Marketing executive Paul D’Arcy is accustomed to sharing important moments in strangers’ lives. He and his wife, Jessica, a director at an education non-profit, live in an expansive, five-bedroom home in Austin that regularly hosts reunions, anniversaries, birthdays, and other group events through Airbnb. "It’s been amazing to watch our guests enjoy these big moments," Paul says. Yet the visit that sticks with him most is one he wasn’t actually there to witness.
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The couple and their three school-age children were traveling in Mexico this past March when they received an unexpected message. A "prominent band" was visiting Austin to perform at SXSW and their accommodations had fallen through on short notice. "Is your home available to book tonight," they inquired.
Conventional wisdom cautions against putting up musicians, especially if you’re not around to supervise them, but Paul didn’t bat an eye. "We confirmed that we could do it and within half an hour we had everything set for them to come," he recalls.
Like scores of less-famous visitors before them, the band members proved to be conscientious guests, although the family did notice one thing was slightly amiss when they returned from vacation. "An incredibly complex three-dimensional puzzle that a parade of houseguests had failed to solve was completed," says Paul, with a laugh. "Their guitarist is a chess genius and was able to do it."
Paul likes this story because it reminds him how secure he’s become about renting their home on Airbnb. "In the beginning, anyone’s going to be hesitant letting people into their house," he says. "It’s very easy to picture things going wrong. But I really don’t worry anymore." Airbnb's platform enables the D'Arcys to check reviews and communicate with guests prior to booking, so sharing their home is worry-free.
Of course, this realization didn’t come overnight. In the beginning, Paul and Jessica were instinctually protective of their sanctuary, perhaps because they were so closely involved in its creation.
In 2008, the couple approached architect Scott Specht of Specht Harpman Architects and asked him to submit a single daring proposal for a new build on a rolling one-acre lot in the West Lakes Hills area of Austin. "The hand-drawn sketch he came back with looks exactly like the final house," says Paul, who served as the builder. Famed interior designer Barbara D’Arcy, Paul’s aunt, helped devise the home’s striking color scheme before she passed away in 2012.
The result of their collaborative effort is a resort-like two-story home that weaves gracefully between more than 50 historic trees and a saltwater infinity-edge pool. Inside, modern art by celebrated local figures and international artists adorn the living spaces. Transitions between environments are demarcated by dramatic shifts in Benjamin Moore wall paint, ranging from turquoise to hot pink.
The home is a highly personal expression of the couple’s taste, which is why they were both excited and hesitant about sharing it with the world. When they joined Airbnb in early 2013, they were unsure whether anyone would even book it. "We didn’t know what the audience was, if it was people renting smaller rooms or houses," says Paul.
It’s true a 5,500-square-foot retreat that can sleep 10 doesn’t fit everyone’s travel needs, but it turns out the home is a godsend for large parties who want to see Austin without staying at a charmless hotel. A "mini-reunion" of five women who attended Harvard Medical School together decades ago once stayed with Paul and Jessica, for example. "We were surprised by the mix of people and families. It’s a much more varied group than we expected," Paul reports.
Though organizing large gatherings has become their specialty, the D'Arcys strive to offer the same personalized accommodations as any other Airbnb hosts. Each visitor gets a unique passcode to unlock the house, so coming and going is frictionless, and the annoyances of mass hospitality, such as charging cleaning fees, are eschewed.
Their home is always improving as they become more experienced at hosting. "One of the things we did after the first few visits," says Paul, "was invest money back into the house." Recently, they installed partitions in all bedroom closets so guests can have dedicated storage space to themselves. It’s one of the many ways they've drawn inspiration from their guests.
It’s this forethought and preparation that allows the family to be so easygoing about opening their home, even from a faraway beach in Mexico. All the pertinent details are sorted out in advance, so the house is ready to share at a moment's notice.
Visit Airbnb's website to learn more about becoming a host.