Now in its second season, Makeful’s ‘Handmade Hotels’ explores the creative and unique ways homeowners are transforming their homes into short-term rentals. The host of the show is renovation expert and designer, Katie Hebert, who meets with the homeowners to learn how they have used homemade and handmade touches to take advantage of the short-term rental market.
We caught up with the talented property developer to find out more about the show and get some tips on how to take your short-term rental to the next level.
Since 2012, you have been transforming houses in and around Toronto, taking dilapidated properties and turning them into beautiful homes. What do you love most about your job?
There are so many things I love, but mostly, it’s the enormous sense of achievement I feel when a project is complete. It’s incredible! It’s pretty powerful to be able to see the transformation of a rundown house into a beautiful new home that’s going to be enjoyed for years to come.
I also really enjoy change and challenge, and my job is full of that. I’m lucky that every day, no matter how small, I see progress. I think that’s when I’m in my element — when we have to troubleshoot issues. This also ties into my love for learning. Whether it’s construction or design related, every day I’m building knowledge of what works, what doesn’t work, and what sells. It’s this growth that keeps my work interesting.
I’m also lucky that my job allows me to engage my creative side — to come up with floorplans and design concepts for kitchens and bathrooms again and again (and then to shop for them), it’s a pretty awesome component of my job.
Have you experienced any obstacles or challenges as a woman in a male-dominated field?
Absolutely. It’s undeniable that I’m one of just a few females operating as owner, GC, and designer in a very male-dominated industry, but I don’t let it phase me. I like to think of it positively — I have the opportunity to help change perceptions and to breakdown stereotypes.
I have had so many encounters where I’ve been doubted, or even asked, “where my husband is,” but for the most part when trades get to know me, they quickly appreciate my value, knowledge, and work ethic. I feel fortunate I now have a crew that respects me and my abilities.
I’m excited to see more and more females entering the construction space. I really do believe our point-of-view is a beneficial one.
Where I think I really shine as a woman in this industry is being able to devise and stick to a schedule. If you can keep things mostly on track and in the right order, that’s half the challenge!
What’s the biggest difference between renovating a holiday rental property and your own personal residence?
You can have more fun and take more risks renovating for rental. Not to say you can’t do that in your own home, but there’s something about the world of short-term rentals that allows homeowners to really express themselves and creatively design spaces.
Guests are often short-term, so having a space that’s impactful and memorable really contributes to the rental’s success.
I met several hosts who were also professional interior designers — they just never get the opportunity to design carte blanche, and their short-term rentals serve as their ‘look books’ for future clients. It’s where they are really in their element.
In Handmade Hotels, you explore the coolest places to stay. While each home you visit is unique, with one-of-a-kind handmade elements, they all manage to make their guests feel at home. Are there any commonalities amongst the properties that make them successful short-term rentals?
I think the biggest commonality is that they’re all born from a passion of some sort. There were so many approaches and styles, but the homeowners we met are really dedicated to creating personal, inviting, and interesting spaces for their guests.
I think short-term rentals started very uniform and beige — trying to emulate hotels, but over the last decade, the industry has recognized that people booking these places are not looking for a hotel stay. They are looking for something different, unique, even to step outside their ordinary day-to-day and try something completely new — I think that’s when something quite magical can happen.
If you got to spend a weekend in one of the rentals you visited this season, which one would you pick and why?
It’s hard to pick just one! I’ve already revisited several of them!
What I love about this season is the variety of properties on offer. There are spaces I want to go back to with my husband for a romantic weekend like Alabaster Acres or Trott Cottage, rentals I want to book for a girls weekend like The Wilk or Cressy House, and a couple of special family spaces like The Historic Stone Farm House or Bluestone. I’ve already taken a quick overnighter with my son to the Tiny House, and he loved it. I’ve also been to The Ferg and Glen Oro Farm from season 1 with my family. I’m officially hooked!
Why do you think this series resonates with audiences here in Canada?
I think Canadians are quite unique in that we are not necessarily looking for the biggest and the best when it comes to properties. We are looking for something special, something unique, and a little bit outstanding. There’s a show on CBC called Grand Designs, which is my all-time-favourite property show, and I think it has the same appeal as Handmade Hotels. We are both showcasing properties that shine through as having a real flair. The rentals we feature may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but a Canadian audience will appreciate the effort that has gone into the design planning of these places. I think that Handmade Hotels offers something for every viewer. Every fancied tiny living? You got it! Feel like going glamping for the weekend? We’ve done that!
If you’ve ever walked down an alleyway in the city or tried to look through the windows of a wood cabin in the countryside, this is the show for you. You not only get to look inside your neighbour’s house, you get to have a tour and ask them all the questions you ever wanted to!
I’m also really proud of the range of homes we showcase. Whether you are looking for a city getaway or a break from the hustle and bustle, have a big budget or a small one, hoping to disconnect and unwind or live it up, we have something for you. There’s even a couple in there I could see Harry and Megan escaping to for a quiet weekend away!
For those of us thinking of putting our properties up on Airbnb or Vrbo, do you have any recommendations on how to make our short-term rentals stand out in a competitive market?
Rule #1 — Good photography! Make sure your pictures reflect the beauty of your space. You might think you take great photos, but it’s worth investing in a professional photographer. You only get one chance to catch the eye of potential guests — and this will be your biggest return on investment.
Rule #2 — Be consistent in your design to attract the right guests. If you have a historical home, enhance and celebrate that. If you’re going uber modern and sleek, commit to that. Whatever style or theme you choose, just be confident in what you want to create and stay true to that idea.
Rule #3 — Encourage your guests to leave feedback. Be receptive and responsive. Good reviews will fuel new bookings, so they’re important.
And be sure to read up on your city’s rules and regulations for short-term rentals.
What are some renovation and design trends to look out for this year?
We’re seeing more and more awareness about environmental issues in the building industry. Businesses are trying to find more eco-friendly ways to build, and it’s becoming a fast-developing trend to create homes with smaller footprints.
In terms of design, we’re seeing a trend towards reclaimed and vintage styles that offer an affordable approach to eco-friendly decor. It’s budget-friendly and a great creative outlet, so keep an eye out online, or even the sidewalk, for pieces you can up-cycle to bring a sense of history and interest to your space.
Travellers are so savvy about their carbon footprint these days, the draw to create short-term rentals that help offset that has become a design trend all its own. Whether it’s staying off-grid, using a compostable toilet, or decorating with the three Rs (reuse, recycle, repurpose), guests are looking for opportunities to book a fantastic getaway AND feel good about themselves at the same time.
In the GTA, many people rent instead of own. Do you have any tips on how these individuals can make their space feel special and unique?
With permission from their landlord (of course), I would encourage tenants to think about personalizing their space. This often starts by picking one special piece of furniture or art that they love and designing the room/house/space around that.
Peel-and-stick wallpaper is an incredible way to transform a room/wall/closet/furniture. Best of all, when you’re done, you can simply peel it right off. Lighting can also make a huge difference in a space, so think about where you can add lamps and different types of bulbs to create different effects. Lastly, colour is my go-to tip for updating a space — a large piece of art or a painted ceiling can really change the feel of a space.
Do you have any exciting projects in the pipeline?
I’m working on a large renovation in Leslieville right now. It’s a beautiful Brownstone that is gorgeous from the outside, but needs a LOT of work. It’s a resale home, so it’s a little more neutral than what we see on the show, but there are some design choices that have been inspired by what I saw on Handmade Hotels. I post pictures of progress on my Instagram account @katie_herbert_ and share the ups and downs!
I have also just finished a small rental project that was wholeheartedly inspired by this season of Handmade Hotels — I incorporated lots of my favourite elements into the space, like the use of vinyl wallpaper, live edge materials, as well as reclaimed items.
Handmade Hotels season 2 airs Wednesdays at 8 pm ET/PT, exclusively on Makeful during the channel’s eight-week free preview event running from now until April 5 across Canada.