CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (WBOY) — West Virginia’s tourism industry is continuing to grow, and now there are completely unique slices of West Virginia available to rent. Ever wanted to stay in a treehouse or a storybook cottage? Then West Virginia is the place.
12 News spoke to two unique Airbnb hosts in the state whose rentals offer way more than just a place to stay.
What was once a playhouse for his son turned into a way to stay afloat during the pandemic for Rob, who has been renting out the Treehouse for two years.
Located in Roane County, the Treehouse is a true rugged West Virginia experience with the playfulness of childhood. The treehouse itself is more than a slight upgrade from a child’s clubhouse with a bed, electric lights and even a small porch where guests can enjoy a coffee or glass of wine. Just a walk away are a bathhouse with an outdoor shower, a fire pit, a pond and an overlook tower, which allow guests to experience much more than just the Treehouse.
Rob isn’t originally from West Virginia and calls his 100-acre plot his own “slice of paradise.” He told 12 News that the main reason people come visit his rental is for the unique experience of being so close to outside.
“You’re not really here to get great internet and be able to walk down the street and get coffee. You’re here for the nature.”
Rob said that there are some unique things about staying in the Treehouse that are often a surprise to his guests because they aren’t on the listing. Instead of a guest book, Rob left the walls in the treehouse white and lets his guests leave notes in crayon. “It’s become sort of a living piece of artwork,” Rob said. “There’s this wonderful vibrant history of everyone that’s been there… it’s just become a really beautiful unique thing; it’s one of my favorite things.”
“I like the idea of little surprises that you don’t necessarily know you’re going to see or experience when you get here,” Rob said. Another unique experience not listed in his rental is his dogs, who sometimes serve as tour guides for guests. “My pack leader, Leo, will literally take you to my waterfall out behind the pond, and he will escort you. You just tell him, ‘I want to go to the waterfall,’ and he’ll take you there and escort you and stay just far enough ahead of you so you don’t get lost.”
More than 200 guests have enjoyed the treehouse in the past two years. Rob said he plans to expand his rentals to allow even more people to share his paradise. He also has a second rental, the Rustic Roost, which is a root cellar with the top floor converted into a studio apartment. It offers a slightly less primitive place to stay than the treehouse, though still with an outdoor shower.
If you want a true fairytale experience, there is a Storybook Cottage available to rent in Raleigh County near Ghent. The shed-turned-single-bedroom rental has a crooked roof, a gnome in a rocking chair overlooking the front door and a view of the pond from the back porch. In an interview with 12 News, rental owner Jill called the place a “Snow White experience,” because there are so many animals around the property, including ducks, chickens, cats and even a turkey. “It’s almost like stepping into a different type of world, it’s not a typical world that we see today.”
Jill and her husband are currently turning their personal home into a castle, so the fairytale theme carries throughout the property. She said her husband, who works in construction, made the mistake of saying “if you can draw it, I can build it,” so there are also several playhouses that also have crooked roofs that her husband built prior to the cottage rental’s conversion. Since her children have outgrown them, the mini houses are used as homes for the animals.
Beyond the houses, Jill said the property itself adds to the fairytale feel. Her family bought the property during winter and learned in the spring that there are tons of fruit trees on their five acres of land—apple, cherry, pear, plum and grape vines. “You can just walk the grounds and eat, and it’s wonderful,” Jill said. Just watch out for Snow White’s poisoned apple!
Although a lot of the people who visit the Storybook Cottage are there for the nearby ski resort, Jill said she has been able to share parts of West Virginia with people from all over the world that may otherwise never get those outdoor kinds of experiences. “We take for granted so many things in West Virginia… We’ve had people from New York City who did not know how potatoes grew, so they’re able to come and dig potatoes…We also had a little boy come who had never held a cat… It’s things that we take for granted.” She said she’d had guests that had never been fishing and got to try it for the first time in their pond. “So it’s providing that experience that comes so natural to us because we were born and raised around it, but not everybody was.”
In the future, Jill said she plans to open other rental spaces on her property. In addition to working on their castle home, Jill is also working on converting another shed into a pencil museum using recycled school supplies.
Starting your own unique rental
Both Jill and Rob recommended that anyone thinking about starting an Airbnb should do it; both of them had nothing but positive experiences to share.
“One thing I didn’t realize when I started this was how much fun it would be,” said Rob. He said that 99% of his guests were incredible and that starting hosts shouldn’t be scared of the concept of bringing strangers into their homes. Some of his neighbors were concerned when he first started his rental, but now, the community appreciates the boost in business in the area. Rob said that he has also made lots of friends around the campfire at his rental, some of which still send him Christmas cards.
Jill said that having guests from across the world is like a reverse vacation for her and her family. “You’re getting to learn about all these different places from all these people visiting you without us having to leave,” Jill tells her young children. Sometimes as a rental host, you even get to meet famous people. Jill told 12 News that she had an Academy Award-winning makeup artist, who worked on films such as “X-Men”, come to her Airbnb.
While both Jill and Rob stay at home and are able to provide a one-on-one experience with their guests, Jill said not every host has to do that. For people who are just wanting to rent out their extra space to make some extra money, she still recommends they try to make it a unique rental. “You can still differentiate your rental to make it different from any other condo or hotel room where they all look the same,” said Jill. “You can highlight parts of your state within that rental because they’re here, they’re here for a reason. And like, even if you just put in notes about West Virginia. Or we have a little information book that talks about our dialect and some of our words that we use that make us unique. You can also use West Virginia-made products. Like, I make zucchini bread for every guest…so they get to experience something different and that’s what they’re looking for is something different. That’s why they chose an Airbnb opposed to a hotel.”
In the U.S., West Virginia and Montana were the two states with the biggest share of nights stayed in unique listings on Airbnb in 2021. And most of those unique rentals are tiny houses, according to Airbnb.
Rob said that the best way to get started on Airbnb is to make a space that you already have livable. “Think about any space as being a potentially habitable rental space.” He said he never dreamed that his treehouse would become the successful rental it is today and that converting a small space is a good place to start. “Use an existing space first, don’t go all in and just spend thousands of dollars.” Both Rob and Jill used a lot of recycled, reclaimed and even scrap materials to build out their rentals into incredible spaces. “It will take your life over and you won’t want to stop but start small.”
Rob did mention that all hosts should go through the app to prevent unruly guests who were not vetted by Airbnb.
If you want to see some of the most unique Airbnbs across the world, you can browse OMG! rentals here.