Home-booking destination website, Airbnb, has come along way from its humble beginnings – to a brand-new office headquarters in San Francisco, to the many design trends the platform has inspired
Airbnb is trailblazing the way in the sharing economy. Much of the success of this peer-to-peer rental platform is due to the appeal of the properties' idiosyncrasies, posing a challenge to the traditional hospitality industry.
Click – a private island paradise in Belize, with five sumptuous bedrooms and full staff. Water sports and excursions to the nearby waterfalls and ruins are on the itinerary of things to do. Click. The former Los Angeles estate of Elvis Presley, complete with pool, spa and a stunning view of the hills. Click again. A custom-made caravan in Tokyo, tucked onto a wooden deck teeming with cafes, galleries and food trucks.
You might expect to find such listings from an upscale travel operator. In fact, they're all properties available through online booking service Airbnb.com. This home-booking destination has come a long way from its humble roots – the venture began in 2008 with San Francisco residents Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia, who decided to open a bed and breakfast of sorts using an air mattress in their living room.
They came up with the idea to make a few extra bucks to cope with escalating rents in the city, but it swiftly grew into a website that business travellers could use to search for short-term lodgings when hotels were fully booked. Now, the website comprises more than 4 million listings across 191 countries. And while it's still possible to book a simple sofa bed in someone's home, guests can also expect to book beautiful rooms and entire houses whose quality interiors are on par with five-star hotels.
Airbnb's listings even inspired the company's intriguing offices, 999 Brannan, which opened last September and is the newest addition to Airbnb's headquarters in San Francisco. More than 1,000 staff members work at the 14,000sqm (150,000sqf) space, where each of the four f loors is themed on a city – Buenos Aires, Kyoto, Jaipur, Amsterdam – to evoke Airbnb's global community of travellers.
Each meeting room within these floors, in turn, is inspired by a different listing, including a cosy, pine-clad cabin in the woods near Moscow. The space was spearheaded by Airbnb's Environments team, which launched earlier this year, in collaboration with architecture firm WRNS Studio. Airbnb's focus on ingenious design in its offices prompts a question: has the business positioned itself as a purveyor of design?
And while it's still possible to book a simple sofa bed in someone's home, guests can also expect to book beautiful rooms and entire houses whose quality interiors are on par with five-star hotels
Airbnb and Interior Design
The sheer diversity in Airbnb's listings makes it difficult to pinpoint specific trends in properties on offer, but there's no denying that the website has seen a marked uptick in interest from the design-minded. Architect Linda Taalman, one of the founders of American architecture firm Taalman Koch Architecture, opted to put her award-winning, solar energy powered Off-grid itHouse on Airbnb for rental. Brothers Gary and Michael Ditmer acquired the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Schwartz House in Wisconsin with the specific purpose of allowing the public to stay there.
"I've had an interest in Frank Lloyd Wright for most of my life," says Ditmer. "There are numerous Frank Lloyd Wright-designed houses that are now museums where people can see and experience Wright's work, but my frustration was always wanting to spend more time experiencing the houses themselves. We decided we would provide the opportunity for people to actually live, if only for a few days, in a Wright-designed masterpiece."
The key to Airbnb is in personal, diverse experiences and the feeling of being at home, versus the sumptuous hotel room where everything is taken care of for you
Even property portfolios are turning to Airbnb to promote their properties. Asian luxury villa collection The Luxury Signature, which offers getaway havens in Indonesia and Thailand, lists several of its properties on Airbnb. "As a private luxury villa rental service, we believe Airbnb is more appropriate as it promotes more of a home stay, unlike websites such as Agoda," explains managing director Sylvain Roullier. "Each of our villas is unique in terms of architecture and interior design, and we receive plenty of feedback about the stunning design and views."
Homemakers with a penchant for interior design can be easily found while browsing the site, too. Mar Cardobes, who owns a 150sqm (1,600sqf), three-bedroom apartment in the heart of Barcelona, made sure to preserve the original architectural elements such as 19th-century tiles and plaster ceilings of the modernist structure when she remodelled it. "I'm very into interior design, so I designed it myself," she says. "When I bought it, nobody had lived there in 20 years, so it was in bad condition." Having originally bought the apartment to live in herself, she decided to rent it out for extra income after starting a family and moving out of the city.
Airbnb appeals to travellers in search of an accommodation experience unlike that to be found at a luxury hotel
Airbnb is no longer the cheap, crash-on-a-couch alternative to expensive, overbooked hotels. But neither is it making a grab for a slice of the hotel industry pie. Rather, Airbnb appeals to travellers in search of an accommodation experience unlike that to be found at a luxury hotel. "Some of today's travellers seek a more authentic and residential environment," says Teo Su Seam, partner at Singapore-based hotel and residence interior design firm LTW Designworks. "I think Airbnb offers guests a more independent experience. It also appeals more to those on extended travel who prioritise home comforts such as a relaxing lounge to read in or a spacious kitchen to prepare a meal." It's a matter of diversity versus branding, she continues.
As each Airbnb listing is owned by an individual, its design will be down to their idiosyncratic tastes, while hotels offer a more consistent experience that keep fans of the brand coming back. It's a matter of preferring to book a different sort of room on every trip – a Brooklyn brownstone loft, followed by a glass treehouse – or returning to your favourite Four Seasons suite. The key to Airbnb, therefore, is in personal, diverse experiences and the feeling of being at home, versus the sumptuous hotel room where everything is taken care of for you. Quite the complement, really.
This is an article from “Individuality re-leased", a feature article from the May issue of Perspective magazine.
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