Designer Vacation Rentals Are Branding Summer Travel

Just steps away from Butterfly Beach in Montecito, Calif., on one of the American Riviera’s most coveted streets, Gray Malin is bringing his transporting lifestyle brand into focus at Getaway House.

For $2,500 a night, guests can stay in the cozy, coastal modern four-bedroom home that he spent the last six months gut-renovating. They’ll enter the foyer and find Gray Malin surfboards propped against the wall; relax in a TV room with Gray Malin “Pinstripe Umbrella” patterned wallpaper and Nest x Gray Malin candles, and eat in a dining room with a Gray Malin Ruggable rug, while gazing at photography on the walls throughout the house that Malin has taken of Santa Barbara area hot spots including Coral Casino Beach & Cabana Club and San Ysidro Rancho.

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All of it is for sale, of course, on Malin’s website.

“I’m pushing the boundaries of my photography out of a frame on the wall to a real-life moment,” says the L.A.-based photographer, who over the last 15 years has parlayed his stylish, Slim Aarons-like fine art images into a lifestyle brand with collaborations with Veuve Clicquot, the Beverly Hills Hotel, Sperry Topsider, and Janie and Jack among others.

Malin also curated his favorite brands in the home, tapping Weezie for monogram towels and robes, Biscuit Home for bedding and Goop for beauty products. “We have Bluejay bicycles and maps to go on your own adventure, find the perfect backdrop for a photo, or wine shop with a great selection,” he says, explaining how these partners will be cross-promoting Getaway House through their social channels. “I built an entire brand around the trademark phrase ‘make every day a getaway,’ and now we’re opening a true door to that getaway that’s physical and real.”

Malin is one of a number of designers and creatives tiptoeing into the hospitality space through vacation rentals that are extensions of their brands, shoppable showcases for expanding product categories, marketing tools and sources of passive income.

Industry of All Nations’ The Landing House in Joshua Tree, California, listed on Homestead Modern.
Industry of All Nations’ The Landing House in Joshua Tree, listed on Homestead Modern.

In the high desert community of Joshua Tree, Calif., sustainable apparel brand Industry of All Nations’ cofounders Fernando and Juan Diego Gersovich, both trained architects, built the stunning Landing House and listed it for rent on Homestead Modern in 2023.

Resembling a wood box sitting on its side, it’s constructed entirely of concrete, glass and cedar that has been intentionally left unfinished to weather and become one with the environment. Guests can sit on the brand’s Panamericana chairs on the deck overlooking the circular pool, and appreciate the otherworldly landscape of boulders, yucca trees and endless sky views that the designers are working to preserve through their environmentally responsible approach to making clothing.

Inside, the brothers designed all the furniture, draping their Peruvian-made alpaca throws over the couch, and outfitting two bedroom closets with a “desert wardrobe” of undyed natural cotton casual trousers and T-shirts that can be worn during a stay, then purchased at the Industry of All Nations store down the hill on 29 Palms Highway.

“The landscape, the light, the way you feel when you’re there is so tranquil and so relaxed that we thought, let’s bring this concept of minimalism and less of everything,” Fernando says of incorporating the edit of clothing from the brand, which also has stores in Venice, Calif., San Francisco and New York.

Heather Taylor’s Idyllic Alpine Cabin in Idyllwild, California
Heather Taylor’s idyllic Alpine Cabin in Idyllwild.

At the Heather Taylor Cabin in funky Idyllwild, Calif., high up in the San Jacinto Mountains an hour southeast of Palm Springs, travelers can step inside the modern-traditional world of the L.A. homeware maven whose cottagecore linens are a favorite with tastemakers Reese Witherspoon, Gwyneth Paltrow and the Kardashians.

They can get cozy in a Heather Taylor gingham robe in the Heather Taylor Home x West Elm furnished living room; sip hot cocoa on the screened-in porch with mountain views while sitting on a Heather Taylor gingham upholstered chaise; then head to bed on Heather Taylor ruffled linens.

“It’s like a giant Instagram story come to life,” says Taylor, who listed the house on Airbnb last March after renovating it during the pandemic, when she had her own experiences in vacation rentals that were “not so cute.” Visitors get a discount code to shop the pieces on her website, while Taylor has a permanent backdrop for brand photo shoots and marketing activities.

Taylor sees the shoppable, 1,800-square foot cabin, which has 73 five-star reviews and was featured on the cover of Country Living magazine, as the next step in experiential travel. And she’s not alone.

Following the success of the Barbie Malibu Dreamhouse rental last summer, pegged to the Mattel blockbuster, Airbnb has linked with Disney and Marvel to debut an Icons Collection of branded experiential spaces, signaling its evolution from stays to experiences to services. One Icon offering, a modern minimalist home in L.A. hosted by “The Incredibles” superhero fashion designer Edna Mode, lets visitors select fabric swatches and design their own personalized suit.

When it comes to designer-led home rental projects, however, not all business models are the same.

The Kardashians have vacationed at the luxury Baja California estate of James Perse known as Greycape, which can be booked via his website, and consists of five suites furnished by the L.A. designer with access to a private chef, butler and James Perse store.

L.A. fashion and home designer Jenni Kayne has made outfitting homes a part of her brand DNA, but keeps it even more exclusive. She and her real estate broker husband Richard Ehrlich have bought, renovated and staged three luxury homes with every element of her aspirational Pacific Natural lifestyle, from the Aspen wingback bouclé chairs to the shearling Moroccan slippers, to Oak Essential skin care products.

Although the Jenni Kayne Lake, Jenni Kayne Ranch and Jenni Kayne Hillside Haven homes were never listed as short-term rentals, they were offered for celeb and influencer stays, and used for content creation and client events where everything was for sale — even the homes themselves.

Raquel Allegra’s Many Feathers Ranch in Taos, New Mexico
Raquel Allegra’s Many Feathers Ranch.

On the other end of the spectrum is L.A. fashion designer Raquel Allegra, who sees her Many Feathers Ranch in Valdez, N.M., as a sanctuary. “It’s the place I don’t want to have anything work related, where I don’t want to have to please anybody, or think about what people want from me,” she says of the gorgeous 8,000-square-foot home at the foot of Taos Ski Valley with views of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, ponds dotting the property and reflecting the sky, which has been featured in the Wall Street Journal.

“Most people go because they just feel drawn to the space when they see images. And then sometimes when they rent it, they’ll say, ‘oh my god, Raquel Allegra, I’m such a big fan. This is so cool. I didn’t even know.’ And that’s really sweet. Sometimes I’ll send packages…a bunch of jersey dresses to wear around the house, for example.”

Natalie Martin’s Luxury Spanish Hacienda in Palm Springs, California
Natalie Martin’s luxury Spanish hacienda in Palm Springs.

When Balinese print-forward fashion designer Natalie Martin bought her Spanish Colonial “Hacienda Vaquero” in Palm Springs in 2021, she didn’t have any intention of branding it. But that’s changing. The 2,000-square-foot house already has the same sexy, rock ‘n’ roll vibe as her clothing brand, and came with lots of Balinese furnishings, including a cluster of whimsical carved wooden animal heads in the dining room, plus a salt water pool and hot tub, fire pit and shaded outside living room.

Now that she’s launched NM Home, she’s redoing the living room with her printed wallpaper and adding more of her textiles, including robes and sarongs for guests.

“I need to lean into it,” she says.

As fabulous as it sounds to design and own a vacation rental as a brand extension, there are realities to consider, however.

Corey Lynn Calter’s Joshua Tree California Geodesic Dome House
Corey Lynn Calter’s Joshua Tree geodesic dome house.

L.A. contemporary designer Corey Lynn Calter was early to the trend, putting her geodesic dome house in Joshua Tree on Airbnb 10 years ago, and filling it with vintage lamps, artwork and pillows, plus vacation-ready straw hats, sunscreen and co-branded bath products for sale through an honor system.

“We called it the Mini Shop,” she says of the concept, which she replicated in a Palm Springs rental home, and has dreams of selling to Airbnb. “I’d offer discounts on the website and that did drive shoppers to my clothing collection, too. But you have a limited amount of shoppers at any one time,” she says of the homes. “If you had a store where one customer walked in during seven days you wouldn’t have a business model.”

It’s not been a wildly profitable venture, but there is a silver lining to her stylish desert projects. “I use the houses myself,” she says.

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