Mel Hignell writes for ShortTermRentalz [Credit: Backlight Marketing]

Design elements commanding the highest rates: White Spider’s Mel Hignell

US: Mel Hignell, CEO and founder of interior design and guest management firm, White Spider, discusses the design and staging elements in a vacation rental that command the highest rates.

At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic when all travel came to a halt, no one in the short-term rental industry knew what to expect or how quickly we would rebound. 

In the spring, most travel stopped completely, but by summer, people were itching to get out of town – even if just to quarantine in a new setting. In fact, Airbnb spending was up by 22 per cent year over year in July.

Mel Hignell, founder and CEO of White Spider

With the vacation rentals we manage, we saw firsthand that the types of properties booked changed drastically as guests were looking for spaces that: 

  • Are outside of core urban centres
  • Have plenty of space to socially distance if they gather their entire extended families 
  • Can accommodate longer stays [typically a few weeks instead of a few days]
  • Have spaces and amenities that allow multiple people to work remotely, including kids who are going to school virtually

To thrive during this time, vacation rental owners must create the experience that guests are seeking through design and staging. In turn, this will command the highest nightly rate possible – even right now during a pandemic. 

Here are the five design and staging elements that do exactly that:

  • Don’t overlook the basics. I tell my team that no one is ever looking for a bad night’s sleep. Because of that, we always start with great beds and pillows when designing a home. As guests are booking longer stays, it is more important than ever to get this element right. In the past, people may have forgiven a mediocre mattress if they were only sleeping on it for a few nights. That is definitely not the case when they are staying for weeks, which is the norm right now.


  • Fully stock the kitchens. A fully stocked kitchen is an important part of creating a high-end guest experience. Kitchens that include just a few plates, silverware and a pan are common, but they create a sense of lack among guests. This is especially true with longer stays when travellers are utilising kitchens more frequently, often cooking full meals every day for weeks on end. Include basic tools, utensils and appliances like multiple cutting boards, cocktail and shot glasses, wine keys and coffee makers. Also, replenish cooking essentials such as sugar, flour, salt, pepper and oil and vinegar between bookings. 


  • Include creature comforts. When choosing a home on Airbnb instead of a hotel, guests are looking for amenities that actually make it feel like a home. For example, cozy throw blankets by the couch and extra TVs so everyone in the family can “Netflix & Chill”. Unfortunately, these are the details that many owners overlook or skimp on when designing and staging, which significantly detracts from the overall experience. For a weekend getaway when travellers are spending their days roaming around the city and their nights bar hopping or enjoying long leisurely dinners out, these forgotten details might go unnoticed. Now that guests are spending much of their time at home even when travelling, these little comforts make a big difference. 


[Credit: Backlight Marketing]
  • Remember, teeny tiny details matter too. Much of the luxury experience comes from tiny staging details that most would never think about, like Q-tips, tampons and makeup remover wipes. Putting this level of care and attention to detail into a home sets it completely apart from others on the market. Consider everything a guest might want or need to be as comfortable as possible. This is the element that yields the best reviews, which validates a home and its experience. These details also encourage guests to book again and again and recommend the property to friends and family, generating demand and higher rates. 


  • Treat outside spaces with as much care as interiors. Currently, outdoor spaces are the most sought-after amenity with the properties we manage. Guests are willing to pay a premium to stay in homes that have them, particularly urban dwellers who are tired of feeling cooped up in high-rise condos. Don’t just throw a few lawn chairs on the patio with an umbrella. Turn outdoor space into a liveable room that guests can enjoy for eating and entertaining. Right now, we can barely keep a night open in our spaces that offer this feature. 

The result of getting these design and staging details right can be astounding for property owners. As just one example, we recently had a client whose home in a popular neighbourhood of a top destination city was professionally designed, yet they were struggling to not only command a great rate, but to get the property booked at all. After taking them through our design and staging process, we tripled their rate within one month and now, the property is fully booked. 

Many make the mistake of putting profits above guest comfort to help their bottom line. Ultimately, that choice ends up having the opposite effect, significantly affecting the rate because the experience is subpar. Our motto is putting people first isn’t just the right thing to do in life, it’s the best thing for a vacation rental business – now more than ever.


Mel Hignell, CEO and founder of White Spiderowns multiple rental properties herself, and her company manages hundreds of Airbnb rentals in multiple destination cities across the country with a “boots on the ground” concierge team, known for providing an above-and-beyond guest experience. 

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