1 Chic Retreat, an interior design consulting firm, helps vacation rental owners and managers transform property interiors with the goal of increasing bookings and overall guest satisfaction. The company started in 2014, but has already gained a large following through its blog, design services and proven tips. To learn more about the 1 Chic Retreat design services, we interviewed founder Mercedes Brennan. Check it out.
1 Chic Retreat Q&A with Founder Mercedes Brennan
What led to the start of 1 Chic Retreat and how has it grown since 2014?
After I graduated with a master’s degree in interior design, I worked for Windsor Smith, an incredibly talented and highly published Los Angeles designer. Windsor taught me almost everything I know about residential design and it was invaluable. As much as I loved working for her, I wanted to venture out on my own and find my niche. I struggled for a little while searching for what that was. I knew I loved residential design, but I also love hospitality. I was trying to decide which path to take. Then I had an ‘aha’ moment.
My husband, two kids and I were staying in a Cambria vacation rental. As I wandered around the house visually improving it with my imagination – which I always do in vacation houses – it suddenly occurred to me that I could do this for a living. I was tickled because it perfectly combines residential design with hospitality design.
With the help of a friend versed in launching blogs, I launched 1 Chic Retreat in 2014, and my vacation rental clients have grown steadily over the last two years. In fact in 2016, I took on a wonderful partner, Karen Campbell, whose background with HGTV and project management was invaluable. I couldn’t have grown the way I wanted to on my own. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve made.
Why did you decide to focus your design efforts on vacation rentals?
The Cambria vacation rental I mentioned was merely one in a long stream of rentals our family has rented over the years. Because we are four and need our own space, we prefer vacation rentals to hotels by a long shot.
Every time we rent them however, I can’t help but think, “This could be so much better if they changed out the colors, had a loveseat here, painted it differently, etc.” There is design science to hospitality, and most vacation rental owners are ignorant of what to do. They have a disadvantage to hotels in this sense. Hotels spend money on design because they know it pays off in bookings, and they have the finances to make it happen. 1 Chic Retreat design services help owners and managers get to a level playing field.
How does the company help rental owners and managers improve their interiors?
1 Chic Retreat helps in two important ways. First, owners come to us and ask us to design their spaces. After we see what they need to change, we give them a quote and then depending on the circumstances, we either go to the property and design on site, or if the owner has a smaller budget and/or is away, we design remotely (e-design). We have done e-designs in Grand Turks, Jamaica, Hawaii and Vermont, to name a few.
The second way we help owners and managers is with our blog. The entire focus of our posts is to educate owners on design strategies that dramatically improve vacation rental bookings. At the same time, we are conscious that design is expensive, so we focus on how to marry great design with a lean budget. Otherwise, the bottom line suffers.
Do you have a couple of stats to illustrate a rise in bookings after using your services?
We just finished a Vermont cottage in which the owner had bought an existing vacation rental with an established rate. It was very basic inside – futon sofa, some inherited furniture, boring rug – and the owner was desperate to make it look better. She reached out to us for an e-design, and we specified a top to bottom turn-around. She had a very small budget, so we combined retail items with both Craig’s List and eBay finds. After the design was completed, she invited a professional vacation rental manager in to access what rate she could charge per night and the agent said, “Double what it was.”
Below is a before and after shot of the living room:
This Manchester, Vermont house was able to double its nightly rate after a 1 Chic Retreat e-design.
What do you find most rewarding about your business?
I find two aspects equally rewarding:
(1) I love the fact that our blog helps so many people. We have mountains of emails from subscribers who have implemented our advice and seen tremendous success. They send in before and after photos, and it’s immensely satisfying to know that mere blog posts can transform properties.
(2) I love it when a client’s design is ultimately realized. It’s so fun to see how people react to a finished property because they finally realize the ‘why’ of everything they bought. All those elements finally make sense.
Do you have any tips for those just starting to manage vacation rentals?
Yes, absolutely. Tell your owner clients to subscribe to 1 Chic Retreat. You won’t ever have to tell them the importance of design again because I will (relentlessly). If they listen and follow the advice on the blog, their properties will look gorgeous and book up easily, making your job as a manager all the easier.
Available 1 Chic Retreat Design Services
1 Chic Retreat offers rental owners and managers three different packages, allowing customers to pick a strategy that best fits their needs. Pricing options vary based on budget and session times. They include:
- Tweak Sessions provide quick advice on what to add and subtract from rooms to improve design and quickly increase booking interest.
- One-Day Sessions allow the 1 Chic Retreat team 8 hours to evaluate, brainstorm and deliver interior design ideas to owners and managers, with specific furnishings and layout suggestions.
- Full Package includes all aspects of design, purchasing and installation. 1 Chic Retreat creates a mood board that combines design preference ideas, the geographic location and the home’s architecture. Once created, customers receive suggestions for furniture, appliances, wall and window treatments, lighting, paint palettes, art and linens. In addition, 1 Chic Retreat will send specific installation instructions to ensure a seamless redesign process.
Want to learn more? Contact Mercedes at 1 Chic Retreat.