control. Always remember, with the many guests you’re hoping to host, it will not be the best place for you to put your “forever” furnishings and treasures…just yet.

Don’t despair! Choosing vacation rental furnishings and the foundation colors of your home can be fun, satisfying and practical. Although every home and situation is different, as a recent veteran of this war between wishes and needs, I want to share a few lessons I’ve learned, to help you get through this important time in planning the basic foundation for your vacation rental success.

Choose a Neutral Backdrop.

Sweet dreams under the eaves...

Sweet (whitewashed) dreams under the eaves…

The odds are, you’re going to need to paint…something…everything. I love color, but my advice is that whatever you paint should be white or neutral. A few great reasons:

  • Using one color throughout your home may actually cost you less money.
  • White or neutral walls make your home bright and they don’t alienate any particular group of potential guests.
  • White or neutral walls provide a blank canvas (year after year) for your choice of furnishings. If all you can afford is the funky-colored clearance couch, you will be thanking yourself for the white or neutral walls! Painting your walls a neutral color doesn’t mean your house will be boring. Let your furnishings bring the color.
  • Touch-ups will be a breeze. When the roof leaks or a child drags a marker across the wall, you can get out that same can of paint every time, not worrying about buying another gallon of a special color that may be hard to track down.

Be Smart about Sleeping Arrangements.

Bunk Room

Bunk Room

How often have you been excited about renting a vacation home for your family or a group of friends, only to find that the beds in the rooms provide the wrong sleeping arrangements? You can’t possibly please everyone, but you should make sure that your sleeping arrangements provide a variety of options that make maximum use of your available space. For example, our 3-bedroom home might have been set up with two queen beds and a double or a twin. Instead, we chose to use the second-largest room as a bunk room, and we made sure the bunks we purchased were sturdy enough for adults to sleep in. As a result, our home can now comfortably sleep a maximum of 8 people in three separate rooms. If you’d like to read more tips on creating the perfect bunk room, be sure to check out my dedicated post with my 5 biggest tips!

It’s actually pretty rare that we are truly hosting 8 people, but having that flexible configuration creates a large range of sleeping options for groups of 5 to 8 people. We still get parties of just 2 people sometimes in the off season, so we’ve learned that you cast your net pretty wide when you are creative with your sleeping spaces!

Also, remember that if a bed is uncomfortable for you to sleep on, it’s probably uncomfortable for other people. You want guests to mention the comfort of your beds in their reviews, and you want your own bed to be comfy when you’re sleeping in it, yourself! My advice is to spend that little extra to get beds you’ll want to keep…and then put really good waterproof pads on them to protect them for years to come.

Plan for Living Room. Literally.

Sadler House Vacation Rental Living Room

Living Room (folding chairs available to the side)

Think about the maximum number of people your house sleeps. Could they all sit down (not on the beds, smart aleck) at the same time? Can you imagine all your guests happily engaged in activities in the house at the same time? Can they all eat at your dining table together? Make sure your house is set up for living and not just for sleeping.

Our dining table seats a maximum of 10 people. If guests are lounging, five of them can sit in the living room while three others are watching TV or playing Wii in the sun room. Our dining room also doubles as an office during the day, where multiple people can flip open their laptops and use the WiFi for those inconvenient vacation work calls. Whatever plan your house has, make it work for the size of group you plan to accommodate.

Above all, be realistic. It’s no good cramming a bunch of beds into a house that is too small for all those people to hang out on a rainy day. Guests will not thank you for that. In fact, they are likely to “not thank you” on your reviews on the internet.

Prioritize Durability.

Nobody loves your house like you do. No…really…nobody loves your house like you do. No matter how nice your guests are, some of them are going to make choices in your vacation rental you would not have made, such as tracking mud into the house, putting wet water glasses on  your coffee table, and setting hot dishes on your dining table. You can’t prevent all of these choices, but you can be prepared.

Dining Room (seats 10)

Dining Room Table with Sturdy Benches

When you choose a finish for a table, consider how easy it will be to buff out rings and fix scratches. For example, (and I am in no way affiliated with Rustoleum) we made a nearly indestructible farm house table and sealed it with Bulls Eye Shellac. Bulls Eye does show rings when hot items are placed on it, but those rings easily blow out with a hairdryer and are covered with a fresh coat of shellac.

I read a lot of forum posts and articles from vacation rental owners who lamented that their dining chairs were constantly being broken. With that in mind, we made long benches for our farm house dining table. They’ve worked like a charm and we’ve had nothing to replace.

What about carpets? Make them a color that doesn’t show every trace of dirt tracked in. If you are facing a choice between carpeting and hardwood or tile, the latter two will be easier to clean after each group of guests. One benefit of not having any carpets is that your home can be more allergen-free, as well. Some guests with severe allergies may actually choose your carpet-free home for that reason. Not everyone can or should dispense with their carpets, of course! However, if you’re changing flooring, normal wear-and-tear should be one of your considerations.

Replace Yucky Old Appliances


Now the handle doesn’t fall off the stove!

You know what I mean. You move into a house and the fridge is functional, but it creeps you out, right? Your dishwasher is still working…sort of. However, the bottom rack always goes off the rails and it smells funny no matter what you do. If you are noticing these things about your appliances, the guests will notice, too, and it may bother them. Also keep in mind that if your appliance is on its last leg at the moment, it may well break during your rental season. If you are booked full with same-day guest turnovers or you live remotely, that is a situation that could give you a few gray hairs and end up costing you a fortune.

You know your budget best, but my advice is to replace older appliances as you can afford to do so, in the order of need. Many new Energy Star models are available at reasonable prices that will also help you save on utilities. The bonus is that you can talk about your new appliances in your listing! What visitor doesn’t like that? Remember that you don’t have to get stainless steel or top-of-the-line. A basic appliance that is clean and functional will probably meet your needs for many years and keep guests perfectly happy.

There’s so much to discuss in the realm of vacation home decorating, so check out my next post on the finer and more exciting points of decorating your vacation home!

Are you a vacation rental owner? What tips would you share about planning vacation rental furnishings? Leave us a comment!

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19 people are talking about “Choosing Vacation Rental Furnishings: 5 Tips

    • Tracy, for all the reasons I explain in the post about creating a bunk room, we ended up buying an Atlantic brand bunk bed. The beds cost me twice what I’d originally budgeted, but we’ve had them in use now for two years (both kids and adults) and they are rock solid and still look great. The same beds can cost quite varying amounts across shopping outlets, but we eventually got the best selection and price by using Good luck!

  1. I think it is really clever to use a bench instead of chairs. It makes sense to me that a bench would be more sturdy than a chair. It also would make them hard to move around because they are bigger. As an added bonus, you aren’t giving up any seating space using a bench. You might even be improving it!

  2. My family is a thinking about getting a vacation cottage in the mountains. So, I like that you talked about how it would be smart to replace some things like appliances. After all, it would be smart to make a vacation home more comfortable.

    • Ivy, we have not regretted replacing our appliances. We’ve now been renting for three years, and it removes a lot of stress not worrying that your old appliance will give up the ghost when you’re not there and a guest is in the house! Good luck with your project.

  3. I think one of my biggest complaints on my rentals are that there isn’t enough lighting or that the night light outside comes through the window and keeps them awake.. So I suggest blackout curtains, ceiling fans with lights, and lamps.. Though they will manage to break the on/off twist knob on the lamps..

  4. Thank you for all the good advice. I had not considered benches at the table, but it will work very well with my rustic plans.

  5. We have a rental at the Beach. In the beginning, we bought luxurious Hotel grade towels and sheets. We wanted only the best for our guest so they would become repeat guest. Linens have easily become our biggest annual expense. It took us 5 years to finally go with linens from Target and Walmart! Trust me, if you are new to Vacation rental, don’t buy expensive linens. They won’t last

    • Good to know! This is our first year running a beach side rental, I haven’t purchased towels yet but I’ll check out Costco too. We have red sand beaches which are hard on light coloured towels and I have noticed that in many cottages we rented in the past it was always posted for guests to bring their own beach towels. I think that might be difficult for folks flying in so will look at dark inexpensive towels. This whole article was extremely helpful!

      • I’m so glad it was helpful! One piece of advice I have about towels is to favor the lighter weight ones that dry more quickly. If you have a laundry service charging you by weight, you don’t want really heavy towels getting piled on that laundry bill, and it’s especially deadly if they’re still damp when they go in. It’s also better for everyone if all those beach towels are quick-drying. Make sure you offer a drying rack or a line for those so they don’t end up on your chairs and other furniture.

    • What’s interesting, too, is that I’ve learned expensive sheets aren’t always the softest! We are big fans of the Target performance sheets and they have worn so well.

  6. what are your thoughts on king versus queen beds? One of our bedrooms has room for a king, barely, but we put a queen in there Mistake?

    • Beth,
      This can only be a matter of opinion. We could have fit a king in our bedroom, but (as you say) it felt crowded and we chose to go with a queen. I imagine there are people who have passed on renting our home because they had to have a king size bed, but we have never heard a complaint and have had a busy rental calendar, so the queen was fine for us!

  7. My husband and I are getting ready to become VRBO’s . Can anyone give us advice on what mattresses to buy? We don’t want to over spend but we want to have comfy beds!

    • Pennie – we have had great luck with Stearns and Foster, but I think there are lots of great brands. Since I authored this article, I’ve had lots of friends order their mattresses online and have them arrive in boxes. Some loved them and some didn’t. If you are able to actually go to the mattress store and try them, I (personally) think that’s ideal. Remember that you will have a lot of buying power if you come to buy multiple mattresses and make that clear. Stick to your guns and be willing to walk away if they don’t give you the price you want. We found that the price came down quite a lot when six mattress sales almost walked out the door!

  8. What would you recommend for couch material? Sun screen, wet bathing suites and the like have driven some to sunbrella fabric. What is a contemporary manufacturer that can accommodate sumbrella fabric?

    • Ana, sorry to take so long responding! Our couch is a nice soft material (possibly velveteen?) in the living room and we’ve had no problems with it. We do wet vac it during our visits about twice a year. I feel like a sunbrella fabric would really compromise comfort when people are relaxing around the house. Perhaps a slipcover instead?

  9. Just beginning the VRBO journey. All of this is awesome advice. I was pleased to read that I had thought about most of these scenarios, and I will take on the new advice for sure. I purchased a huge beautiful , solid wood dining table and chairs, seats 8, at a local thrift store for $200.00! It will be my feature in the home for nice family dinners. I did not spend tooo much money, except for new mattresses. I feel that is very important, too! Most purchases were thrift, yard sales, and hand-me-downs. I kept my decor pallet neutral, with nice rugs underfoot for cold mountain mornings. I have also made my porch and yard vacation friendly, being sure to lock up important items in my shed. Do not be flippant about your belongings. Decide to remove anything sentimental from the property. I am excited to get my VRBO running here soon. Thanks for all the advice…wish me luck!

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