022: Designing Your Vacation Rental for Maximum Bookings or The 80/20 Rule | Mercedes Brennan | 1 Chic Retreat

I absolutely loved meeting Mercedes and having her share her knowledge around the design of vacation rentals | holiday let homes. In the show, Mercedes shares powerful information on what can make or break a vacation rental and she’s broken it down into an absolutely fantastic blog post which you can read below that shares her expertise.

As vacation home and Airbnb interior designers, we are frequently asked by clients which furnishings have the biggest impact on bookings. In other words, what ‘minimum effective dosage’ will give you maximum bookings?

It’s a great question because most people don’t have the immediate budget to implement all the décor strategies we employ in our practice, preferring to make design changes slowly over time. So it makes sense to start with the décor that has the most powerful influence on attracting new and repeat guests and easily getting 5-star reviews.

Some vacation properties look absolutely perfect, like the Cormorant Way Residence in South Africa; investigate further and you’ll see they are following the 80/20 Rule to a tee.

And this is where the 80/20 Rule, otherwise known as Pareto’s Law, needs to be considered.

If you’re not familiar with the term, Dr. Joseph Juran, Quality Control pioneer, coined it in the 1940s. Juran recognized a universal principle he called the “vital few and trivial many,” which observes that in any given endeavor, 80% of your gains will be had from 20% of your efforts. Referring to the 1906 work of Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who used the 80/20 ratio when he observed that 20% of his country’s population owned 80% of the wealth, Juran coined the 80/20 observation “Pareto’s Principle or Law,” and the term has been with us ever since.

The 80/20 distribution is said to occur in several different aspects of business. For example, 80% of a company’s profits come from 20% of its customers, 80% of its sales come from 20% of its products, or even that 80% of customer complaints come from 20% of its customers. And so on.

It follows then that applying the Pareto Principle to designing your Airbnb or vacation rental would be vitally important. After all, if you could identify the “vital few” elements – the 20 percent that have the most impact on bookings and 5-star reviews – from the “useful many,” or the other 80 percent, you would know where to concentrate your efforts.

After reading thousands of short-term rental reviews (we consider this a vital component of our work), we’ve come to the conclusion that the vital 20% all revolve around the nurturing of four basic human desires, which are

1. Eating

 2. Sleeping

3. Romance

4. Connecting with loved ones

The most successful vacation homes are designed to deeply nurture each of these desires. Let’s take a look at each category and see how best to address them in more detail:


Everybody loves a good meal. Especially with friends and family with whome to enjoy it.

The ability to not only cook on vacation, but cook well, with a nicely stocked kitchen, is one of the top reasons people cite for renting a vacation home, so doesn’t it make sense that providing a well-equipped kitchen with good quality cookware is a sound decision?

Spanish Hills kitchen. Design by 1 Chic Retreat

Guests spend a lot of time in your vacation rental kitchen – from browning meats in a sauté pan, to rolling out biscuit dough, to making cocktails. They will consistently notice when equipment is top notch and appreciate it. Equipment and tools need not be over the top expensive, but high quality is imperative.

Looking to equip your short-term rental kitchen for gushing 5 star reviews? With over 500 hours of intensive research into what kinds of kitchen items guests deem critical while staying in short-term rentals, from barbecuing to baking, we’ve got the best product recommendations, with the best prices, in all categories, with convenient links to online vendors. Staging tips are included to increase your bookings, as well as organizational suggestions for easier inventory control and improved guest experience. BUY IT HERE.

Eating follows cooking so make sure your dining area is especially beckoning. Tables should be ample and made of wood (people don’t like glass topped dining tables because they feel cold to the touch), chairs supremely comfortable, and dishes beautiful to touch and look at. A vase of flowers or green cuttings is a powerful touch.

The dining room of Grogkill Cabin in Woodstock, NY welcomes guests with a large farm table with sheepskin-clad benches on each side.

You should design your dining area so guests are tempted to stay and chat at the table well after the food has been eaten.

When people experience pleasure while dining, they remember the setting especially well and will be more likely to book again.


Deep sleep is a gift.

Deep sleep is an even bigger gift while on vacation.

So design your sleeping areas for it. Your goal should be to receive 5-star reviews wherein guests are specifically thanking you for “some of the best sleep” they’ve ever had, or for a “supremely comfortable bed.” If you are not getting these kinds of compliments, you need to redouble your efforts in the bedrooms.

Just like in the best hotels, white sheets are the gold standard in short-term rentals. They look especially delightful when juxtaposed against patterned pillows. Design by 1 Chic Retreat.

Make sure your mattresses are heavenly. Again, you don’t have to spend a fortune to get a good mattress; however, this is not an amenity for which to go bargain shopping. Sagging, either too hard or too soft surfaces, or ridging in the middle are a guarantee of unhappy guests.

Your goal should be that your guests actually comment on how comfortable the mattress is in reviews.

Our Dream Craft Natural Duality Pillow Top is a collaboration between 1 Chic Retreat and Custom Comfort, a US made, family owned business. Our double-sided mattress features  one side built as a pillow top and the other side built as a plush top, for maximum variability. Fabric covering is 100% eco-friendly cotton ticking. Made in the USA. 1 Chic Retreat Marketplace

Bed linens should be equally heavenly. We suggest white sheets with a reasonably high thread count, such as 300 or higher. Make sure to provide enough blankets to keep your guests warm and each person should have two pillows.

1 Chic Retreat White Sheets and washable Pillows in our Marketplace.

Also, a dark bedroom is imperative for deep sleep, so make sure your curtains are ample enough to cover all windows and are blackout, especially favored by the want-to-sleep-until-noon crowd.

The NO. 38 RESIDENCE in the Cotswolds provides blackout curtains in all the bedrooms ensuring guests that they can indeed sleep until noon if they so choose. Kid and Co


Ok, now for the good part: the romance.

The truth is people like to have sex in your vacation home. Often in fact.

Statistically, people have more sex on vacation than in their normal, everyday lives. So plan for it. Make sure your bedrooms are romantic.

How do you go about doing that?

Well, aside from the heavenly mattress and bed linens, the bedrooms need some special touches such as a headboard, two side tables, soft lighting, a rug under or beside the bed, and a touch of red- a throw, small pillow, some artwork – thrown in. For a more in-depth tutorial, click here.

Staging a Vacation Rental Bedroom

Maison la Vallette, a Malta vacation rental, was designed specifically with intimacy in mind.

After you design your bedrooms for great sleep and romance, make sure to include lots of photos of the finished rooms so you entice potential guests into dreaming of what’s to come.

Romantic bedroom are bookings magnets. Design by 1 Chic Retreat

And watch the uptick in your 5-star reviews too.


Did you know that happiness studies confirm that the happiest people are those who spend time with loved ones, both family and friends? Read this reality check from 90-year olds on the importance of connecting with family and friends.

Did you also know that spending time with loved ones is one of the top reasons people book Airbnbs and vacation homes?

So that means you, as a short-term rental owner, are in the happiness business.

Profound, isn’t it?

Designing your vacation rental so guests can relax and spend good times together will powerfully impact your bookings. Especially if you include shots like this one below:

Living room staging in vacation rentals

The living room in Harbor Cottage was designed for gatherings. Notice the long sofa in front of the fireplace with the two armchairs facing the sofa? The layout is perfect for chatting and hanging out together.

Furniture that allows people to lie down and rest their heads against a comfortable support, like pillows and furniture arms, allows for deep relaxation. Moreover, furniture arranged so that guests can be near enough to comfortably speak with one another is key. Either U or L-shaped or circle seating arrangements are our favorite for getting people to connect with one another.

An L-shaped sitting and sleeping arrangement – in this case we put two twin beds together in a sleeping cove off the living room – is a natural gathering place. Idaho Vacation Cottage, Design by 1 Chic Retreat

Include activities that bring people together, such as traditional board games like backgammon.

The Nelson Street Residence features games in their short-term rental. Key is the didn’t forget to stage the photo for it.

Or books that encourage interaction,

Mind Games is one of our favorites to put on living room coffee tables. Guests love it.


Now that we’ve identified the four areas of your short-term rental – the 20% – that most powerfully influence new and repeat bookings – the 80% – it’s time to get to work and implement some changes.

Keep in mind though that the goal is to make 100% of your short-term rental amazing. Doing so will give you mind-blowing bookings.

Ultimately you want to spend 80% of your time on the 20% of the efforts, which get you 80% of your bookings. Then, spend 20% of your time on the 80% of the efforts, which get you 20% of your results. That’s how you get to 100%, or at least as close to 100% as is humanly possible.

The last question I’d like to ask is, what 20% of your efforts have yielded 80% of your guests’ satisfaction? We’d love to know.

This article is an update on an older post. 

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