From Baggage to Beauty

Article & Photos by Beth Carson

It’s a delicious feeling in January, boarding a flight with far to many bags, soaring high over the frigid mountains of North Carolina, landing in gloriously hot and humid Mexico.

From Baggage to Beauty1I packed my swimsuit, but on this trip, relaxation will be only occasionally squeezed into my full schedule. Usually, I’d travel with just carry-on. But this is different. This time, I’m paying excess baggage fees for bags brimming with goodies from IKEA, Amazon, Sam’s Club, and boutique shops. I’m outfitting two gorgeous condos in the serene golf and yoga community of TAO.

There’s nothing quite like a blank slate. For inspiration, I used my surroundings. The townhouse has an incredible skylight feature, as well as a blue tiled plunge pool in the backyard, with the main pool for TAO just beyond. Tropical blues and greens fit this home beautifully.

The penthouse, a few buildings away, is on the golf course- a peekaboo view through a swath of jungle, and the owner is a keen golfer. He plans on staying in this vacation rental when he visits. My inspiration came from a gold platter with an inverted golf ball design from IKEA. Balanced with silky hardwood and red and silver accents, the penthouse is an eye-popping surprise. See the video from my IKEA shopping trip.

From Baggage to Beauty2It took 3 trips to Tulum in all, with daily shopping jaunts to Playa del Carmen, 40 minutes each way. Some finds were sourced from local stores in Playa del Carmen whose owners spend the off season traveling around the country visiting artisan communities, some I found in the Pier One that I discovered inside the Sears.

The blank slate is fun, but somewhat intimidating. Not only did I need to focus on the obvious things, like art, linens, pillows– but everything else, from step ladders to fire extinguishers. Only knowing the basics of the language, my trips to Home Depot (likely over 10 in total) were a hilarious pantomime trying to act out a mirror or patio cushions.

Only the man behind the paint counter spoke English. I did the best I could, then sometimes, I’d have to admit defeat and use his language skills. I think he enjoyed it, and the employees were always surprised when the charade word was revealed, usually with an exaggerated bump on the head. Then we’d march off to the next item on my list.

From Baggage to Beauty3Top Things to Keep in Mind When Outfitting a VR 

I kept several principles in mind when searching the US, the web and Mexico for items that renters would enjoy.

Eye catching – I chose pieces that looked like a lot of thought and care had gone into their inclusion in the home. They not only needed to look intriguing and inviting when staying in the homes, they had to photograph well. I learned this lesson while rehabbing houses. My business partner and I loved the shopping part. We decided not to ever use contractor grade material – light fixtures, faucets, etc. We could select something from the clearance section, but it had to look stylish. That was a huge factor in our homes selling so quickly and for higher dollar than the Realtor expected. People love details.

It’s not the devil that’s in the details, it’s the delight.

From Baggage to Beauty5Price – I treated each home just as I would my own. I saved money everywhere I could, searching online and FB groups for recommendations on the best bed linens (Sam’s Club) and other items. I spent money on pieces that I couldn’t find inexpensive options – the places needed to be quality throughout. If I can spend $60 a bed on linens rather than $300 for similar quality, I would happily do that. That included a run to South Carolina when they were having a $20 off sale. When you’re buying 12 sets of sheets- $20 per set adds up to $240- a nice piece
of art for one of the walls.

Comfort- Sofas and chairs can be cheap, they can be artsy, they can be luxury, but they need to be comfortable. My client was committed to furniture that would stand the test of time, so we had custom furniture designed just for the space. Since the designer’s studio was a few hours away, people made introductions to other owners in TAO who graciously welcomed us into their homes and let us try out his furniture.

From Baggage to Beauty6Electronics- even in sunny Mexico, rain falls. Super Bowl Sunday still airs, and the golf games continue while people are on vacation, and sometimes, you just need to plunk the kiddos down in front of the TV. My client wisely opted for the most comprehensive cable and internet package and TV’s in most rooms.

And, because there are people like me, who don’t like TV unless it’s HGTV (Home and Garden Television), and love to retreat to a quiet place to read, I bought miniature speakers for each room, where guests can charge their iPod/iPhone, or use the extra cord I purchased, for just $5 on Amazon, to attach anything with a headphone jack. Soothing music can drown out the game or the kid’s shows, and suddenly the bedroom is a retreat.

Wow Moments- throughout the condos, there are both quiet and big moments of wow. Moments that say, “Someone designed this with me in mind.”

From Baggage to Beauty8I didn’t just buy hammocks, I splurged on artful pieces of wood with floating hammocks. I didn’t just get standard silver lamps for over the bar in the kitchen, I found unique ones in IKEA that catch your eye and glow with a pleasing copper light when lit. In the Penthouse, I chose lounging beds that have end tables built in. I used what could have been a boring wall in between the two bedrooms and added a row of red tiles, a gold piece of art that complimented the IKEA gold bowls nicely, and added a silver mirror. It’s a one of a kind.

I can’t wait for my next trip to Tulum to spend some time in the area and enjoy the fruits of my labor. My only decision? Which condo shall I stay in.

Traveling to the Tulum Mexico area? These beautiful properties just might be available for you.



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