Sadler House

Sadler House

Rockland, Maine

Decorating Your Vacation Rental: 5 Important Tips

September 2, 2015 | 5 Comments

Decorating their vacation rental is something most owners have done inDecorating A Vacation Rental - Sadler House their minds, even before they had houses to decorate. I know this from the many people who pin my posts to their boards entitled “Beach House” or “Lake House” or “My Future Vacation Rental.” Planning is a crucial part of the process, if only because it keeps you going when everyone around you tells you that you are nuts.

When the paint colors have been chosen and the house is nearly ready for occupants, it’s important to reevaluate your previous plans and make sure they fit the house you actually bought and the people who are actually going to be viewing your listing. It’s also important to consider tedious practical matters like maintenance.

Never fear! Decorating your vacation home will still be as much fun as you’d hoped. Just keep these five guidelines front and center for a home that will attract your guests as well as delighting you.

Be Clean and Uncluttered

Pinterest is jammed with fun projects you can hang on your wall or put next to your bed. Certainly, you can draw inspiration from a basic theme: nautical decor is a big one. I recommend you apply the “what is this for?” test. My rule is that every item in my rental home must serve a purpose or it leaves. How often have you sat on a broken-down couch in a rental home, looking warily around you at the dust-collecting tchotchkes on the side tables (shudder)?

You can infuse your home with a subtle theme without standing lobster traps and porcelain ships around your house. Hitting your guests over the head with a decorating sledgehammer not only alienates more sophisticated visitors, but it creates a nightmare maintenance situation that is challenging for even the most reliable cleaning service.

Guests expect a few books, games, and puzzles, but these should have a clear storage area. Resist the urge to walk around your primary residence, saying “I don’t want this anymore, so maybe I can send it to the vacation house?” I speak from experience: it is very tempting to avoid getting rid of beloved items by relegating them to your “other” house, but it is a big mistake. Guests don’t want your clutter. They are on vacation to escape their own clutter. Give them that clean, clutter-free environment and you will find that it is a respite for you, as well.

Be Anonymous

This sounds mysterious, but it’s actually the same rule realtors recommend applying when you are selling your house. Guests who are staying with you are often on their only family vacation of the year, and it is a time for them to reconnect. They want to reconnect in a space that feels like it’s theirs for just a week. Your personal photos or monogrammed pillows only serve to remind them that they are in someone else’s house. For guests to truly feel at ease, let your home be a blank canvas for their family time.

Be Practical

charging station

Charge here!

The truth is, even on vacation, many guests are still in need of practical solutions. Look around and figure out where they will charge their phones. Is there a place for them to set up their laptops for uploading photos or (sadly) making that work call? Staying in your own house is an experience you should remember, because whatever activity is inconveniencing you is likely to inconvenience your guests.

If outlets are not plentiful (say, in your antique house) consider installing a charging station in a clear place. Think about putting a power strip near your counter or dining table. Unless your home is purposely unplugged and remote, guests will want that ability to connect on occasion.

Additionally, consider items such as clothes hangers and dressers. Do you have luggage racks? If your guests don’t want to live out of a suitcase all week, these items will help them settle in and relax. Hooks on walls or the backs of doors can substitute when closet space is lacking.

Be Whimsical

DIY cloth hangers - Sadler HouseThis doesn’t have to be froufy. Small touches of wit or theme-related conveniences can make your home a memorable one. We try to subtly reflect the coastal, antique nature of our home in items such as our No-Smoking sign, our retro industrial coffee table, our vintage industrial stools and fun lettering on the walls in the kitchen, bathroom, and dining room. I really try to resist the urge to turn my house into a greeting card, but little, thoughtful touches have an amazing ability to make guests feel welcome. The comment I hear a lot is “We can really see how much you love your home, from all the little touches.” When your love for your home is apparent to your visitors, they are more likely to love it, too, and to forgive you for those inevitable small errors or mishaps that can occur in any vacation rental home, such as a leak under the sink or a burned out light bulb.

Decorating a vacation rental - Sadler House

On a personal note, the side benefit to putting whimsy in your vacation home is that you can make decorating choices that would be too trendy or funky for your primary residence. People on vacation are escaping their everyday lives for a week. The big sign in the kitchen that seems a little too wacky to look at 365 days a year is just perfect for a chuckle while parents are doing the dishes on vacation. Have some fun with your house and other people will, too.

Be Impermanent

A lesson I’ve learned in my ten years of owning my primary home is that there’s no point in obsessing too long about making “timeless” decorating choices. No matter what you choose, it’s definitely going to go out of style in about ten years. The really liberating truth of a vacation rental is that nothing in it should be your “forever” investment. As I mentioned in my post on choosing furnishings, every piece of furniture and every linen in your house must be placed there with the knowledge that someone may break or destroy it – however unintentionally. When you select those items you need for your vacation rental, choose a style you are loving now, that is popular with guests now. You are probably going to have to replace most of it within ten years, anyway!

Decorating Your Vacation Rental: Have Fun

In the end, DO YOU. I firmly believe that one of the qualities guests most appreciate in a vacation rental is a warm and inviting connection with the owner and a feeling that they are welcome in your home, which you have lavished with your care. If your space is bright, clean, and happy, you are on the road for vacation rental success…even if you decide to park a lobster trap in the living room.

Okay, really…don’t.

See our other posts about running a vacation home!

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5 people are talking about “Decorating Your Vacation Rental: 5 Important Tips

  1. I really loved this post and I’m guilty of all of the above lol. Ours is our holiday house and not for paying guests just friends and family. It is full of my creations I’ve made because my motto has been if it’s a bit iffy for our home it can go straight to our holiday house “Rosebery Ritz” and anything that clutters our home straight to the holiday house hahah. It’s so true that we can turn these places into an extension of our personalities and even our own full size dolls house. I’m so OTT that I need to be restrained a roll of pink glittered duct tape might do the trick hahah thank you for very well rounded post. regards Tammy

    • Tammy, I like you so much for this comment. Believe me – I have to constantly keep myself in check! I think “I don’t need all these books here in my house, but THEY COULD GO TO MAINE!” and then I ask myself if anyone would ever pick this book up on vacation (no) and admit that they will be dust-collectors. The same applies to so many things. In the end, if you’re not renting to others, it’s really your choice, right? Thanks so much for weighing in!

      • I guess the essence of what a holiday house means to each individual and to myself is why i can’t decorate it like our home it defeats the whole purpose of getting away from it lol. So resist resist making it a mini version of home lol Its that first ahhhh once you unlock the front door we have made our front entry give us a feeling of a big cuddle we are embraced and melt into the wool carpet lol which is completely different to where we live as soon as we are in front door we sigh and rush about and do things and stuff gets tossed on the floor lol to put away later, yeah right lol. Thats the magic of a Holiday house plain and simple your away from the daily grind of home life and all the things that clutter it up. We are here now lol im in our comfy bed with no clothes on the end of it like home lol enjoying the nothing ohhh what sweet bliss. Everyone needs to at least stay in a holiday home even if you can’t afford your own its 100% better experience then a hotel its more personal and you forget its not yours which instantly makes you relax. Enjoy your beautiful holiday away from home house lol regards Tammy

  2. Thank you so much for these valuable tips! I’m just seeing this post for the first time, as we are moving on to the decorating stage of our Charleston area vacation rental. We’re going with a clean, mostly white, beachy look and I’ve been googling for ideas. I decorated our mountain vacation home some years back, and though we don’t rent it out, I actually followed the principals you’ve described because they naturally appeal to me and when we’re there we want to feel ‘on vacation’. I really took my time with it though, having furnishings custom made, ordering local hand thrown pottery for kitchen/tableware, and carefully choosing each decor item I purchased to be certain it was a good fit and not just clutter. We ended up with the perfect mountain escape that we love and where feel we truly get away from everyday life. It’s funny because in our case it’s always my husband who looks at my goodwill donation pile and says, ‘can’t you use any of this at the cabin?’-lol. The Charleston rental is my answer to my husband not letting me have a bed-and-breakfast. He says I’ll just lose money because I’ll spend all my time and profits chatting to guests, perfecting decor, and buying antiques for it. He’s probably right, but still… Now I’m nervous about the Charleston house because it’s a rental and I won’t have time to choose decor gradually. Normally I’d have started planning much sooner but the pandemic got in the way of being able to go shopping and leisurely browse through antique malls. I’m hopeful it will go well. I suppose I’ll err on the side of minimalism at first, then add special and unique pieces as I find them. If you have any tips as to how you welcome your renters (snack baskets, beverages, flowers, etc…) I would love if you could share that with me. Thank you again!

    • Nancy,
      I think you really have to take into consideration what is possible for you, depending on your local regulations (can you leave food?) your insurance policy (is leaving alcohol a problem?) and your proximity to the rental and private storage space. Personally, I do like to leave guests a handwritten card and something special. I think it is a great welcome.

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