Six steps to furnishing the perfect vacation rental

For our vacation in Lincoln City, Oregon, our family of 25 booked this three-level rental, an easy walk from the beach with a quintessential nautical exterior. But inside? Not so sweet. From damp carpets to a million pancake-flat throw pillows to a stinky hot tub we suspect made the kids sick, let’s just say this rental home was tidy, not clean.

But it had a lot of potential, and after our four-day stay, the ladies in my family concluded that just a few tweaks would elevate this property in a jiffy. Here are our tips for anyone with a rental property or planning to have one, courtesy of a real-life customer:

1. Less is more—like, way more.

Interesting combination of pillow patterns, am I right?

When you stay in a rental, you likely aren’t booking it because you’re interested in the cheap prints on the walls or because the curtains look cute. Style is subjective, and it’s impossible to select décor that will resonate with everyone. So don’t try.

Instead, choose a fresh, clean color for the walls. Leave them art free or select simple, large-format pieces for a handful of carefully selected spots (like above the fireplace or above beds). Do not waste your money on faux flower arrangements that collect dust. Do not buy every thrift-store picture depicting a seashell or every sign that says, “Relax.” We already know why we’re on vacation. Keep it simple, silly.

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The same goes for bedroom furniture. Instead of worrying about big, bulky dressers in every bedroom (do people put their clothes in those drawers anyway?), go with a row of 10 hooks on the wall. These are perfect for hanging towels, wet swimsuits, purses, hats, camera bags, bras, and more.

2. Choose clean colors for linens.

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The easiest way to furnish a vacation home would be with a bevy of white towels and cotton sheets—fabrics that could be bleached all together all the time. Again, no single pattern or color is going to resonate with all your guests, but white always says the same thing: clean. And that’s what people want when they stay in a stranger’s home.

3. Keep window treatments stupidly simple.

Those fabric-swag “curtains” are stuck to the wall.

Do not hang valances over windows (again, dust magnet). And who wants heavy drapes that brush the dirty floors and produce a whole rabbit hutch worth of dust bunnies? Vacations are meant to be light and bright, so window treatments should follow suit.

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If you can bypass treatments altogether, like in common areas and kitchens, do it. In personal spaces like beds and baths, choose simple roman shades or blinds that are easy to dust and difficult to break.

4. If you’re going to keep one room clean, make it the kitchen.

Our rental had enough dishes to serve a meal to the entire House of Representatives, but all of them were dirty, some were chipped, and the drawers and cabinet doors could barely close because all this broken, subpar dishware could not be contained.

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A few sets of white dishes would be better—not necessarily expensive ones, but sets that could easily be replaced. If you have a dishwasher in the kitchen, you only need one dinner plate per guest, so if your place sleeps eight, make sure you’ve got eight.

And just because glasses and cups are a dime a dozen at thrift stores does not mean you should scoop up every last one. Instead, choose one style of clear glasses from a store like IKEA and stock up. This way, your cabinets will appear cleaner and your dishes will not dissuade guests from eating on them. We washed every dish we used before we used it. No one’s got time for that on vacation.

5. Get rid of carpet.

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No matter where your rental is located, you’re going to have guests tracking in who-knows-what and no way to require shoes be left at the door. Do yourself a favor and go with a hard-wearing flooring like engineered hardwood or luxury vinyl tile. No, I would not put LVT in my home, but this indestructible stuff is ideal for rentals. No dings, no maintenance, no staining—it’s a no-brainer.

6. Lastly, forego the strong air fresheners.

The rooms at the beach house were ornamented with Air-Wick inserts stuck to the walls, and every room bore a different scent. If your place requires that much artificial freshening, it isn’t clean. So hire a good housekeeper or do the work yourself. And clean with a product that smells fresh—lemon is always a good option, and Mrs. Meyer’s Lemon Verbena is a crowd pleaser. One more thing: No more scented garbage bags.

In a nutshell, the simpler the furnishings, the better the stay. The cleaner the property, the more likely visitors will want to return. And everyone wants great guests to come back for more, especially if they’re willing to pay good money to do it. •

5 thoughts

  1. Perfect. We don’t rent out our cabin, but I have used these same ideas. It’s a place to getaway, relax, and have fun, not another place to work and stress about.

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  2. We’ve had the full spectrum of vacation rentals – ones that look like they were furnished by yard sales, and others that look straight out of a Pottery Barn catalog. I agree that a little design thought makes a big difference! The Oregon Coast is our happy place, and we’ve had great luck through Oregon Coast Vacation Rentals (they manage Bella Beach and Olivia Beach). Though I’m not sure they have any properties that sleep 25, they’re definitely worth a look!

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