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When my husband James and I first started designing our modern vacation home in Bailey, just an hour from our house in Wheat Ridge, we knew it needed to provide two things: enough durability to withstand our toddler, our dog, and all the guests we hoped would rent it from us on Airbnb; and enough of a cool factor to make it our go-to getaway for years to come.
We spent months agonizing over everything from the sofas to the bed linens and drove each other batty with our divergent opinions (a series of impasses I wrote about for the Wall Street Journal). But all the headaches of shopping and schlepping were worth it. Since we started renting it out in November 2022, our design choices have held up in all seasons and we’ve had amazing guests visit from all over the country. Here, the top five design lessons we learned while outfitting our short-term rental and family getaway.
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We did one thing people who live in the mountains full-time would probably (wisely) tell us not to do: We selected furniture in sumptuous fabrics, including a white boucle sofa and cinnamon-hued velvet chairs from Room & Board, saddle-brown leather chairs from Soho Home, and equally pristine leather stools from Denver Modern. But we also took one important step, enlisting Fiber-Seal, a company that will come to your house and spray a waterproof protectant on your furniture and fabric surfaces. (I have not yet had the guts to intentionally test their wizardry, but I was very happy with the experience and the fact that it dried mere hours after application.) My husband also applied a protectant to the leather furniture, and so far, spills and splotches aren’t noticeable.
Invest in the pieces your guests will actually touch.
During my time as an editor for luxury travel magazine Travel + Leisure, I learned the key to a great guest experience is making them feel pampered. So we splurged on the items that guests have a lot of tactile time with, from the cloud-like mattresses to the 680-thread-count bed linens. We saved on tabletop decor, scouring local antique shops for Colorado-inspired finds—like the hand-carved wooden coyote sculpture that graces a side table and cost just a few dollars. And the art that hangs nearly 20 feet high and practically out of sight? My husband painted that in our garage. From far away, it looks Denver Art Museum–worthy.
Speaking of, you don’t need to spend much on art. Really.
When the surrounding views are as picturesque as those you’ll find in the Rocky Mountains (ours span from Bandit Peak to Rosalie Peak and beyond), guests’ eyes will be more drawn out the windows than toward the paintings and photos you so carefully curated. Instead of splurging on high-end art, we opted for affordable pieces that echoed the mountains but didn’t exactly mirror them, including a sleek photo print of 1960s Vogue supermodels on the slopes of Switzerland and a large-format photograph of the ski lift in Big Sky. And to add interest in areas where the architecture was lacking, we adorned the walls with graphic-print wallpaper found on Etsy.
Make it fun.
Rainy days happen, even in sunny Colorado, so it’s important to stock your place with ways to keep guests happy and entertained. On the ground floor, which previous homeowners used as a gym, we completed with a Ms. Pac-Man video game, foosball, a stockpile of board games, and a library of fun beach (mountain?) reads. Just be sure to place anything that could track as clutter on a bookshelf or tucked in a cubby for a more streamlined look. And for an extra dose of serotonin, we added a neon sign to the office space.
Provide a sense of place.
Nobody wants to show up at an Airbnb in Breckenridge and feel like they could be in Des Moines. So it’s important to infuse your getaway with local influence without slipping into tired design tropes. At our house, that meant skipping the antler chandeliers and opting for a cabin-themed trundle bed for the kids’ room and a custom-made Bailey flag for the family room. One of my favorite ways we added a sense of locale was by tearing pages from a 1950s Colorado guidebook and hanging them in a grid of six shadowbox frames.