Vacation Rental 101: Living and Dining Rooms

Astrid LindstromLeave a Comment

We talked last week about the broad strokes of how to furnish your vacation rental in our Vacation Rental 101 series. This week, we’re diving into the main communal spaces of the house: the living and dining rooms.

In most vacation rental homes, guests are likely to spend a large portion of their waking hours in the dining and living rooms- which means it’s essential that their experience in these spaces is flawless.

We highly recommend taking the time to look at your vacation rental through the eyes of your potential guests. Little inconveniences – that stain on the couch, the curtains that don’t match the rest of the decor, the wobbly chair leg – might have been just fine for you on your vacation, but your paying guests will expect a more polished presentation.

You should also keep in mind that the furniture and decor you choose will need to stand up to the wear and tear of weekly rental guests, which may mean you need to replace some of your current items. Not to worry, though: it’s entirely possible to achieve get stylish, sturdy, guest-friendly decor without breaking the bank.

Let’s dive into the essentials of preparing the living and dining areas of your vacation rental for guests.


First and foremost: make sure you have enough comfortable seating in your communal areas for the number of people your property can sleep.

lots of seating living roomIf you have enough beds to sleep 6 people at your vacation rental, you’ll want 6 people to be able to sit comfortably in your living room. If you can host 8 people, you should have room for 8 people to sit down and eat dinner together.

Sufficient seating is important for your guests’ comfort! We can’t tell you how many trips have grown a little awkward when 4 out of the 6 guests have to eat before the other 2 – because there simply aren’t enough dining room chairs for everyone to sit down.

If your property can host larger groups, you may need to split up your seating into two areas. For example, you might have one dining table indoors and another out on the deck, or a communal space both upstairs and downstairs. As long as you can collectively seat the number of people you can host, you’re doing fine.

Have a small communal space but a large sleeping capacity? Give your guests some options for adding on seating as necessary. A few barstools at the kitchen counter or a couple of attractive folding chairs stored in the closet will give your guests the option to add seating when and where they need it.

Think you’re going to need some new furniture to provide enough seating? Some good sources for inexpensive living and dining room furniture include: Ikea,, and CB2. Your local thrift shops may also have some good finds, as well as the sale sections of sites like Cost Plus World Market and Wayfair.


well decorated living roomAttractive window treatments and a quick lick of paint are the easiest ways to spruce up your communal spaces for relatively little investment – and your decor choices can tie together a room without needing to buy all-new furniture.

Throw pillows, wall art, rugs, window treatments, and small decorative items are easy, inexpensive ways to breathe new life into your living spaces. We highly recommend taking this opportunity to introduce a pop of color into your decor, especially if your current space looks a little bare.

Here are a couple of ways to use color to create a polished “look” for your communal spaces:

  • Choose an accent color from a busy pattern. If you have a pattern in one of your rooms already, such as a flowered couch or a bright-colored wallpaper, pick one of the colors in that pattern as the accent color for draperies, throw pillows, and artwork.

accent chairs living room

  • Tie together a neutral room with a single color. If most of your furniture is in the brown, white, and beige family, choose an attractive accent color like royal blue or rich burgundy for your drapes, accent pillows, and a side item or two such as a lamp base or a picture frame. This also works beautifully in a dining room: get one piece of art with a striking color, and find table linens or placemats that pick up the same color.

neutral colors living room

  • Swap colors on mismatched items. If you have two pieces of furniture in non-matching colors, such as a beige easy chair and a red sofa, get throw pillows in each of those colors. Put the red pillows on the easy chair and beige pillows on the sofa, and voila! Now your mismatched pieces complement one another.

mismatched items living room

Have a few items that simply don’t go together? An attractive slipcover can be just the ticket. Slipcovers can be an excellent choice for vacation rentals even if you already like your color scheme – they’re easy to clean and to replace in case someone accidentally spills a cup of coffee or glass of wine on your sofa!

We highly recommend using Pinterest to get ideas for decorating. Use the search field to enter in terms that describe your existing decor (such as “red flowered sofa” or “blue walls and white furniture”) and see what other people have done with similar pieces.

A few great resources for inexpensive draperies, rugs, lamps, picture frames, and other decor pieces include: Ikea, Target, and Want something a little more unique? Try Hayneedle, H&M Home, or


Your living room is the most common place to offer entertainment, though you may have additional communal rooms that are better suited for the task, such as a game room. Be sure there’s at least one main gathering area that gives your guests a way to kick back and enjoy a bit of mindless fun.

Guests expect that their vacation rental will include a TV, but you don’t need to go for broke on the most expensive quality. You can find a good-sized, basic flat-screen TV for less than $200. Your guests are on vacation – no one’s going to mind if the don’t have the hottest ultra HD image as long as they can easily see the screen from the seating area.

entertainment system living roomThat said, your guests will be thrilled if you can provide a few add-ons like DVD players, cable or satellite connections, or Netflix access. If you provide a DVD or BluRay player, be sure you have a small supply of family-friendly options for viewing, just in case your guests didn’t bring their own.

Your entertainment system should be easy to use and set up. It’s a good idea to include simple instructions for your guests so they don’t need to figure out which remote operates the TV and which operates the DVD player.

By the same token, make sure your wireless access password is in plain sight (a 4×6 photo frame with the network and password in a nice font is a great way to provide it) and give instructions for how to reset the network or connect it to the entertainment system if necessary.

Expensive gaming systems or Apple TV may be worth considering if you cater to families who travel with young children, but parents will often thank you for providing some non-TV options for family time. Board games and cards are great to have on hand for rainy days, and a small selection of books and magazines will also be very welcome.

Dining Space

seating dining tableIf you provide table linens, napkins, or place mats, make sure they’re easy for your guests to find. A sideboard is a great addition if you have room for it, but otherwise you might instruct your cleaning service to leave these items in plain sight on the dining table for guests to access.

Give a little thought to how easy it is for a stranger to get in and out of your dining room table. Cloth-covered chairs are difficult to slide across carpeted floors and can cause accidents for unwary guests, and trestle seating can be hard for older guests to get into and out of, so pick your dining furniture with ease of use in mind!

As before, some good resources for dining room furniture include Ikea,, CB2, Cost Plus World Market and Wayfair.


good lighting living roomAttractive lighting fixtures can be found for less than $100, and they’re one of the quickest ways to spruce up a lackluster dining or living room. Swap that ancient ceiling fan fixture for a newer, more stylish model and you’ll find the whole room suddenly looks much more put-together.

Table and floor lamps are especially important because they play both a functional and decorative role in your home. Be sure there’s light available wherever someone might want to curl up with a book.

Switching out lamp bases or shades is an easy and affordable way to switch up and upgrade the feel and look of the living room. You can find attractive and inexpensive options at  Ikea, Target, Hayneedle, H&M Home, and

Additional Sleeping Space

If you’re planning to provide sleeping space in your living room, it’s important that your guests are able to switch back and forth from “bedroom” mode to “living room” mode easily, so decorate with those transitions in mind.

sleeper sofaSleeper sofas and convertibles are the easiest options for bed/living room combinations. Check the reviews when buying a sleeper – you’ll want one with a mechanism that’s easy to open and close, and that will bear up to regular use by your guests. This great post from Apartment Therapy has rounded up some highly-recommended sleeper sofas for every price point.

Alternatively, an inflatable mattress can provide additional sleeping space. We highly recommend choosing one that can fit into your common areas with minimal furniture moving. Pick an inflatable mattress with a pump so that your guests can easily prepare their bed – this one from Target inflates and deflates in 2 minutes.

If your living room has a closet, this may be your best option for linen storage, but you might also consider providing a chest or trunk that can serve double-duty as a coffee table or side table, such as this attractive storage bench coffee table from Hayneedle. If you have an inflatable mattress, be sure there’s an obvious and easy place to store the mattress as well as the linens for it!

Finally, remember to provide space for guests to easily clear away personal items during the day. Providing side tables with empty drawers gives your guests the ability to tuck away their reading glasses, earplugs, alarm clocks, and other bedtime items for easy access.

Add Your Suggestions!

Have ideas for how to create a great living or dining space that we haven’t mentioned here? We’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments!

This post is part of Evolve’s Vacation Rental 101: The Expanded Ultimate Guide to Success series, where we discuss the ins and outs of vacation rental ownership for newcomers and experienced veterans alike.

To be sure you don’t miss a post, download the Ultimate Vacation Rental Success Guide below and we’ll send you an email notification every time we publish a new 101 article. Have questions or want to know how we make vacation rental ownership easy and profitable? Call our Homeowner Consultants at 877.818.1014 (press 2) or click here to learn more about Evolve.