Monday 23 April 2018

Treehouses, teepees and horse trailers: How enterprising Irish are making €120 a night rent from their back gardens

Róisín Carabine on how clever Airbnbers are sprouting €120 a night from their back gardens

The interior of Braille House
The interior of Braille House
The back yard tepee which is rented out by Ciaran Adamson near Croke Park
Ciaran Adamson is advertising his tipi for hire on Airbnb in North Strand, Dublin
The exterior of Braille House, lit up at night
Helena Duggan and Robbie Heffernan with their baby
An outdoor seating area
The Hegartys and the exterior and interior of the converted horse box
Interior of the converted horse box
Nick Newman rents out The Nook, a fully-insulated hut on wheels, complete with double bed, sink, table, chairs and stove
Nick Newman rents out The Nook, a fully-insulated hut on wheels, complete with double bed, sink, table, chairs and stove

Róisín Carabine

Aparticularly enterprising Dublin Airbnb host caused a stir when it was revealed last month that he was making money by renting out a tepee in his back garden. Designer Ciaran Adamson was charging guests €87 a night for the ‘luxurious camping experience’ at his North Strand home, just five minutes from Croke Park.

He’s not the only one on the short-term rental giant’s website making money from unusual lodgings in the back garden. Airbnb is moving beyond room rentals and into quirky boltholes and its creative hosts are cashing in. The number one most popular rental in the world on Airbnb is a tiny wooden Mushroom Dome Cabin in the California woods. Its most wish-listed stay is a treehouse in Atlanta, Georgia.

If you haven’t got a room to spare or a whole house to let, or if the housing Minister’s new plan to licence houses for short lets has you worried, then fret not. Take inspiration from the following three Irish backyard rentals and come up with something small, hand made and quirky for your back garden.

Braille House, Kilkenny

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The exterior of Braille House, lit up at night

What started out as a quiet space for her writing has ended up becoming a money maker for graphic designer and children’s author Helena Duggan and her husband Robbie Heffernan.

They spent just €5,000 on a treehouse at the rear of their home in Bishops Meadows in Kilkenny city. Now it’s a €120 a night ‘off-grid rural retreat in an urban setting’ with a steady stream of guests, turning over €12K in its first year — before fees and taxes.

“We never intended to rent it out but our friends loved it so much they encouraged us to list it on Airbnb,” says Helena. It went live in May 2016.

Built by Robbie and his carpenter brother Billy,  The Braille House, so called because the pair had to feel their way through the project with only a napkin drawing as a plan, isn’t quite up among the birds and squirrels (it looks rather like a shed on stilts) but it is every inch the quintessential treehouse complete with ladder access and balcony.

Measuring 8m x 6m in size and standing 1.5m off the ground on three beech trees and two posts, the entire build is completely handmade, built and furnished using recycled, salvaged and donated materials.

Inside the large open-plan living area has been creatively styled with an eclectic mix of furniture. A ladder leads to a mezzanine loft bedroom with double bed.

The property is well insulated. Two electric ceramic radiators and a bioethanol fireplace provide heat. There’s no kitchen, no TV and up until this year there was no bathroom. Guests used the facilities in the main house, “which was okay for a while until some thought nothing of having a shower at 5 in the morning,” says Helena.

Robbie has since splashed out €5K on a hotel standard bathroom pod with toilet, sink, shower and underfloor heating.

It’s allowed them to up their fees by €30 a night.

While the experience has been hugely positive, “the extra washing and cleaning, while holding down full-time jobs, has been exhausting,” admits Helena, who has only recently hired someone to do it for her.

She also cautions about planning, which can be a ‘grey area’.  The treehouse was built within guidelines for a temporary structure. Since it’s now rented, the issue has become complicated. They’re currently working on a solution with with Kilkenny council.

Converted horse trailer, Kilfenora, Co Clare

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The Hegartys and the exterior and interior of the converted horse box

In the Burren, just outside Kilfenora, County Clare, Eva and Stephen Hegarty bought an old horse trailer and spent over €40k transforming it into stylish accommodation for paying guests.

The trailer sits right in the heart of the yard in their 30-acre working farm. The couple herd beef cattle and rear free-range pork.

The property made its Airbnb debut in July 2015.

“It’s helped us start a business. We would never have had the courage to go down this route if it wasn’t for Airbnb. Our house isn’t big enough to rent out a spare room,” says Eva. 

“It’s impossible to make a decent living off farming alone.”

Out of five houses on their road, three are doing Airbnb. Part of their property’s draw is its quirkiness and the Hegartys’ knack for hospitality. They offer a real farm experience and encourage guests to feed the pigs and herd the cattle.

A wooden-clad extension to the rear houses a toilet and shower facilities. Inside there’s two double beds, one over the cab, a sofa bed, table and chairs and wood-burning stove. There’s no kitchen, but for an extra €10 guests can enjoy Eva’s home-cooked breakfast.

Accommodation is €120 a night. In its first year Eva and Stephen made €1,000. This summer they’ve enjoyed almost 98pc occupancy and the trailer is already booked for Christmas and the New Year.

“We made €5K last year and about €10K this year, not enough yet to cover the cost of the conversion but business is definitely growing,” says Eva.

Guests hail from America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

“Irish tourists were few in the beginning. This summer almost 50pc of guests have been Irish.”

Shepherd’s hut, Ballydehob, Cork

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Nick Newman rents out The Nook, a fully-insulated hut on wheels, complete with double bed, sink, table, chairs and stove

Nick and Sue Newnham’s shepherd’s hut is one of 23 huts listed on Airbnb Ireland. The couple use it to supplement their farming income. For €78 a night guests can stay in The Nook, a fully-insulated hut on wheels complete with double bed, sink, table and chairs and wood burning stove. Like Eva and Stephen, they are hosts out of necessity.

A landscape gardener by profession, Londoner Nick turned to farming during the recession encouraged by his neighbours to make better use of the land.

He now rears pure breed Aberdeen Angus and for the last six years, rare breed pork on his 20-acre farm in Ballybane East, Cork, five miles from Ballydehob.

“Farming is not financially viable. We needed another income source and decided to go down the Airbnb route, but offer something quirky,” says Nick.

Armed with design ideas and plans from the internet, Nick built the shepherd’s hut himself for an impressive €10,000.

Sue did all the décor. The result is a comfy, shabby-chic retreat — with no toilet. Guests have access to private shower and toilet facilities in the main farm house, just one minute’s walk away.

The hut, listed since May, has had three couples stay so far, from the UK and Canada, all for one week each.

More than 800,000 guests have used Airbnb in Ireland to date. There are currently 12,000 listings in Ireland, with 6,100 in Dublin. Average earnings are  €2,700pa and €4,900pa for Dublin hosts.

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