This spring, Charleston will be packed with tourists seeking accommodations for the mild weather and the slew of festivals that mark this time of year.
For 33-year-old Charleston resident Jonathan Chandler, his plan by then is to have a space up for grabs on Airbnb, an online network of temporary rentals.
His downtown traditional “freedman’s cottage" near Hampton Park, purchased about two years ago, includes a 1,200-square-foot guest space that sits separate from the rest of his home. Pending a permit approval from the city, Chandler is hoping to use this space to attract Airbnb customers.
But in order to stand out among hundreds of other short-term rental units available in Charleston, he wants to ensure that potential guests who are searching for a rental online based solely on the website's photos are completely satisfied.
That’s where an interior designer like Grace Thomas came in handy.
Having done some work for Charlotte families with vacation homes in the Charleston area, Thomas, a certified interior designer and owner of Grace Godfrey Thomas Interior Design, decided that working with owners like Chandler in the design of their Airbnbs was a worthwhile specialty.
"I thought this could be a good niche as more people are doing this," she said.
Last April, an local ordinance was adopted that legalized short-term rentals through apps like Airbnb for the upper and lower peninsula and the city of Charleston as a whole. At that point, Charleston was seeing more than 2,000 properties offering this type of short-term rental.
As of October, following the introduction of a stricter rule and permit process, the number decreased by about 26 percent. For those operators who are able to advertise spaces, prioritizing interior design is a necessity, Thomas said.
“It’s worth the investment because your space is going to be rented more often,” Thomas said.
Thomas' business model isn't necessarily unique. Online websites like optimizemyairbnb.com also offer owners tips to boost rentals by investing in interior design.
Thomas, herself a frequent Airbnb customer, said she knows what she personally looks for when searching for a place to stay and she doesn't hesitate to pay a little extra for spaces she really likes. She carries that same mindset over to her interior design work for Airbnb owners.
Some of the things she emphasized to Chandler, specifically, were the proper usage of space and color in designing the room.
For example, Chandler’s guest area essentially mimicked a studio apartment. Only the bathroom was separate from the rest of the space. Thomas explained that most guests, especially if they are traveling with another person, prefer to have a level of separation for an opportunity for privacy.
Because of this, they separated Chandlers' studio into a bedroom area and a more lounge-friendly area. Chandler said what was the most surprising about the experience was how much Thomas was willing to work with his small budget.
“It was a lot more simple than I ever thought it would be,” he said.
Thomas said she never usually has difficulty accommodating a customer's price range. She almost always begins with discussing the budget with her clients and then crafting a checklist of items she wants to cover after walking through the space.
She also advised Chandler on art and furniture pieces, as well as additional storage space, which was something Chandler said he hadn't really considered. Thomas said that a significant amount of focus has to be placed on what guests might need.
It’s those additional accommodations that can sometimes be vital, she said. Because of the high quantity of Airbnb renters in the Charleston area, owners should try to anticipate their customers' needs whenever possible.
Now, Chandler is just waiting on approval by the city to start offering his studio through Airbnb. He is still deciding what he will charge for the room per night, but he believes the investment in an interior designer will ultimately set his property apart from the pack.
“I definitely needed some help," he said. "I just wanted to make sure that I stood out.”