Setting up a holiday let? 10 decor mistakes to avoid
You took the plunge and bought the beach house - congratulations!

You’re going to rent it out then retire there one day - awesome plan! 

With renovations complete you’re ready to decorate - exciting isn’t it? 

Here’s where it could all go horribly wrong.

Making the wrong choices now could seriously harm your rental potential. Want 5 star reviews? Read on.

First things first - let’s get your customer shoes on.

Imagine you’re the guest. You’re at your computer searching for the perfect retreat. You click on the link and start to explore the property. What makes you think ‘reject’? 

Mistake #1 The property photography doesn't hook you in.

Photographs - your single biggest selling tool. Prospective guests make split second decisions based on key first impressions. If the rooms look dark and dingy that potential customer will be gone before they’ve read that you’ve got 6 ensuite bedrooms and the full sky package.

Photographs paint a picture, allowing potential guests to imagine they’re already there. They’re already imagining being ensconced in a cosy throw by your roaring fire, glass of full bodied Malbec in one hand and a good book in the other. They’re already seeing themselves having a relaxed breakfast round that big farmhouse table with lashings of coffee and fresh croissants. If you show them they can.

© Ammentorp |

Stage those scenes with your decor and paint those pictures with your photographs. When choosing paint colours, furniture, soft furnishings and those all important decor accents ask yourself - how will this look in the photographs?

Mistake #2 No statement furniture or decor

Everyone these days is obsessed with keeping things neutral. Fair enough, you need to appeal to the majority but let’s get those customer shoes on again.

You’re browsing the holiday rental websites, flicking from one property to the next. What’s going to make that one property stick in your consciousness? Like a catchy song with a great hook, give your decor some memorable personality. If it just looks like all the others renters will just browse on by.

© Photomall |

Hook them in with a bold pop of colour, some quirky artwork or an unusual piece of furniture. Carefully chosen, these can be simple, stylish and highly effective but use in moderation!

Mistake #3 Too much of a screaming theme!

It has to be a balance. Done poorly the tips in #2 could become mistake #3. While a wild theme (think full on tropical paradise complete with indoor palm trees) may look great in photographs and generate interest, the majority of renters want something a bit less…well…out there. They’re looking for some rest and relaxation which they might not feel they'll get sleeping in a tropical jungle themed bedroom complete with cuddly monkeys swinging from the lamp shades.

Mistake #4 Not decorating for family friendly holidays (if that’s your market)

Think like your customer again. Luscious light sofas. Glistening glass tables. Tough tiled floors. If you’ve got toddlers in tow - is this the dream holiday home for you? I think not.

You don’t have to go into full ‘hose down ready’ mode but make it a consideration when choosing your flooring and furnishings. Ask a friend with little ones to review your proposed decor selection. Include a few reassuring words regarding durability in your room description. You want it to say ‘you can relax here! Spills and sticky fingers? No sweat.’ 

Add a touch of something which will definitely appeal to younger guests.

Mistake #5 Providing real candles

Just no. Your insurance may well prohibit it anyway but it’s just not worth the risk. Outdoors? Possibly but not for indoors.

Imagine the scene - relax, light the candles, open the wine, have some more wine, off to bed and miss blowing one out? Just no.

Invest in some good quality, battery operated candles or lanterns if you like. Make sure you have plenty of low level, softly lit lamps dotted around to provide that ambience but real candles? Definitely not.

Related content:

How to avoid spoiling your room decor - 5 common lighting mistakes

Mistake #6 Not protecting against the souvenir swipe

This is a tough one but it came up time and time again when I talked to owners. The truth is we all love a freebie. In hotels we think nothing of filling our case with the miniature Italian fig soap and cocoa butter lotion. Just how many coffee capsules can one guest get through in a day? Quite a few it would appear! Hotels try to stave off swiping the big stuff by offering it for sale.

But what of holiday home guests? A different breed surely? Nope! If it’s not nailed down there’s a chance it could be going home in a suitcase or carried straight out the door! You’ve no doubt retained a deposit to cover such eventualities but the biggest lesson is not to furnish with anything you can’t afford to lose - for both financial and emotional reasons. If you rent out Granny’s old log cabin, make sure you remove the family heirlooms first.

© Alena Ozerova |

Mistake #7 Not doing a test run

Stay there yourself.

Make a cuppa, plonk yourself on the sofa. No end table to pop your coffee cup on? Better get one!

Find it a bit chilly in the bedroom in January? Add some optional blankets or throws.
Get a friend to do a test run. Offer a hugely discounted, pre-launch rate to get honest feedback from strangers. Hotels have ‘soft openings’ like this all the time to check daily operations work and to fine tune their services. When you’re too close to the property you’ll miss things. You know the spare towels are in the hall cupboard but will others find them or do they need you to leave a note?

Related content:

Did your customer service offer a moment of truth today?

Mistake #8 Big bare areas

Particularly on walls or floors as it can look like you’ve skimped on the furnishings or just not finished it yet. Add rugs, baskets, tall plants, oversized ottomans, etc. In larger rooms, for example, you could think about dividing the room by placing a sofa centrally with a coffee table behind it.

Use complementary paint colours to break up walls. Use pictures, wall hangings etc. How about creating some canvases with locally taken photographs?

Related content:

How to create personalised wall art

Mistake #9 Neglecting the outside

Who doesn’t dream of long, lazy evenings outdoors. Chatting over a crisp glass of wine (yes, it’s a recurring theme!) while tucking into something delicious. Twinkling fairy lights swaying in the breeze. How about adding some statement outdoor lighting such as these Starburst Hanging Lights

© Maren Winter | Dreamstime.comsmall

Decorate your outdoor space so that your guests can realise their dreams. Don’t be afraid to stage this or better still host a gathering at your place and invite your photographer. Your customers will visualise their own sultry soiree and will be clicking the ‘book’ button before you know it. 

Mistake #10 Not using quality furnishings

In the holiday home game you need great ratings. Fact.

Will you get great ratings if you settled for the cheapest mattress you could buy? Not a chance. Your guests are looking for a great night’s sleep so investing in a top quality mattress is a no brainer.

What will the ratings say if your flat pack chest becomes more shabby than chic? Consider upcycling great quality pre-owned furniture. It’ll last way longer than flat pack and may give you some of that personality you’re looking for.

We’ve already established that top quality photos are key. Top quality furnishings can only make your photographer’s job easier. There’s nothing worse than someone using the term ‘tired’ to describe your decor. Don’t you hate it when your chosen holiday abode photos depict gorgeous furnishings only to arrive and deduce that they probably stopped looking like that about a month after opening as they’re just not up to the job? What do you think your reviews will say then? 

Related content:

Looking for discount decor? 5 things to consider before buying


You're putting your heart and sole into getting this holiday let ready, I'm sure. At the end of the day you're running a business and want to maximise your returns. It's easy to get caught up in the excitement of it all and forget that you're not really decorating for yourself, you're decorating for your guest - your customer.

What do they want? What do they need?

You're balancing their wants and needs with what makes good business sense though. Your guest might love a luxury, deep pile, cream carpet. However the cleaning bills would rule that out!

Think about these three steps to get you through

1. Think 'wow factor' to get the booking in the first place

2. Think 'practicalities' to keep everyone happy during the stay

3. Think 'memories' - what do you want your guest to remember most (and tell everyone about!) after their stay? 

What do you think? Can you share some owner tips? Have you rented a place that was a decor disaster? We’d love you to share your comments below.


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Written by Lynn McMurray

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