How to furnish a vacation rental home like an interior designer

Vacasa’s interior designers share their tactics for selecting vacation home furniture


After designing eye-catching interiors for nearly 400 vacation homes, the members of our Vacasa interior design team sure have secrets to tell. They know which materials are the most durable. What surfaces housekeepers have the hardest time cleaning. Where to splurge and how to save.

But first, the obvious: design makes a difference. A massive difference. Design is the first thing that will catch a guest’s eye and what will keep them raving long after they check out. But design is so much more than pretty colors and patterns.

We sat down with Vacasa’s interior design experts Kimberly White, Head of Home Quality and Standards, and Nikki Kaestner, Senior Design Associate. Leading the Vacasa Interior Design Program, Kimberly and Nikki divulge their own design tactics to help vacation home owners create an experience worth booking.

Kimberly White and Nikki Kaestner

Every amazing design starts with intention

Resist the urge to jump right in and start picking colors and themes. When Kimberly works with Vacasa homeowners, she begins by first identifying their goals. Is this an investment property or your family’s vacation destination? How do you want the house to feel? “Bright and energizing? Exclusive and edgy?” asks Kimberly. “Starting first with how you want the experience to feel informs the rest of your design.”

Consider who your guests are and how they’ll move about in your home

When designing a Vacasa vacation rental, Kimberly puts together a guest persona based on the vacation home’s location. Who is the guest that wants to stay in Scottsdale versus the guest who travels to Pigeon Forge? Then, think about how your guests are going to use the space, rather than simply throwing things together, advises Nikki. For instance, living rooms need tables, not just places to sit. Plus, make sure you’re offering guests enough open outlets, or else they may start unplugging items to recharge their devices.

professionally designed Beaverton, OR vacation home by Vacasa Interior Design Team

DIY vacation rental design done right

Materials and manufacturing quality matter most

Think materials first, then find something that fits your budget, says Nikki. Solid wood is the Interior Design team’s go-to material for high-touch items, like dining room tables, coffee tables, and chairs. Metal pieces work as well. Even after finding a solid wood piece, it comes down to reading the details. Kimberly coaches homeowners to look for specific terms in item descriptions, such as “kiln-dried” and “hardwood frame.”

For pieces like sofas and armchairs, Kimberly and Nikki recommend high-performance fabric that’s easy to clean, like Sunbrella®. Because vacation rental furniture can go through plenty of wear, they advise to look at fabrics that have passed the Martindale Test, which tests a fabric’s durability. When shopping for Vacasa homeowners, Kimberly and Nikki both look for test scores of 60,000 or more. Another tip: Look for the commercial logo on items when shopping on Wayfair, which designates furniture that was crafted with heavy use in mind.

Just say no to matching furniture sets

Yes, it’s easiest to buy an entire matching set of beds, nightstands, and dressers and be done with it. But according to Kimberly and Nikki, that’s a huge design faux pas. Not only is that an outdated trend, it can make a home feel sterile and unoriginal. Real style is found in layering pieces. For this, think like a designer: “For each piece, first determine if it fits your design goals. Then, consider its color, scale, proportions, rhythm, and contrast,” says Kimberly. “This will help you avoid throwing together a random hodgepodge and creating visual chaos.”

Don’t forget to design for the other important people in your home... your housekeepers

Steer away from items that are hard (or impossible) to clean after each guest stay. This includes high-pile or shag rugs that are difficult to run vacuums through, or throw pillows and comforters that can’t be thrown in the washing machine. According to Kimberly, floors are what’s most important to housekeeping. Eliminate as many soft surfaces as you can (replace that wall-to-wall carpeting with a non-porous flat surface, if possible), as guests often won’t take off their shoes in the house, she says. Afterward, you can strategically place an area rug to bring warmth, adds Nikki.

professionally designed San Diego, CA vacation home with red accents

Avoid common vacation homeowner design mistakes

What do Kimberly and Nikki most often see homeowners do incorrectly? Purchasing matching bed sheet ensembles (a.k.a. bed-in-a-bag sets) and generic art. Plus, not paying attention to scale. “Be mindful of the sizes of art and rugs,” says Kimberly. “The scale can make a big difference in making your home feel whole and connected.”

Your outdoor space deserves as much design attention as your interiors

“Outdoor spaces are hugely important to attract guests and to elevate their experience,”, says Kimberly. Skip the inexpensive, plastic Adirondack chairs you see at local stores. Most often, those are made with a thin plastic that can easily fall apart. Instead, Kimberly and Nikki advise to look for outdoor furniture made with POLYWOOD® lumber, which is weather resistant and ultra-durable, and has long-lasting color.

Also, consider how guests will use your outdoor space. Guests will want to sunbathe by the pool, so purchase all-weather chaise lounges instead of stackable chairs. Also, don’t forget to add lighting and purchase storage for your seat cushions.

DIY assembly and installation can be more grueling than you think

It could take 3–4 hours just to assemble one piece, says Nikki. Plus, you’ll end up with much more packaging material and trash than you’ll know what to do with. It’s not uncommon to make several trips to the dump just to throw packaging away, she adds. “Even with a desire to DIY, think about what your time is worth.” If you want to put your design together quicker and more efficiently, hire professionals.

professionally designed home located on Hilton Head Island with blue accents and large plants

On a budget? Here’s how to make the most of your design investment

  • Prioritize your spending and start with whatever takes up the most surface area—the floors, then your walls. “If your carpet is decades old and your walls need a fresh coat of paint, it makes sense to start there,” Kimberly says.
  • Resist cheap online furniture. That $15 side table or $40 dinner table? Most of these pieces are made of faux wood or particle board that will likely need to be replaced after a few months or just one season. While real wood can be repaired, faux wood products can simply shatter or break even with minimal use. “I would rather you buy one quality side table than two $15 tables,” says Nikki.
  • Invest in high-touch items that guests will interact with the most, such as coffee tables and sleeper sofas. Then, spend less on items like a TV stand, which guests won’t touch often.
  • “If bigger updates aren’t a possibility, an easy way to elevate the space and win points with guests is with a crisp, clean, and well-staged bed,” Kimberly advises.
  • Understand that the more you invest upfront, the less you’ll have to invest over time, says Nikki. Spend more on solid pieces first. Then, make the space feel fresh and new by filling in the gaps with cost-effective touches, such as throw pillows.
modern Scottsdale, AZ vacation home by Vacasa Interior Design Team

DIY vacation rental interior design is a journey, so don’t rush it

“When designing vacation rentals, you’ll have to get pretty nerdy,” says Kimberly. No doubt, designing and styling a home can be fun. But there’s so much more to picking out pretty pieces. Nikki and Kimberly agree—90 percent of their time is spent on the nitty gritty. Keeping up with the latest technology of upholstery fabrics. Maintaining spreadsheets of vendors and shipping dates. Reading reviews of every item. And finally, the grueling work of furniture assembly and installation.

It’s not uncommon for DIY homeowners to take months to fill every room in their house with the necessary furniture and household items. Kimberly, Nikki, and their team have it down to a science. Once their designs are approved by the homeowner, all it takes is one button to purchase everything—from wine glasses to coffee mugs, mop to ironing board and iron. When DIY designing your vacation rental, the process could be much more tedious since you’ll spend a lot of time researching and examining each piece.

Be patient with the process. Decorating a vacation home on your own can be both fulfilling and frustrating. Hiring an interior designer can drastically reduce your design time and inefficiencies. They’ll obsess over the details for you, know which vendors have the best quality items, and know how to optimize your design budget.

Want to find more ways to design your vacation home for bigger profits? Check out our Vacasa Interior Design program.

professionally designed home located in Panama City Beach

Vacation home furniture FAQ

Where you buy furniture isn’t as important as what your furniture is made of. Avoid filling your vacation home with cheap furniture made of faux wood or particle board. Those pieces can break easily, are hard to fix, and are unlikely to last more than just a season. Your vacation rental is a business, so look for furniture that was built for heavy use. For instance, on Wayfair, look for the commercial logo, which shows furniture that was specifically designed for repeated use. For furniture like sofas and armchairs, look for those made with performance fabric, which are easier to clean and more durable.

This comes down to goals. Consider your intentions for your vacation home. Is it an investment, which you’ll rarely visit? Or, is it meant to be a second home where your family will vacation? Then, think about what ambiance you’d like. You’ll want to design a cozy cabin much differently than a modern, high-end haven. Vacasa vacation home owners can take advantage of the Vacasa Interior Design program and get custom design created specifically for vacation rentals and their guests.

From bedroom mirrors to coffee tables, cooking utensils to fluffy towels, stocking a vacation rental can be a tedious (and seemingly endless) task. Make the process easier by using our room-by-room checklists for your bedrooms, kitchen, bathroom, and living room. Or, download our ultimate vacation home inventory checklist so you’ll know exactly what to stock throughout your entire home.

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