It’s been our dream to open up Modern Barn Farm to a wider community. Hannah and I are passionate about farming and people and we want to share our farm with guests. Now more than ever people are looking to escape the city, connect with nature and learn more about where their food comes
Since finishing the build of our modern farmhouse, we have been wondering if we could use our shepherd’s hut as a farm stay; to let guests experience our way of life, and provide a valuable source of additional income.
We were worried that our hut wasn’t luxurious enough, but recently realised that its rustic back to basics charm is part of the attraction. So we’ve decided to give it a go and become farm hosts on Airbnb. We have also partnered with them to tell our story of getting the hut ready and listing it. You can find out more about becoming Airbnb farm hosts yourself here. As a partner of Airbnb, we’ll earn a small bonus when people begin hosting through our referral link.
Market Research into farm stays
Like any new venture we started by doing some research into the market. Interestingly, there are currently just over 2,000 farm stays in Great Britain on Airbnb,* and we’ve been inspired by checking them out on Airbnb. Furthermore, 2019 showed a marked increase in the number of guests who searched for farm stays on Airbnb globally.**
Choosing a location on our farm
Feeling confident that our farm stay had real potential we considered where to locate our hut. Our small farm has five fields, all of them with lovely old hedgerows and our own woodland.
After much thought we decided on Hop Garden field, so called as around a 100 years ago, it was used to grow hops for the local brewing industry. These days it is a grass meadow for grazing our sheep. It also happens to be one of our most private fields, with no footpaths. Although it doesn’t have the same views of the South Downs as the top of the farm, nearer the house, we thought that guests would prefer not to be overlooked.
The location is a short walk from the middle of our long gravel farm track. We’ve created a place to park, and tested that we can push a wheelbarrow easily from there to the hut, so guests can ferry luggage, and we can transport things too. The feeling of open space is amazing. It’s also one of the best places to see wildlife as it is surrounded by a woodland – you can often see deer grazing and our trees are home to birds of prey.
One concern about locating the hut so far from the farm house and main barn was the lack of utilities. We felt as a minimum, guests would expect a tap with running water – so we asked a local farmer to help us mole plough 400 meters of water pipe down to the hut.
We decided to use an old horse box trailer on our farm to create a mobile compost toilet. We sourced a high quality tongue and groove wooden compost loo with a good sized removable fibre glass container to use with compostable liners. These are easy to remove and ideal for short stays. The horse box is situated next to the hut – so guests don’t have far to walk in the middle of the night. We added a bunch of dried lavender, a small bin, toilet paper, mirror and a lantern. The horse trailer also doubles up as storage space for larger items such as the fire pit, logs and boule set.
The Shepherds Hut
As you can see in our photos the hut itself has a very simple design, with the stable door in the middle (not the end as is often the case) to make slightly better use of the small space. There are two additional windows at either end. It is fully insulated and lined with wooden tongue and groove panelling. The walls and curved roof are clad in wriggly tin – which not only looks great but sounds awesome in the rain (we love wriggly tin so much we clad our entire house in it too!).
There is a built in double bed with lots of storage provision beneath. At the other end of the hut is a rustic fold away table which was made by our friend and local artist Sam Ayre, and two chairs that we found in a charity shop. Next to this is a marble top dresser we sourced from a vintage shop in Bexhill; which has a couple of drawers and a double cupboard ‘pantry’ for kitchen essentials and good wine! More of which is below.
For those cold winter nights our hut has a small wood burner. We did a lot of research into different wood burners and ended up going for a slightly more expensive one with a glass front. We felt it was worth paying the extra, as we love watching the flicker of the flames, giving off plenty of heat and a lovely warm glow.
We have lots of wood on the farm, which we cut up during the summer and leave to dry for a couple of years before splitting into small logs. We have filled a trug full of starter wood, newspaper, natural firelighters, larger logs and matches, so that guests can easily start a fire. The stove also has a hot plate on the top. When we lived in the hut we used it to warm water in a large enamel bowl for washing and even made breakfast on it with our cast iron frying pan.
Decor and soft furnishings
We put a lot of thought into decorating our hut, we wanted it to feel modern and uncluttered but also rustic. We painted the walls a neutral colour but kept the ceiling white to help keep a feeling of height. To create contrast we painted the wooden floor boards slate grey, which works well with black wood burner. We finished the ‘scandi’ look with one of our own sheepskin rugs from the flock, and some simple ceramic candle holders. Hannah’s mum made blinds out of recycled woollen blankets, which can simply be rolled up and fastened with toggles. They help add a bit of warmth and there was some fabric left over, so they were made into matching cushion covers. Hannah has added some dried flowers, that were picked locally, as they are cheerful and are more environmentally friendly.
Whilst we were living in the hut, we did most of our cooking outside on the fire pit, which has a grill on a tripod. It would take a few hours for the wood to burn down before you can start cooking, but we made some memorable meals featuring our own lamb and beef. We want others to have a go at cooking outside too, so have taken our fire pit and tripod down to the hut for guests to use, and will also give them the opportunity to buy locally farmed food from us. We also had help from our friend Sam to build a bench out of a pallet, so that guests can relax outside around the fire, with a drink, as they wait for the fire to die down and start cooking.
For quicker meals, we have a simple gas camping stove that can be used inside the hut with a range of pots and pans, and also a lovely cast iron frying pan that can be used on top of the wood burner. Hannah is a keen cook so has stocked the dresser with a handy kit that can allow guests to make a self catered meal. Having previously lived in the hut, we have built up an essential kit, such as bottle openers, cork screws, tin openers etc, but we plan to spend another night in the hut soon, so we can see if we have missed anything that guests might need. We also plan to give guests the option to eat with us at the farmhouse if they’d like.
At the heart of the hut is the little wood burner. We used to warm water in a large enamel bowl on the stove top for washing up, whilst the other person sat on the other chair and did the drying up. We love enamelware and have sourced a good collection of mugs, bowls, plates, and simple cutlery. It’s nice and light, and very outdoor proof, so it suits the purpose well.
Books and boardgames
Hannah and I love reading, so we have left a selection of our favourite books for people to read under the bed. Whilst doing some research we also saw that a lot of similar listings have board games available so we have bought some of these second hand, to make sure guests are entertained.
We did a deep clean of the hut, put on fresh bedding, and cleared the surfaces of clutter. We kept an eye on the weather, as it is rainy a lot these days, and when we had a fair morning I took lots of photos with my digital camera to showcase the space on our Airbnb listing. I took about 30 photos in total with a mixture of outside and inside shots, picking my favourites to upload to my host listing profile (more on which below).
I worked my way from the outside of the hut, to the inside, and then took photos from each corner, to help make the space look bigger. We opened the windows to help show off the field location. We also wanted to capture how cosy it is in the winter, so lit the wood burner to show how great it looks through the glass front. I also took some closer up photos of special little details like our bespoke foldaway table, built in bed and little kitchen dresser.
Listing the hut
Listing the hut on Airbnb was a really simple step by step process and took me around an hour to complete. You start by going to their dedicated farm host sign up page here. As a partner of Airbnb, we earn when you host through the link above.
You start out by confirming your contact details and location. You then have to complete several multiple choice questions, which are all fairly straightforward. For example these include specifications about your space – what type of accommodation is it? In our case I selected a Shepherd’s Hut. It also asks how many beds does the space have, does it have an en suite toilet, how is it heated etc.
Helpfully there are also lots of handy tips along the way, with useful comparable listings (already live on Airbnb) for inspiration. In our case it brought up 3 comparable Shepherds Hut (two fairly locally to us) and one further away which was a more luxury double hut with a copper bath! This really helped us to write the description as we were able to read other descriptions without leaving the page.
We were also thankful that Airbnb has a pricing suggestions tool. This was great as Hannah and I were in slight disagreement about how much to charge. We opted to offer a 20% discount for the first three bookings, which can help to get stays and generate reviews more quickly. As Airbnb users ourselves, we know we are less inclined to stay somewhere which doesn’t have any reviews so we thought this was a good idea.
There is an easy to use drag and drop feature for uploading photos and you can pick your favourite for the cover photo. It is useful to know that all of the information contained in your listing is editable, so if you want to change something or want to add additional photos later you can at any time. For example after we read Airbnb’s Covid guidance for cleaning we decided to make our check in hours a bit later to allow ourselves time for a safe turnaround.
During the listing process you can select whether you want to host your space on Airbnb as much as possible or part time. There is also an easy to use calendar where you can book or block off certain days when you don’t want to host people in your space.
As farm hosts we want to be flexible in our approach to guest interaction. We would be interested in offering some farm experiences – such as lambing and kitchen gardening. We are also open to the idea of hosting dinners either in the farmhouse or outside over the fire pit. These are things we look forward to exploring more as we begin our Airbnb hosting adventures.
* Based on internal Airbnb data as of November 7th, 2020.
** Based on internal Airbnb global search data.