What It’s Actually Like to Stay in One of Those Movie-Home Replicas on Airbnb
Every once in a while, typically in the lead-up to the release of a cult classic movie remake or the anniversary of a beloved blockbuster, my social media timelines fill with an onslaught of articles and influencer posts promoting the opportunity to stay in a replica of a famous home from a TV show or movie like the Hocus Pocus cottage, Scooby Doo’s Mystery Machine, or Carrie Bradshaw’s Sex and the City apartment via Airbnb. Sometimes the overnights even take place at original filming locations. The rental booking platform runs these exclusive stays like a lottery system that works a bit like online ticket sales for big-name musical acts: At a pre-announced time, the listing goes live and folks rush to the site to request a booking, though there’s no guarantee they’ll get it.
The selected "winner"—or winners, depending on how many individual stays are part of the platform’s offer—are notified by Airbnb within a day or two of the booking flurry and pay a nominal fee for the stay (they’re usually listed anywhere from $1 to $31 per night), then make their own travel arrangements accordingly. But despite all the advance promotional buzz about these offers, there isn’t much out there about who ends up being a "lucky winner"—are they super fans with Google alerts set for anything pertaining to their favorite films? And do the rentals actually live up to the hype? I reached out to reps at Airbnb to learn more about the program (including why they do it, and how the lottery system works) and connect with some prior guests, but the company declined to comment or put me in touch "for a number of reasons, including the strict promotional agreements with partners." (As far as the former, it’s probably safe to assume it’s just a big money maker for the company and partnering studios.) So, I decided to track down a few people who’ve actually stayed in Airbnb’s exclusive, themed rentals to find out more.
Bryon Farris, a 38-year-old backend computer engineer in San Antonio, Texas, got only a week’s notice when he was selected to stay at the original Home Alone house in Winnetka, Illinois, last December. He first discovered the movie-themed stay via a Facebook ad, then set up Twitter notifications for Airbnb’s account in anticipation of an official announcement. Once the booking went live and Farris threw his hat in the ring, things moved fast. An Airbnb representative emailed him within five minutes to confirm the $25 booking, and the next thing he knew he was dropping his dog off at his mom’s house, calling up his buddy Jared to join him, and "peace-ing out" to the Chicago suburbs to experience the McCallister home decked out for the holidays.
When Farris and his friend arrived at the red-brick, Georgian-style house adorned with twinkling lights and traditional wreaths with bows and berries, just like in the ’90s movie, the neighbors beckoned them over to join a charity event they were hosting, then begged to come look around the famous house where Home Alone was filmed. "One of the neighbors was deadass trying to get us to sneak her into the house," says Farris. He let them down kindly.
Inside the residence, Farris and his friend were greeted by the PR firm Airbnb partnered with for the listing. The home’s handlers kept close tabs on Farris’s social media throughout the stay, at one point requesting he take down a photo in an upstairs reading nook he hadn’t realized was off-limits (the owners still live there full-time). Beyond those cordoned off areas, however, nearly every detail of the house was a replica of the original film set, from the star-topped Christmas tree and matching green curtains and sofa in the living room, to the regal red damask wallpaper and carpet running down the main staircase in the foyer. (There were also a few playfully staged booby traps, including an empty paint can teetering on a string above the stairs.)
The McCallisters’ primary bedroom, with its wooden four-poster bed and working fireplace, was also staged with props for the guests, including cozy slippers and fuzzy green bathrobes, just like the one eight-year-old Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) dons in the movie. Farris even snagged the aftershave Kevin uses in the film’s iconic washing up scene (placed in the bathroom specifically for the Airbnb stay), and because the crew said all the set dressings would be discarded when they left, he also took home a recreation of the map Kevin draws up to form a "battle plan" against the intruders. (They later mailed him a LEGO Ideas Home Alone set as a souvenir, too.) Farris says the ancillary costs like his last-minute plane ticket and Uber rides were expensive but worth it, as Home Alone was a formative part of his childhood, "so it was just a cool opportunity."
If staying at the Home Alone house was exciting for a casual childhood fan like Farris, you can imagine how enthralling such offers are for the memorabilia-collecting super fans out there. Take Shane Lewis: a Michigan-based film buff who works in college admissions. It’s likely Scream changed the entire trajectory of his life: He was 11 when the original came out in 1996 and remembers begging his mom to rent it, then watching it three times in 24 hours and being scared sleepless. His grandmother in Florida even purchased a copy so that when he visited, he’d still be able to watch. It’s a well-known fact in Lewis’s social circles that the horror flick is his number one; Scream, he says, is what inspired him to study film in college. So when the Airbnb listing for Stu Macher’s (Matthew Lillard) Northern California mansion was announced leading up to the fifth installment in the Scream franchise, friends alerted him posthaste.
When Lewis and his two guests arrived for the $5 overnight, which fell on Halloween (appropriately), a welcome recording by the Airbnb "host" David Arquette (in character as Sheriff Dewey) was playing on a ’90s CRT television set, just like the one in the horror classic. The light-yellow living room with its rich wood floors, antique-looking mantle, and burnt-red couch was a perfect recreation of the on-screen version, where the teens gather to watch scary movies. "It was clear to me that the organizers also had a love for the film," Lewis says. The fridge was even stocked with period-appropriate snacks like Dunkaroos, Jiffy Pop, and Sunny Delight.
As part of the experience, a pizza was delivered to the house that night, but when the doorbell rang and Lewis checked the door, no one was there. "At this point, we were like, this is a little creepy," he says, "because this home is in the middle of nowhere." It was pitch-black outside and the porch’s motion-activated light hadn’t been triggered, but when the guests looked again, there were pizza boxes with a note that said, Take one step forward and flip this over. On the other side: Now I can see you.
That stunt, paired with some spooky prank calls with a Ghostface voice filter, added to the carefully curated ambiance, but the friends didn’t lose any sleep over it. They did however, stay up half the night watching almost all of the Scream films, only tuckering out during the last one, which they finished the next morning before checkout.
Airbnb’s themed rentals aren’t limited to American suburbs—one of the most buzzed-about experiences the platform has offered is in Paris’s Montmartre neighborhood at the Moulin Rouge windmill, the real-life inspiration for the setting depicted in the eponymous 2001 musical. Lukáš Tížek and Andrea Drobná (Czech newlyweds who met as neighbors and fell in love while taking ballroom dance classes together) are two members of an exclusive cadre who can say they’ve spent the night in the Parisian landmark. Tížek stumbled upon the offer while browsing Facebook; he read an article about the €1 Airbnb overnight and attempted to book it on a whim. He couldn’t believe it when he was selected; neither could Drobná when he called to tell her. The duo worked quickly to find cheap plane tickets and plan their trip less than three weeks before departure.
Upon arrival, the duo was greeted by an Airbnb rep and received a giant, old-fashioned key to the windmill—which is usually rotating, but was turned off for their stay so they wouldn’t be disturbed by its droning mechanisms. While not an exact replica of Satine’s (Nicole Kidman) bedroom in Moulin Rouge, the couple found the cabaret-themed room, with its vintage costumes and sumptuous red-and-pink decor, every bit as dreamy as promised. Airbnb worked with the 19th-century French historian Jean-Claude Yon to give the windmill an authentic renovation, so every detail, from the ornate bedding to the miniature paper stage and antique dressing table with its vintage perfume atomizers and tall glass gas lamps, was true to the period. One quirk of the Belle Époque–inspired boudoir? No washroom. The couple had to walk onto their private rooftop terrace and back downstairs into the actual venue’s bar to access a sink and toilet. There was no shower available, but at Drobná’s request, they were allowed to bathe backstage in the men’s changing rooms.
As part of their stay, the couple also dined in the venue and caught the Féerie show. The pair seated next to Tížek and Drobná said they’d waited four years for the experience, "and we were there in three weeks," says Drobná. "We felt really special."
For Drobná, perhaps the peak of their stay was lounging on the rooftop terrace, overlooking the street, and watching tourists below snapping photos: "I was waving to them, like, yeah, this is my place for tonight." But while they were appreciative of the overall experience, the couple felt that seeing the Moulin Rouge up close took away some of its allure. "It kind of disappeared the magic," says Drobná. "It’s still a great place, but it doesn’t seem so big, so great, so unbelievable."
Top photo courtesy of Airbnb.
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