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Far from the hustle city life, these remote, rentable properties let visitors commune with nature without sacrificing style

Artists and writers have been retreating to remote patches of nature ever since Henry David Thoreau waxed poetic about confronting life’s “essential facts” in the woods of Massachusetts. But during this tumultuous year, it’s not just creative types fleeing to the countryside to clear their heads and breathe in the fresh air. Airbnb reports a record 25% surge in bookings for rural listings this summer, with city dwellers seeking a respite en masse. Unlike Thoreau’s ascetic shack, several design-forward properties on Airbnb offer discerning renters the twin pleasures of being one with nature and living in an architectural marvel.

Musicians Sean W. Spellman and My Larsdotter run one of these dreamy rentals, in Westerly, Rhode Island, a beach town about 2.5 hours by car from New York City. Their two-bedroom, 1930s Cape Cod–style South County House is decorated with a tasteful amalgam of 1970s California cool, Scandinavian modern, and Japanese minimalism, an aesthetic largely honed during their years on tour when they booked interesting accommodations around the world.

Spellman says bookings have significantly increased since the pandemic, with discerning travelers from places like New York, Boston, and Los Angeles willing to pay three to four times the price compared to other rentals in the area. Attention to design details—from the creative placement of shiplap pine to well-chosen vintage furniture—has made all the difference, he explains. “We saw an opportunity to create something really amazing that like-minded folks would feel comfortable in, design-wise,” explains Spellman, whose own paintings decorate South Country House.

Spellman says the influx of out-of-towners this year, many of whom work in the creative industry, has bolstered his ambitions to unite Westerly’s burgeoning creative community. “We didn’t have to promote it so much,” he says. “The photographs of the space attracted all sorts of creatives. It’s really been a dream.” Spellman and Larsdotter are currently building an artist’s studio on their property, which will serve as the locus of the town’s artist-in-residency program next year.

A Cape house in Westerly, Rhode Island

This dreamy rental in Westerly, Rhode Island, a beach town about a 2.5 drive from New York is run by musicians Sean W. Spellman and My Larsdotter run. The two-bedroom, 1930’s Cape Cod–style South County House is decorated with a tasteful amalgam of 1970’s California cool, Scandinavian modern, and Japanese minimalism, an aesthetic largely honed during their years on tour when they booked interesting accommodations around the world.

A modern cabin in New York’s Hudson Valley

In the heart of a six-acre private estate at the foot of the Catskill Mountains looms an “architect’s home” that offers a total escape from the stresses of contemporary living. Large windows throughout the open-plan layout serve as a viewing gallery for the daily parade of woodpeckers, barred owls, and brown thrashers that visit the property. The hosts have laid out a guide to nearby hiking trails, swimming holes, and waterfalls.

An off-grid house in California

Architect Linda Taalman’s stunning two-bedroom house in the California high desert is proof that off-grid living doesn’t need to be bleak. Built with renewable materials and totally powered by solar panels, the Off-Grid itHouse, as she calls it, is a model of green architecture. There are some new practices to get used to, like the lack of plumbing, reliable electricity, or even a TV. Taalman says that her goal is to offer guests a detox from their digital lives and to find renewal in the natural beauty surrounding them.

A painter’s estate in Woodstock, New York
The late social-realist painter Reginald Marsh is best known for capturing the frenetic street scenes of New York. He painted several of them in his tranquil Woodstock, New York, property enveloped by birches, century-old cedar trees, and ball-shaped junipers. A gut renovation by MDIM Architects in 2016 imbued the estate with modern amenities without sacrificing its fundamental charm. Marsh’s former studio and the carriage house have been transformed into light-filled rentals overlooking a pond.
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