East Nashville keeps its rooms for rent like its many home recording studios: underground, in basements, or in backyard garages. They might be hard to spot at first, but they’re plentiful and often tricked out in the authentic ways that matter most.
Looking up a map of East Nashville on Airbnb, the service that connects travelers with hosts who have rooms for rent, shows about 150 rentals. It’s a revelation to those of us who offer family members and friends air mattresses or stale rooms at Madison motels. No offense to the Best Western, of course, but staying in someone’s home can offer a rich and enlightening experience of the city.
Since it began in 2008 in San Francisco, Airbnb has experienced tremendous growth with rooms in homes (and tree houses, teepees and boats) in more than 34,000 cities and 192 countries. Last summer, Airbnb rated Nashville 8th in its list of America’s Most Hospitable Cities based on guest reviews.
As for East Nashville, we checked out what the neighborhood has to offer and spoke with a few hosts about what it’s like — and what it takes — to open the doors of their homes and welcome guests.
Dody & Rodney Jenkins
Dody Jenkins, a full-time painter and designer, emigrated to the United States from France bringing modern, European panache with her. A wrought iron chandelier, for example, hangs from a tree in the yard where she has hosted many expats, musicians and neighbors for parties over the years.
So during a trip back to her home country with husband Rodney Jenkins, the couple zigzagged from Northern France to the Mediterranean Sea, stopping at bed and breakfasts along the way.
“I wanted to get the full-on experience of the host telling me the places to go,” she said.
After returning to Nashville, the couple welcomed a daughter and considered opening their own B&B to bring in extra money.
“I’m looking at this house and thinking, ‘This is a huge house,’” she remembered.
As she searched online for rules about B&Bs, she stumbled across the Airbnb site. She planned to rent out three rooms in her house: two on the main floor, and one in the basement. But first, she needed to convince Rodney.
“He was not keen on the idea at all,” she said.
Dody persuaded him to try it for one month. They listed the house on a Thursday and by Saturday of the same week it was booked.
The month grew into more than a year, and “we haven’t quit yet,” she said.
Dody and Rodney have since welcomed guests from across the globe ages 18 to 80, and while she said it’s nothing short of a job keeping rooms ready for guests and coordinating stays, she also estimates that about 70 percent of guests keep to themselves. Others have joined them at the table for dinner, and one couple who visited while considering a relocation to Nashville have become neighbors and friends. And even when Rodney and Dody aren’t involved, the table where they leave breakfast for guests each morning serves as the spot for bringing others together.
“You’ll hear six people at breakfast who were strangers before,” she said, “now laughing and having the time of their lives.”
When a member of the band Sigur Rós contacted Ruthie Lindsey about staying in her home, he offered concert tickets as part of the deal.
Though she was out of town at the time, Ruthie welcomed the musician and his girlfriend and accepted the offer for the nearest show after her return.
“I flew back in on a Tuesday night late, and then jumped in my car Wednesday morning and drove to Birmingham with one of my best girlfriends,” she said. “We had the most incredible night. They brought us backstage, and we ate with them, and we were front row for the show. . . . They were so awesome. The coolest people.”
It’s one of many stories Ruthie could tell about the folks who have rented parts — or all — of her home. Guests often want to know where to go in the neighborhood and end up hanging out with Ruthie and her friends. The first guests she hosted, a couple from Australia, will be married later this year in Los Angeles, and she hopes to attend.
Ruthie, who has lived in Nashville for 11 years and works as a stylist, designer and decorator, embarked on the Airbnb adventure last spring, when she found herself single with extra room in her previous home.
“I was like, ‘Well this would be a great way to bring in income,’” she said. “I love meeting people. I love learning about people’s lives from all over the world. So it just seemed kind of like a natural fit.”
Her father’s travel style inspired her. He researched out-of-the-way places and sought out the “scenic route,” as the family called it, taking back roads from Southern Louisiana where she grew up and learning from locals.
“I know when I travel I want to get in with the locals. Where do the locals want to eat? Where are the hole-in-the-wall places? Where’s the local music? Not necessarily the most touristy places,” she said. “I think Airbnb is a great way to get in a neighborhood and interact with people. . . . I think there’s a greater sense of community too. . . . They’re really getting the Nashville experience and the East Nashville experience.”
Sarah & Steve
Walk through the door of Sarah and Steve Weadick’s basement-level space and you’ll find personal touches, like their favorite Drew’s Brews coffee and a plate of Kringle pastry that Sarah has shipped from her hometown in Wisconsin. Show prints hang on the walls alongside artwork by the Weadicks’ friend Patrick Arena. And Steve keeps part of his record collection stacked by a player along with a guitar by the TV.
They appreciate these kinds of details — clean, comfortable and local — when traveling, so it’s in turn what they offer to guests.
Sarah estimates that about half of their guests have traveled through Airbnb previously, but all guests so far have come with an open attitude of consideration.
“I think it’s revolutionizing the way people travel,” she said of Airbnb. “The people we’ve been getting are really conscientious travelers, very respectful of the space and they want to experience Nashville off of Broadway or outside of a hotel. They want to see the neighborhood.”
The Weadicks keep a list of favorite places to eat and hear live music and even provide a few beer tokens for local happy hours. Their first visitors, four guys from Canada in a rockabilly band, stayed a week.
“They planned originally on going to a studio or songwriting space, but then the music just happened here,” she said. When the Weadicks had a dinner party with their musician friends, the instruments and voices pulled them all together.
“The Boom Chucka Boys joined us, and before I knew it, our house was totally filled with music,” she said. “It was amazing.”
Beyond the experiences, it also helps cover about 75 percent of the mortgage. Sarah works at a boutique marketing agency and has a crafting business making baby fashions called UberDee, while Steve works in medical sales.
“This just allows flexibility and to actually save money,” she said.
Hosts and guests rate one another after visits, which allows selectivity on everyone’s part. In addition to guests in the music business, they’ve hosted visitors looking to relocate to Nashville as well as neighbors who had rented out their entire Nashville home on Airbnb and needed a place to stay in the meantime. “Maybe it’s my nonprofit background, but I’m a strong believer in [the idea that] you learn things and your perspectives change when you meet strangers from across the country and even your own neighborhood.”
Even though East Nashville hosts a variety of listings, Sarah said she’s communicating with visitors via email or in person on a daily basis or every other day. And with the separate entrance, guests can keep to themselves too.
“The only time we can hear people is when we’re in our living room and the people are hanging out here with friends and they’re all laughing,” she said. “Or, we can sometimes hear if they’re really getting down on the guitar. It just makes me happy that people are having that kind of experience in our space.”
And it’s connecting people in ways that other types of travel might not allow.
“You’re in someone’s home. You get to know their dog. They love Uber,” she said of the goldendoodle at her feet, “as they should.”