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Designing Your Dream Airbnb: 6 Expert Tips from a Seasoned Designer

Updated: Apr 3

How do you design a one-of-a-kind retreat that seamlessly blends functionality and aesthetics? Our second cabin at Ripples Retreat will be just that - a stunning design that not only looks beautiful but also works exceptionally hard for our guests.

Ripples Retreat Accommodation Cabin Stone edged deck with timber roof built to capture the afternoon sun. 2 sun loungers and a hanging chair in rural New Zealand
Our first cabin at Ripples Retreat built with the philosophy of "Form follows function". This quote was drummed into us at Design School. Our cabins are practical first and beautiful second. They are influenced by nature and this is reflected in the material and colour selection

It all starts with a simple yet powerful philosophy: A great design has to work first and then be beautiful. Keep reading to discover how I designed our second unique and elevated cabin, as well as our first Ripples Retreat cabin, they both promise to take your getaway experience to the next level.

Trudy Denize Designer and owner of Ripples Retreat
Trudy Denize of Van Beek Design is also the Owner of Ripples Retreat

Follow us as we build our second one.

PRACTICALITIES  It all begins with selecting the right site.

This involves a delicate balancing act where various factors are taken into account. Our primary considerations included the stability of the ground, scenic views, proximity to the river, the sun's orientation throughout the year, privacy, and accessibility. Additionally, the site must comply with all our local bylaws.

TIP: The choice of location is vital. Consider views, sun orientation, water and electric connections, and guest accessibility.

Arial photograph of Ripples Retreat, farm stay cabin accommodation in Waikato New Zealand near Piopio
Site selection is critical. Our first cabin at Ripples Retreat is located in a bend in the trout fishing Mangaotaki River with easy access off the road and we have built up soil berms and planted these for extra privacy. Our second cabin will be 150m further downstream, just to the far left of this picture.

After carefully choosing our site, (with much debate!) the next consideration is the actual design. While we could simply replicate the success of our first cabin, which has received rave reviews from our guests, and in the process save myself a heap of time.

But NO!!

Instead, I'm pushing myself to create a new, practical, cozy, unique, sustainable, and beautiful design that takes things to the next level. And I'm loving it!!!

Ai generated kitchen design of a cabin kitchen with upcycled cupboards
Consept Image of the kitchen for our next cabin. This is a Computer generated mash up

Our next consideration is Who am I designing for?

Our two main types of guests are couples, many on special occasion holidays such as honeymoons and anniversaries and families vacationing for up to a month. Both cabins are designed to be intimate enough for a romantic getaway yet large enough for small families on a longer stay, with cleverly tucked away bedrooms leaving space for the living areas. After all, we don't need much space when we're asleep, but we need plenty of it when we're awake.

Our second cabin has a 35% larger footprint making it more suited to larger families of up to 6 and groups. It will also have a larger indoor; and an outdoor kitchen and we're planning an outdoor shower as well as an outdoor bath that is a guest favourite in our first cabin.

Both are also suited to overseas guests as we are close enough to Auckland International Airport, that many of our guests make Ripples their destination stay. Or they stay when they have either just arrived or are leaving Auckland, New Zealand. See our previous blog on how easy we are to get to.

TIP: It has to first be practical.

Clever design solution for plywood bunk beds built into a 2200m x 1600mm footprint with a rqacked ceiling for extra head room and storage below the bottom bunk.
Ripples is a perfect family accommodation and the kids love these built in bunks. There's plenty of head room with the double bunk below and a single on top. Access is via fun rock climbing holds on the walls

2 THE FEEL "How do I want people to feel?"

As I pondered this, I realized that what I truly desire is for my guests to leave with a renewed sense of wonder, creativity, and inspiration and to carry that feeling with them long after they leave.

But finding that perfect balance between feeling inspired and feeling rested can be a challenge. That's why we strive to create an experience that is both rejuvenating AND inspiring.

Modern designers cabin on the banks of a trout filled river near Auckland in New Zealand
Our first cabin is nestled on the river bank of the beautiful Mangaotaki River and our second cabin will be location 150m downstream

To achieve this, we take inspiration from nature.

Both cabins are located close to river in beautiful landscapes with a strong connection between the indoors and out. We have designed private sites for our waterside cabins with natural color palettes and conscious material choices. Such as the limestone boulders around the decks. Moreover, each cabin features a double outdoor bath, a river swimming pool, a sweeping lawn, and a large outdoor living room.

TIP: Make sure every item a guest handles feels nice to the touch, from the front door handle to the outdoor bath and towels.

Stunning stargazing from the outdoor bath at Ripples Retreat. Milkyway is easily seen under the clear night sky
Our guests can be one with nature in our outdoor bath. Stargazing at the galaxy under our clear night sky. Ripples Retreat is one of the few clear night sky areas closest to Auckland.

3 THE STYLE I’ve chosen this natural style and stuck to it. I can't stress how important this is! As a designer, there are many styles I admire, and I find it hard to stick to one, but consistency is key. The autumn hues of our natural surroundings were the inspiration for our first cabin with rusty tones and natural timbers. After seeing the reaction of our guests to my first design, I have an extra confidence to push the design of our second cabin in a fun-filled and more colourful direction.

TIP: Choose a style and stick to it.

Cozy reading nook in front of the fire. With handmade throws and a glass of red wine
Cozy autumn hues, natural materials and handmade items are combined in our first cabin to create a sumptuous interior. All our material choices are tactile and feel great.

The inspiration for our next cabin is derived from a large artwork that I painted of a location that we highly recommend as a day trip for our guests. The painting depicts a stylized seascape near the Waikawau tunnel, and I have used our natural New Zealand colors, pushed to their most saturated, and simplify our rolling hills and shoreline. The curves in this painting are evident in the overall design of our second cabin, and the colors from this painting will be reflected throughout the interior and exterior of the cabin

I'm now in the fun zone of purchasing all the interior items that will go into it. There is a copy of this painting on my phone, which goes everywhere with me so that I can compare colours and styles of items BEFORE I purchase them.

TIP: Take a photo of your inspiration and always have it on you when selecting all your furnishings and finishes. Picking out solid colour swatches is especially useful for soft furnishing and furniture choices

Ripples Retreat Stylized seascape artwork on plywood. New Zealand natural colours
I painted this large artwork from a photograph I took of the coastline close us and it is now the inspiration for our second cabin. I have photo of this on my phone as a guide for all purchases in our cabin.

Selection of colours to be used in our Interior design of our cabin


Although we live on a quiet country road, I have deliberately kept a solid wall on the road side of each cabin, to provides a large screen for the cabin interior and the outdoor bath and lawn beyond.

In addition to this we have mounded up large berms between each of the cabins and the road, and planted many native trees and shrubs to enhance the seclusion.  Oh, and we let some wild weeds grow on the mounds too, just to add an extra layer of privacy. I tried planting wildflowers once, but they're a lot of work to maintain, so as I'm not a full-time gardener, I'm gonna stick with the weeds.

TIP: Work with nature and embrace the weeds. After all they're not weeds they natural wildflowers.

5 IT TAKES TIME! I can not emphasize this enough.

It takes me at least a year to design each cabin down to the smallest detail. I also love the challenge of building sustainably and many of the pieces in both cabins are handmade or upcycled. The footprint is not large, yet they are both highly detailed and considered with high racked ceilings and extra large windows which add a spacious and breezy feel.

The smaller footprint means many of our furniture pieces are multifunctional.

For instance, this window seat in our first cabin, not only serves as seating for the dining table but also doubles as an extra bed when we're hosting a larger family. It also has storage space underneath to store our bean bags. We test every item that goes into our cabins, from sheets to cutlery, to ensure that they are perfect and fit for their intended purpose.

Multifunction furniture is critical in a hardworking design
This multifunction window seat has storage underneath, is used as a lounging area to read a book and the dining table can be pushed up to it for extra seating. It also has storage underneath.

TIP: Take the time to design down to the smallest detail BEFORE you start to build. This will save you time, $$$, and most of all stress!

6 MAKE IT FUN! The sixth and final consideration is to make it fun!

We don't want to bore our guests at Ripples Retreat, so we always try to come up with new and exciting designs. We've created a unique and magical experience that they'll never forget, but have not forgotten the practical stuff either! We make sure there's a place for our guests' toilet bags. We trust our instincts and go for it! This is how we maintain our 5-star Google Reviews from our guests.

TIP: Keep it small. It's MUCH more manageable as a building project and easier to maintain afterwards.

A holiday cabin allows me to elevate my designs to a level that I'm not brave enough (or can't convince my husband to) try in my own home. I want our guests to be surrounded by decadent objects, plush fabrics, and upcycled sustainable furniture pieces that are super comfortable and beautiful. And I want them to go home with amazing memories and the urge to return after a magical experience. It gives us a huge amount of pleasure knowing our guests are having a wonderful holiday in our retreat!

Bespoke wood cabin interior decorated with upcycled and handmade items
Our handmade four poster bed is decorated with quirky film props and natural wool stuffed sheep - adding a fun and personal feel to our cabin.

Here's my 6 Top Tips for creating a Magical Airbnb Cabin from me as the Designer

I love what we have already designed and built at Ripples Retreat and I'm so excited for our second cabin which will hopefully be ready for Summer 2024.

If you would like to be notified when our bookings open up please contact me at

You can also follow our second cabin build on Instagram, Facebook or Youtube and I will be adding regular updates shortly.

If you would like to stay in our first cabin at our designer's retreat, book below.

We'd love to host you :-)


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