Pop quiz: When you read the words “most popular Airbnb listing in history,” what is the first thought that pops into your mind? Maybe something painfully hip and urban – a Manhattan penthouse, Brooklyn brownstone or a San Francisco loft. Or perhaps your first thought was something really exotic – a home carved from white alabaster in Santorini or an unbelievably luxurious and all-inclusive Thai villa.
We could let you keep guessing forever, but we are almost certain you won’t get it right. The most popular house in Airbnb history is a treehouse. Or, to be totally accurate, a rather treehouse-esque structure nestled into the woods of a coastal Northern California town called Aptos, population 6,620. Due to its cylindrical shape and domed roof, it is affectionately known as “The Mushroom Dome.”
It is currently booked out until mid-2020 and is viewed approximately three million times per year on Airbnb, according to Vox.
“It was actually built by a friend of mine who had become homeless. She asked if she could bring a trailer and two daughters out here,” said Kitty Mrache, the Mushroom Dome’s owner. “The housing in this area is extremely short and expensive – because we’re a small mountain range away from Silicon Valley. Then she wanted to build a cabin; I said, ‘well, it can’t be more than 100 square feet.’ She linked up with a designer and [off they went.] So she lived out here for about 10 years, then she got married and left.”
After her friend set out on her romantic adventure, Mrache relocated the entire building from her parents’ property in the area to her own, elevated it and added a deck and bathrooms. Her intent was to create lodging for her adult children’s visits, but the cabin was otherwise empty. When Mrache heard about a little startup in Silicon Valley looking for people to list their spare rooms and guest cottages on something called a home-sharing platform, it seemed like a good way to put the mushroom dome to use.
Flash forward 10 years and the Mushroom Dome – described as “Emersonian” (mostly by people who don’t know it was Thoreau, not Emerson, who lived in a cabin in the woods) and the “ultimate in Northern California cool” – remains the site’s most popular rental spot, with visitors from all over the world flocking to its highly photogenic environs. It is particularly beloved among Instagram influencers, at least one of whom used the spot to take her pregnancy announcement photos.
And while it might be tempting to write off the mushroom dome as something of a fluke – a lucky combination of good timing, prime location and highly photogenic weirdness – we would argue this would be a mistake. The Mushroom Dome was, in fact, an early harbinger of things to come on Airbnb – providing a glimpse into both the future of lodging and the deepest desires of the human soul.
Which, as it turns out, is to spend their vacations sleeping in a treehouse – or something that looks very much like one.
And if this claim sounds implausible, we refer you to the sheer number of articles on helping consumers find the best treehouses on Airbnb. There’s this one, or this one, or this one, or this one or this one. And that is just the first page of the Google search results – there are several thousand more from there.
What makes for the best Airbnb treehouse? After spending a lot of time reading about treehouses all over the world, as far as we can tell, there is no uniform standard. As long as someone is sleeping in a tree – or at least in a structure that is elevated and near a tree – there is a pretty wide breadth. Some are luxurious and offer Viking Stoves and jacuzzi-style baths. Others are optimized for families, complete with bunk beds, bright colors and rope ladders. Some are designed for back-to-nature romance, which generally involves a lot of soft lighting, essential oils and candles.
Are candles a good idea in a wooden structure built into a tree, which is also made of wood? Probably not – which is why so many listings mention that the candles are electric.
Don’t have a tree?
That’s not necessarily a deal-breaker in this endeavor, as some enterprising entrepreneurs in Courchevel, France learned when they decided to offer up a cable car dangling 9,000 feet above the French Alps for a night’s stay. The next morning, the cable car ascended the rest of the way up the mountain and the guests skied down.
In fact, treehouses have become such a popular feature on sites like Airbnb that major hotels are deciding to jump on the trend, building customer treehouses for their guests. Treehouse resorts are popping up all over the U.S. and around the world, mostly focusing on families looking for whimsical stays. Some are more aimed toward comfort and luxury, with hot tubs, telescopes, premium linens and a “glamping” vibe. Others offer a far more rustic experience. Edisto River Treehouses in South Carolina, for example, cannot be reached by road. Guests must paddle canoes or kayaks to reach the site – which, rather unsurprisingly, boasts solitude and serenity, but not electricity.
Some are even arguing that the treehouse has a future as the pinnacle of sustainable living. Why cut down a tree to build your dream home when you could just make the tree itself your home?
“I think people love treehouses because of the warmth of timber – when you walk into the treehouse, you get this lovely, woody smell,” said Simon Payne, co-owner of the world’s leading tree house company, Blue Forest.
Treehouse designer (and resident) Matt Hogan concurred, noting that living in and around trees – instead of merely demolishing them – brings their clients closer to the natural world.
“It’s a very attractive thing for a lot of people, whether it’s for a vacation or a life change, and I’d say that most of the people that ended up buying properties have done so because of the connection they have with nature,” Hogan said. “You’re completely immersed in nature, you go to bed listening to the bugs and the frogs and you wake up with bird song. It’s kind of like living in one of those spa CDs of rainforest sounds.”
And while that sounds quite nice, we suspect that most of us will not be trading in our colonials or condos for treehouses anytime soon. They are expensive to build, difficult to maintain and are very, very close to the outdoors. Those bugs one hears when going to bed at night, for example, might also call the tree their home, and evicting them with poison isn’t exactly living in harmony with the natural world. Human beings like to be close to nature, but we migrated indoors just about as quickly as we figured out what a roof and walls were.
But when it comes to going on vacation, we might think differently. A chance to experience the childhood fantasy of living in a massive treehouse complete with rope bridges and a hot tub for a week, before returning home to central air and indoor plumbing?
Well, we can see the appeal in that.
As can, apparently, most other vacationers on planet Earth.