building a cabin for Airbnb

If you follow me on Instagram, you know that this past summer we sold a rural cabin we owned in West Virginia. We’d operated it as an Airbnb for about two years, and the business was going well. But the property required a lot of upkeep, and every time we needed someone like a plumber or an electrician, it was a huge pain to find someone to drive to such a rural location. We decided to switch things up and used the proceeds from the sale to buy a condo in Bethany Beach, Delaware. More on that later!

Let’s get personal for a minute. Neither John nor I ever thought we’d be able to afford a vacation rental house–the idea never crossed our minds–but a few years ago I received a small legal settlement, and John convinced me to use that money to buy a cheap piece of property bordering a national forest in West Virginia. The whole thing was crazy! But we got lucky. Interest rates fell, and a local bank helped us finance the construction without putting much money down. My parents also loaned us some money when we got in a crunch at the end of construction.

It helped a lot that we did much of the finishing work ourselves. We spent weeks out there during the summer of 2020 with no air conditioning and no potable water. (For a while we didn’t have a working bathroom, either, which was not fun!)

John created all the trim for the cabin using his router, and we stained it and installed it ourselves. Below, you can see John and my dad using scaffolding to install trim on the high, interior windows.

John and I painted the wood floors. My parents hung all the doors in the cabin, and we painted them and installed the doorknobs.

John and I tiled both bathrooms and the kitchen.

What a messy project! You can see the flaws if you look hard enough, but I’m still glad we did it ourselves. I think the money we saved outweighs the flaws. And who looks that closely at tile??

John had a genius idea to use small hex tile to write the name of the Airbnb in the shower floor. It worked out so well!

We bought a few pieces of nice, new furniture, but most of the furniture was stuff we made or brought from our home. John built the interior dining table and bench plus all the outdoor furniture.

We built a fire pit for about $300 using material from Lowes and Amazon. John built six Adirondack chairs to circle the fire pit, and we let each of the four kids choose a color for their chair. (And then–let’s be real–we exercised our discretion and purchased paint in colors that were similar to the ones they chose but would match the other colors.)

We sprinkled DIY projects and cheaper pieces throughout the rest of the cabin, too. I made a marble side table using remnant tile. And we made some bedside tables using small Ikea dressers and caning.

I bought two inexpensive bookcases from Target, painted them, and added books, board games, and decorative pieces we brought from home.

For the kitchen, I bought stock cabinets at Lowes, painted them, and installed soft close hinges and nice pulls. It turned out great, and the price was very reasonable. Most of the appliances were pretty reasonable, too (Black Friday sales saved us!), and we splurged on the fun, retro fridge and the countertop. We brought most of the dishes from home.

Over the stairs we hung some prints from our friend James (@ashevillepictures). He has brilliant shots of fireflies that I absolutely love. We chose one of those plus some of his gorgeous sunset pictures.

In the bedrooms, we followed the same high-low pattern that we followed elsewhere in the house. In the photos below, for example, the blanket, bed frame, and chair were high quality. But the sheets and bedside tables were very inexpensive, and the lamp and books were from our home.

And in the bedroom pictured below, the pink bed linens and black bedside lamps were high quality. Everything else was from Ikea, Overstock, or Target. Again, many of the decorative pieces were things I brought from our home. One of the photos on display is a nature shot I snapped on my phone while walking around the property. I enlarged the print at CVS and popped it into a frame from Target.

And in the upstairs bedroom, we paired nice blankets (bought on sale) with inexpensive sheets and bed frames. We brought the side table and the bookshelf from home and painted them to match the room.

All in all, we learned a ton from building and decorating this place, not to mention running the rental business. Would you be interested in hearing some of the biggest lessons we learned as Airbnb hosts? Or do you have other questions about this process? I’d be happy to share everything we learned!

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