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Emily Henderson

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by Emily Henderson

Alright folks, this is my 4th and final post about the SXSW Airbnb design project – and this one, about the exterior, was a BEAST which is why its taken me 5 weeks to write. It was one of the most challenging projects i’ve ever done, and I remember even saying once that I was more stressed out than i’ve been in years. Let me tell you why:

We had to turn this 20K square foot asphalt parking lot into a green, lush, backyard oasis full of trees, grass and furniture …. in TEXAS … without ever seeing it and in the winter when most trees didn’t have their leaves on them. 20K square feet is MASSIVE. Like Costco size. Also this area needed to function a very specific way for all the events that were going to happen there – live music events, magic shows, dinners, yoga …. so making the design for those needs was challenging, too. (Check out the first Airbnb event we did HERE and look at at the popups we designed with these celebrities: Moby,  Lake Bell,  Molly Sims,  Anjelica Huston,  and James Franco, as well as Snoop Dogg’s and Capital Cities, and Allen Stone)

Here is what I had to work off of:

blueprint sxsw

To someone like me (untrained in architecture and no FORMAL design training) the above blueprint is about as understandable as a diagram of a car engine … its all just martian language, really.  So then I satellite viewed the parking lot on google maps:

satellite view

Ok, now that I am starting to understand better but its still so abstract. In retrospect I probably should  have flown down there for two days a few weeks before to see for myself, but I was busy it wasn’t in the budget, yadda yadda.

street view 2

And here’s how it looked from the street view – she was a dead, gray asphalt parking lot. So Ginny and I started to brainstorm how to turn this parking lot into a ‘neighborhood oasis’ – using these kit haus’ and 20k square feet.

We brainstormed for a couple of days and came up with this ‘Edward Scissorhands meets the Indie Southwest’. We figured it we were going to create a neighborhood why not create a super iconic suburb with acid colors, a picket fence and topiaries (which got nixed, sadly).

Airbnb SXSW

We loved the idea of taking a really traditional suburban house and neighborhood and plopping it in the middle of a total young, hipster party zone. It acted as both the respite from the craziness, and contrast to the grittiness of the East 6th neighborhood, while still being a total party space.

Airbnb SXSW

We pictured the houses, while modular, being in these acid-y pastel colors, a la the vintage suburban 50’s neighborhood. We needed to create some separate spaces (and address a 1′ wide median in the middle of the parking lot that was a massive tripping hazard) so we decided to bring in the traditional kitchy white picket fencing. We wanted it to feel really playful, young and fun and very 2014. That is what is so fun about temporary spaces – you can make them really trendy and not worry about getting sick of them.


Airbnb SXSW

For the color palette we chose all these saturated colors and wanted them to act as these big pops of color throughout the space.  It was fairly loose – we basically just pulled all the colors from that shot of chairs above on the mood board, but then we really just got inspired by most colors that we saw and kinda made them all work. We figured that as long as there was a lot of consistency with the furniture,  plants, and fabric styles – that we could go cray with the colors and just go for bright and fun.

For the seating we wanted them to be simple, white, wood or natural materials (like wicker) and with a vintage vibe, naturally. We had to buy so much so a lot of it had to be thrifted and it was easiest to find thrifted wicker and wood then say, a bunch of thrifted colors that were in decent shape. We wanted it to feel bright and poppy

And ultimately it would feel like this:

Airbnb SXSW

Then we gave the info to our talented friends at Tajima Creatives and they did this rendering for us to show the client:

Airbnb SXSW

And then just as a reminder here’s what the other three pods looked like:

Exterior renderings 2

So we got to the location on a thursday with four days to do all the exterior and the interior design the Kithaus’ were on their way up, and some trees had been delivered, but it was definitely empty and needing love.

exterior photos3

This included: laying down the astroturf,  arranging 130 plants, 50 of which had to be moved by a forklift,  installing all the exterior lighting,  installing the picket fence,  installing the interiors of the pods (including furniture placement to fluffing pillows),  landscaping the exterior of the pods (thanks Big Red Sun),  arranging all the exterior furniture, blankets, and then the tiny pots around the seating areas.


We chose astroturf over real sod for one million reasons that I won’t bore you with – but included mainly function, traffic, possibility of rain, look and feel. Grass is awesome in theory. High end astrotruf is awesome in reality. Thank you so much Big Red Sun for coordinating that.

exterior progress

Speaking of Big Red Sun – these landscapers killed it. We didn’t know what to do or where to source from, so I got smart and hired these awesome landscape designers to consult on the project. They helped shop, coordinate, design and install the 130 plants (probably more, actually) that we put in the space. Fork lifts were involved. ALL of those trees had to be brought in. It looked effortless but trust me, it wasn’t. Thank you so much Tessa and Julie for all of your expertise and general loveliness to work with.

Airbnb Park Exterior 04

I was way too busy to take instagrams, but trust me that it was insane. Lots of moving part, pots in the fire, cooks in the kitchen and i’m sure many more cliches. It ran fairly smoothly (CEG,  the marketing company that ran it, was awesome) but it was still a lot to coordinate and install. Thank god we had four days and lots of help.

Airbnb SXSW Exterior

At the end Ginny, Dean and I were seriously so proud of ourselves. To go from a MASSIVE parking lot to the weird little neighborhood we created was intensely satisfying.

Airbnb SXSW Exterior

For the exterior furnishings we started with 12 custom picnic tables with removeable benches (made by Austin Pallet company who were awesome, and wonderful and totally great to work with) and had the edges of them painted in our color pallette, and then had custom cushions made for the benches in these saturated plaid fabrics. As a reference the pads for the tables cost $60 without the cost of the fabric but we used fashion fabrics that were around $6 a yard and each bench needed one yard. If you are wondering if this fabric will stand up to years of wear and tear the answer is no, but it was a four day event so it was fine for us.

Airbnb Park Exterior

And then also these clusters of vintage white and wicker furniture (with some ikea mixed in there) with lots of vintage or imported mexican blankets EVERYWHERE.

Airbnb Park Exterior 29

We had stumps as the side tables (from West Elm and Organic modernism) and wrapped all the big pots in burlap (some messier than others clearly) and all the small pots in baskets from the flower market.

Here are some more pics right after we finished setting up (but before we put the pots in the baskets):

Airbnb Park Exterior Airbnb Park Exterior Airbnb Park Exterior 05

We found these canvas butterfly chairs for $60 a piece which isn’t nothing but I love the for $60. To get some things that were more uniform (to help it not feel too thrift store and to help the budget) we needed quantity and on our budget (which was good, but goes sooo fast) I was excited to find these chairs for $60.

Airbnb Park Exterior Airbnb Park SXSW Airbnb Park Exterior

The lighting company, Intelligent Lighting did a BANG UP job. The place looked amazing, they were so great to work with, they were professional and yet flexible, providing lots of renderings and edits and never making me feel high maintenance.

Airbnb Park Exterior 25

I feel like this is one of those posts that i could write for 15 pages, describing every decision, and every step of the process. But ultimately you should just know that it was so challenging, so fun, so rewarding, so much hard work for so much satisfaction.

Airbnb Park Exterior

After we finished the installation I stayed around to speak to the media, hang out with Snoop, etc for 4 days. We went out and enjoyed SXSW, sure, but every day all of us (I was with a big group of friends) just wanted to come bak to the airbnb park.

Airbnb Park Exterior

It was the only place that you felt like you could relax, spread out, have fun, drink for free, eat for free, take harmonica lessons, watch magicians, play vintage arcade games, watch the labrynth on an outdoor movie screen.

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And there you have it. The Airbnb Park at SXSW. The happiest place on earth … for five days. 🙂 Thanks CEG and Airbnb for giving us the opportunity to do this and the resources to succeed. If only every company were as creative with their marketing and experiences as Airbnb is. It really, really, works.

(Check out the first Airbnb event we did HERE and look at at the popups we designed with these celebrities: Moby,  Lake Bell,  Molly Sims,  Anjelica Huston,  and James Franco, as well as Snoop Dogg’s and Capital Cities, and Allen Stone)

Landscape Design: Big Red Sun Austin

Photo credits: Vivien Killilea | Intelligent Lighting Design | Rush Jagoe for Airbnb

Renderings: Tajima Creative Partners | Louis Polidori testtest

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