Some thoughts on airbnb

The popularity of airbnb should surprise no one. The last fifty years have seen conventionality thrown to the wind: the women’s movement, homeschooling, the internet. There has to be another way — this era seems to shout from the rooftops — to do the same basic things humans have always needed to do: get along fairly, educate children, connect easily with others or get information …and of course, find a safe, welcoming, affordable place to sleep overnight. We all need to sleep. Every night. Somewhere.

Whether to family, friends, or friends of friends, I always loved being a host. I can honestly say I have changed the sheets in a guest bedroom uncountable times. My job as the director of quality and communication at a Forbes five-star resort has given my passion for hospitality room to fly on a daily basis. But it wasn’t until I posted my little cottage on airbnb and began having frequent guests that I saw some universal truths playing out before my eyes, and now I want to share some of them. For example:

  • People hate surprises — they want to know what they are getting into, so a photo of   the very unusual stairs in my cottage is displayed prominently.
  • People love surprises — they want a little mystery, so I do not post a picture of the view from the wall of windows. I would rather they walk in and say, “Wow, we weren’t expecting that!”
  • One size does not fit all, thus the endless variety of options available to overnight travelers. And thanks to vrbo and airbnb for making these options readily available.
  • Small acts of kindness go a long way…
  • You never know what’s around the next bend…

The engaging, heartening and amusing stories behind these truths and some more will shed one host’s perspective on this relatively new and somewhat controversial enterprise, and further and strengthen the conversations taking place. 

First I want to give a little background about my cottage, then talk about what I have learned from it.

How the Charming Cottage on Golden Hill Came to Be

In the spring of 2011, I purchased ten wooded acres in the lovely town in Virginia with a three(tiny)-bedroom, 40-year-old modular house on it. I called it my “little house in the big woods.” In front of the house was an open patch maybe 60 feet across where the sun could get through; besides that, there were trees and more trees. The driveway is long and flat, but the land slopes off both sides. On one side it’s a pretty dramatic hill. If you cut a swath through the trees and had a good snowfall and started at the top with skis on, you’d fly down that hill. Once you drive the 900’ or so driveway to the house, and then realize how the land drops off, it feels a bit like you are on a kind of peninsula, a teardrop-shaped ridge that makes you feel like king (or queen, as may be) of the hill.

The property had come on the market in February, meaning the leaves were down, meaning I could see from the open sunny patch northward to the whole range of the Southwest Mountains. My friend and realtor Stuart Stevens had grown up in this town and knew each bump of that range by name, and spoke each one with affection, as if it were a dear friend whom he knew well. I suspect he did.

My sons Bradley and Lincoln and I had had a kind of dream: Find a beautiful piece of land and build a place that the whole family could use, enjoy, come to, leave from, consider home. We had looked throughout the winter at many lovely sites, but none grabbed us until this Keswick property came on the market for the first time in nearly forty years. Within minutes of standing on that hill, I made up my mind to make an offer and had no doubt this was a good decision.By the first of May, we were in.

Many improvements were to come, but the first was a chicken coop designed after one very fine image in my memory. When my children were very young, I brought them one summer to the Eiband farm on a road called Kaisersmad in the picturesque town of Betzigau in the Allgau region of Germany. The Bauernhof has belonged to the Eiband family for generations, and I became connected to it when the eldest daughter and I had decided to be pen pals when we were each 12 years old; thus began a lifelong friendship. Claudia’s endearing father made a habit that summer of holding  Lincoln’s hand, then three and a half, and together walking to collect eggs from their coop. I was smart enough one day to take the photo that would one day serve as the image to duplicate.

Here’s Lincoln at age 3 1/2, walking with Claudia’s dad, Adolf Eiband, at their farm in Betzigau, Germany, in the summer of 1991.

Lincoln and Claudia's dad

If I ever have a chicken house, I had said to myself, it will look like theirs. Lincoln and Bradley were not overly pleased to have to construct the small gable that serves no purpose besides its resemblance to the Eiband version, but they figured it out. Using poplar (I think it was poplar) cut from the property and milled with Bradley’s Alaskan saw mill, they worked together to erect the chicken coop of my dreams. Its red metal roof was the icing on the cake. There could simply be no better chicken house for me. I look at it and smile, which is all you can ask of a chicken coop.

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Here’s Rise, Lincoln and Julia’s daughter, age 2 1/2 in the spring of 2015, heading out to visit the red hens. I framed this picture and hung it in the cottage.

The cottage was next. This fell to Bradley and Beth because Lincoln and Julia got married, making things both harder and easier. Labor hours would necessarily increase for Brad and Beth, but control of the design, pace and construction allowed their creative energy great opportunity. And in the end the kudos for the cottage go to them. Let me repeat: The kudos go to Brad and Beth.

In any creative process, the project is not limited to the hours spent physically, overtly engaged in it. Rather, for a time you live and breathe it. Ideas come while driving, showering or drifting off to sleep. Sticky points gnaw at you for days or weeks and suddenly the solution appears. Friends and family members arrive to visit and each in some way gives a hand — some hold the other end while you lift a wall or settle a beam in place, some feed the bank of ideas that you will draw from on a given aspect of the design, some simply admire and thereby encourage. All contribute to the ultimate product. But Brad and Beth did the lion’s share. One recent guest said in his review:

The cottage matched the listing description. However, the listing could not tell the charm, the beauty, and warmth of this wonderful place. The cottage had huge windows which opened up to the green forest. This is a place to connect with nature.

The whir of the planer and the buzz of the table saw in the workshop underneath my bedroom became commonplace for those two years or so, and I realized I am one of those people who feels like all is well with the world when the sound of power equipment is going in the background. Saturday morning meetings over coffee to catch up on the latest and the upcoming became commonplace too. I made some big breakfasts in those days, thinking that of course I had to provide sustenance to these hard working, wonderful and amazing people who just kept going on this project one piece at a time.

I took pictures to document the process — not as many as I now wish I had, but enough to make an overview. In the cottage is a looseleaf binder with photos showing the construction; here are a few:

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laying the foundation (note chickens behind Brad — all that dirt was dug out by hand as well)

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raising the first wall – that’s Beth’s dad Tim Peery helping on the left (thank you, Tim!)

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resting a moment (yes, that is a chicken hat, isn’t she cute?)

One set of photos I unfortunately cannot find shows the cherry French door when it was still laid out in pieces on the basement floor. I know that photo is somewhere (probably buried in a phone that no longer works), but in the end the door speaks for itself. Bradley made the door — designed it, chose the wood, planed the lengths, trimmed, mitered, joined, finished.

People look at it and see a door. What I see — beyond the research on how to build a french door, beyond the trip to the guy he found (on craigslist, no doubt) who had the best quality wood at the best price, beyond the image of planks of wood subsequently hanging out the back of their white Civic (named Sensei), beyond the pieces carefully positioned at the pre-assembly stage on the basement floor — is the intelligence behind it all. I’m allowed to say that because he’s my son, and besides, he’s the one who didn’t read until he was nine. He doesn’t get extra credit for that delay, but it is kind of remarkable. That’s a whole nother story though, which I will get to one of these days.

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here’s that cherry door before it had a deck in front of it

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and getting near the end, stonework all around the foundation

I do remember when the guy came from the glass company to measure for the cottage windows, including the trapezoid-shaped ones, and when they came, the trapezoids were all wrong and had to be recut (at their expense, not mine). Bradley said, “Mom, it’s basic geometry.” Perhaps. But the door — the door is not basic. The door is a peek at a young man who doesn’t let the fact that he has never done a thing stand in the way of doing it. He just figures things out. He is first a thinker and then a doer. He invested in great equipment (all somehow at good prices) and the best and most highly recommended books on carpentry so that he might tap into the expertise of those who have already figured some other things out. It was a joy to watch him.

Beth is his perfect counterpart, God bless her. She worked her day job all day at her computer, somehow shutting out whatever Brad was doing nearby. She walked their dog Zadie, and took me along, almost every day when I got home at 5ish. Oh, how I enjoyed those walks! Beth is truly one of the world’s best listeners. She is sweet, balanced, and confident and a perfect match for Bradley’s intelligence and gumption. And she somehow made me feel like she actually enjoyed my company, which she deserves a great deal of credit for. Understand that after working all day, after a mile and a half walk with me and then a bit of supper, she started with whatever needed to be sanded or primed or relocated or organized or painted or planted. That’s right, I haven’t even begun to talk about the massive garden they planted too!

They worked and they worked. Joyfully. Skillfully. Steadily. The accomplishments of these two are truly mind-boggling, and their attitude is inspiring. I am forever grateful not only for this gift that they left me, but also that I can share it with others who enjoy it so much. I especially love it when cottage guests give them a shout out. Here are some more comments that have come from my guests:

We both agree, the Cottage at Golden Hill takes the cake as the most unique, comfortable, peaceful & relaxing AirBnB we have ever been lucky enough to stay at!

Her son Bradley did such a phenomenal job with all the construction of this beautiful house.

The views, wood burner and floor to ceiling windows were my favorite features of the cabin.

The pictures do not do it justice…the space and view are beautiful.

Charming is an understatement, this cozy cottage (built by her talented son) is full of character.

The cottage is beautiful – looks just like the pictures – amazing craftsmanship!

The cottage is incredibly charming and cozy.

The cabin itself was amazing! Her son and his wife built it themselves and its beautiful.

The cottage was even more beautiful than we had hoped. The craftsmanship was exquisite!

Easy to find and yet tucked away in the woods, this cabin is elegantly cozy and gorgeous…completely designed and hand-built by her son, who is indeed a master craftsman. He and his girlfriend labored over every beautiful detail for 3 years. As an architect and interior designer, I really appreciated the quality craftsmanship and design…the way you can see forest views out of EVERY window and the little touches like the beautifully finished flooring, cherry shelving and kitchen island. (Hi Brad! Your Mom told us you read these. You and Beth rock! We were blown away and inspired.)

The house is perfect. The location and craftsmanship are wonderful.

The house is stunning and very comfy and the location is beautiful and peaceful.

Floor to ceiling windows meant tons of natural light, but it felt very private thanks to its orientation toward the woods. We had a great time sipping coffee on the patio watching the chickens peck around the yard.

Great location and beautiful crafted home.

The home was more beautiful than we expected. It was gorgeously designed and built by her son…which made us marveled at it more.

we just sat in awe at the craftmanship of your sons little home. (architect or engineer?) your chicken coop may have convinced my new wife we can have one

The cottage was just as described and pictured. It is a work of art, set in the woods and very peaceful.

This house is so awesome! The pictures were not even able to capture how beautiful this cottage was. Patricia’s son built it by hand, which makes it even more unique and special. Tiny-home fanatics (like my boyfriend and I) will DIE when they see this.

Patricia’s son is something of a Renaissance man and built the cottage and most everything in it with skilled hands and utter attention to detail.

Your son is so talented and you’re very generous to share such a gift with the airbnb community. We couldn’t get over the quality of craftsmanship evident everywhere.

Patricia’s Son and his girlfriend built an amazing cottage that is Cozy and peaceful.

We were blown away by the beautiful windows and the view of the mountains! I did not expect the house to have that. Perhaps you would want to include a picture of this on your page? It was our favorite part of the house. 🙂

Patricia’s cottage was wonderful – everything we expected and then some! It was cute, quaint, and absolutely perfect. It is a a beautiful property nestled back in the woods.

This cabin is the cutest! I can’t believe they built it themselves.

This space is a true gem. Bright, open and extremely comfortable, we didn’t want to leave. In fact, we are planning a time to come back for a whole week to sink in and enjoy the stunning architecture of the cottage and it’s peaceful surroundings.

The cottage itself is just beautiful, with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the woods, and maintains the perfect balance between quaint/rustic and modern. My husband absolutely loved the wood burning stove, too– despite 65 degree weather, he kept it going all weekend and it was wonderfully cozy!

My great thanks to Rob O’Connor for the following images which give you some idea of the finished product.

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3 thoughts on “Some thoughts on airbnb

  1. Wow, had no idea of what the chicken coop meant to you. Very impactful story. We all have memories, yet few of us take steps to preserve them and make them our children’s memories.

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  2. I’m fairly sure the chicken coop is mostly oak, that was milled on property at the _bottom_ of the hill. Hauling a 3inch slab of oak that is 8 feet long and as wide as a tree up a 30 degree slope: that’s something I’ll never forget. Any poplar in it was also hand milled, but off property.
    I remember, very vaguely, collecting those eggs as a 3 year old, though I’m not sure how much I’ve simply reverse filled in my memory from the pictures of the German coop I’ve since seen. I did highly enjoy redesigning it though, and the gable wouldn’t have been as big a deal if either Brad or I had any idea how to read a carpenters square!

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