For two months during summer 2017, Johanna Elsner and her family of four lived out of a tiny house while their home was being remodeled. They went from their 3,000-square-foot farmhouse to one a tenth of its size. Sometimes she wishes they still lived in it.
“I didn’t want to go back,” says Elsner, who grew up in Winston-Salem. “We had plenty of space and we spent more quality time together.”
Elsner, who helped build the tiny home and now lists it on Airbnb, says it’s her most popular home on the vacation rental website.
Several homes in the Triad garner interest from visitors each year as Airbnb rentals. Unique properties boast individual charm that makes them perfect for quick getaways or a much-needed staycation.
According to data from Airbnb, North Carolina residents made close to $100 million as hosts in 2018. Greensboro ranked 10th in the top 15 cities in the state based on number of guests and income while Winston-Salem and High Point didn’t make the cut. Asheville ranked the highest in the state by a landslide.
A recent press release by Airbnb contends that the company’s vacation rentals complement rather than compete with the state’s hotel industry and that their “unique and un-replicable” homes contribute to the growth in the state’s travel industry.
In Winston-Salem, the 36-foot house on wheels, also known as Roost 36, sits parked on the Elsners’ property next to their 125-year-old farmhouse on Beeson Dairy Farm. The family began constructing tiny homes in 2014 after friends asked them to build one for them. The Elsners had been in the home construction business for years, flipping area houses and even bought their home as a fixer-upper. But now, their focus is on tiny homes.
“We found the thing we didn’t know we were looking for,” says Elsner, who runs Perch and Nest, a tiny-home company, with her husband.
Since then, the couple has built about 25 tiny homes, three of which are parked on their four acres of land and are available on Airbnb.
Roost 36 has five stars on Airbnb with more than 60 reviews. Elsner says it’s so popular that they haven’t had a weekend off since they put the house up on the site last September.
The house looks a bit like Bauhaus meets Southern charm, with its stark-white exterior and floor-to-ceiling, black-framed windows. The floors have a distressed, worn-in look that runs throughout the bottom floor of the space which houses the living area as well as a small kitchen, complete with a cook-top and a mint-green Smeg refrigerator and matching green toaster oven. Canvases of farm animals adorn the walls while colorful rugs and pillows add warmth to the already inviting atmosphere. A row of windows cuts rectangles out of the walls, letting in plenty of natural light. Two additional skylights enhance the airiness. Tucked away in the back, just past a bathroom complete with a full soaking tub, is a twin mattress under the stairs. They lead to the loft where a queen mattress sleeps two. It’s small, but not as small as you’d think.
A spacious patio with retractable screens and a gently swaying windchime invites guests to take in the view of the Elsners’ relaxing farm or await the occasional visit from their pot-bellied pig, Hammie.
Elsner says putting the house up on Airbnb was a no-brainer and that it’s helped them share their love of tiny homes.
“It’s very rewarding to have people come to our farm and love it so much,” she says. “And to come to something we designed and built and be so complimentary.”
Half an hour away in Greensboro, Amanda Jane Albert can relate to Elsner’s love of creating one-of-a-kind nests. She built her own Airbnb too, the same year the Elsners were building theirs.
Constructed nine feet up in the air, Albert’s “Roost” is conveniently located near Revolution Mill and is situated behind her home in the McAdoo Heights neighborhood. The property also has five stars on Airbnb with a little more than 100 reviews and was recently revealed as the most wish-listed property in Guilford County by Airbnb.
From the outside, it looks like a giant treehouse.
Up two sets of stairs, guests enter a cozy and inviting space that looks like it’s right out of a storybook. Planks of warm pine make up the floor while the ceiling shows off what Albert says is a less commercial poplar because of its natural markings.
“I think that’s what makes it beautiful,” Albert says.
Albert worked for Habitat for Humanity for 17 years before deciding to build her own getaway. Like the Elsners, she now owns her own business, Inhabit Sustainable Living Solutions, an eco-conscious building company that focuses on using environmentally friendly materials to create living spaces.
This Airbnb property started off as her first experiment.
“We wanted to figure out what materials we could use,” she says. “How energy-efficient could we get it. What resources were available? It was the first time I could just design what I wanted, freely just create something on my own.”
So far, she’s built five houses for customers in the area. At least two of them are also on Airbnb. She says that one family asked her to convert their backyard garage into a home and now rents out the ranch-style home they previously lived in.
As she walks around the 430-square-foot treehouse, Albert points out the medley of materials she collected to bring her vision to life. Old slate roofing tile repurposed for kitchen countertops. Corrugated metal roofing lining the walk-in shower. Reclaimed barnwood that wraps around the queen-size bed. Weathered wine boxes from the Red Collection that serve as extra storage under the built-in couch in the living room.
Everything is intentional with no detail overlooked.
And that’s what Albert likes about the space. Sometimes she likes it so much she wishes she lived in her treehouse full-time. She doesn’t have a TV, and that’s on purpose.
“It’s supposed to be a retreat,” she says. “I wanted people to come and be present and in tune with their environment, to relax and to get away from things.”
Don’t worry though, she has wi-fi.
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