The company, which was founded in San Francisco in 2008, is now the world’s largest home-sharing site, worth some $30 billion. It is also engaged in multiple legal battles around the world in cities that restrict short-term rentals. Affordable housing advocates say it is responsible for driving housing costs up by taking full-time rentals off the market, in effect turning them into illegal hotel rooms. And just last month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York signed a bill imposing stiff fines on hosts who violate local housing regulations; the company immediately reacted by filing a lawsuit in federal court.
All of this has made the Airbnb experience a bit fraught for both guests and hosts. But if you’re a design-obsessed traveler, the opportunity to try on someone else’s style for a night is hard to resist, no matter how much contention surrounds it. And if you’re a style-minded host, Airbnb offers what may be your best chance to share your taste with others — or even to market it, if your work involves design.
Take Linda Taalman. Ms. Taalman, 42, is an architect in Los Angeles who has had her work published in design magazines like Dwell. But Airbnb has also turned out to be an effective marketing tool for her firm, Taalman Architecture.
Her IT House — a glass-enclosed, solar-powered, prefabricated structure in Pioneertown, Calif., near Joshua Tree National Park — was an experiment in using nontraditional construction methods, built with her then-husband and business partner, Alan Koch, 10 years ago as a second home for themselves. Ms. Taalman and Mr. Koch have since divorced and no longer work together; Ms. Taalman now owns the house and rents it out on Airbnb for $380 a night.
Guests enamored of the house have left glowing reviews on the website, as well as bottles of champagne for their host, and even a pair of socks (those particular visitors owned a sock company). A few have been so impressed that they’ve commissioned Ms. Taalman to design other homes like it.
The Blue Jay Tipi, in the Catskills town of Bovina, N.Y., is experimental in a different way: The owners, Chris Langford, 34, and Lisa Candela, 45, are using it to test-drive their idea for a boutique resort.
The couple met in South Dakota, Mr. Langford’s home state, when Ms. Candela, a photographer, was hired to take pictures at a wedding held on a wild horse sanctuary. She and Mr. Langford, a financial planner who was one of the wedding guests, both admired the tepees on the reserve. As they got to know each other, they realized they shared dreams that, if not similar, were at least distantly related — he to live off the land and she to create a destination resort in a bucolic setting.
After they became engaged they found a way to combine those dreams, living in a small house in Bovina, on land that flows down to a meandering creek, and erecting a tepee in a clearing nearby, furnishing it with rustic-romantic furnishings in the vein of a Ralph Lauren photo spread. In April, they listed the tepee on Airbnb for $135 a night and immediately started to get bookings.
Mr. Langford, who now spends his days splitting wood for the tepee’s wood-burning stove and bushwhacking paths for guests to use, said the first tepee has already paid for itself and they recently bought a second, which should be up and running soon. Eventually, he added, they expect to graduate to a larger piece of land with room for a proper inn and a collection of tepees scattered around it.
Other hosts, like Kitty Mrache, have no such grand ambitions. Nevertheless, Mrs. Mrache, 66, owns one of the most-booked listings on Airbnb: the Mushroom Dome Cabin in Aptos, Calif.
The tiny fairy-tale house, which is topped by a half-sphere inspired by Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes, was built in 1995 from a kit. Mrs. Mrache, who regarded it as a “fun art project” and embellished it over the years, simply wanted a place where her grown children could stay when they visited.
In the description on the website, Mrs. Mrache is forthright about the home’s quirks: “The cabin is not as big as it looks in this photo,” warns the caption of a picture of the main level, which is just 100 square feet, with a sleeping loft above. Guests, who pay $115 a night, apparently aren’t deterred.
Mrs. Mrache takes her home’s popularity, and all the comings and goings, in stride. “I raised four children,” she said. “Being a host just fits my personality.”
Renting out a little cabin in the woods, of course, is one thing, but letting strangers make themselves at home in an architectural masterpiece is something else entirely. And Michael Ditmer, who owns the Bernard Schwartz House with his brother, Gary Ditmer, admits to having some concerns.
“Sure, I had qualms,” he said. “It’s my baby, my passion.”
A Wright fan since high school, Mr. Ditmer, 55, a creative consultant in St. Paul, Minn., bought the house in 2003. From the beginning, the plan was to restore the place and rent it out. As he put it, “I wanted it to be shared.”
Before listing the house on Airbnb in 2010, he said, he informed the neighbors of his plans and hired a woman who lives across the street to clean it between bookings. It is now occupied about 70 percent of the time, he said, with some bookings coming through the house’s own website.
The current rental fee is $425 a night, netting the brothers more than $100,000 a year, Mr. Ditmer said, which they put back into the house, realizing aspects of Wright’s design that the Schwartzes had left undone.
For the most part, guests have been very respectful, he said. There’s been “no appreciable damage” to the house, apart from a vintage lava lamp that was broken.
“People who stay at the house are professors, architects, a lot of midcentury-modern design enthusiasts,” he added. “These people are not typically whooping it up.”