OMG! Check out Airbnb’s OMG! properties
Next time you’re fantasy-holiday-house scrolling on Airbnb, before you stick the name of your favourite destination in the search box, look at the little icons across the top of the screen. There’s a tiny window representing stays with ‘Amazing Views’, a countryside icon, representing, you guessed it, the best ‘Countryside’ properties. And so on: curated collections of great Mansions, Cabins, Yurts, Beachfront properties and more.
Among the icons is a little UFO that takes you to their selection of ‘OMG!’ properties. The UFO is an appropriate symbol for what is the collection of kooky and unusual places because, it turns out, you can, in fact, stay in several UFOs. Well, not actually bunk up with real aliens in unidentified flying objects, but, you know what we mean.
In Wales, there’s a UFO-shaped camping pod at Apple Camping, in Pembrokeshire, where they also have a submarine, private jet, yacht, igloo among other – I won’t say ‘weird and wonderful’, I’ll just stick to ‘wonderful’ – properties you can stay in. The UFO is complete with: “Fully electric remote-control retracting stairs and door, an escape hatch, and a smoke machine which we will operate at your request for the full lunar landing experience!”
There’s a rival UFO (above) in Wales at Melin Mabes glamping site, also in Pembrokeshire. There you can sleep in the UFO pod, or a vardo (Romani wagon) or treehouse. Sweden’s super cool Treehotel has a UFO treehouse too (below), as well as other Treehouses that resemble everything from a bird’s nest to a mirrored cube.
Apple Camping’s UFO is inspired by the famous Futuro House, an iconic piece of 1960s design that was envisaged by its Finnish designer, Matti Suuronen, as a portable ski chalet. However, to most people it screams ‘UFO’ rather than ‘Après ski’.
Only 100 of the fibreglass pods were made and just 67 remain. There’s just one in the UK, where it has been available to rent for stays at Marston Park, in Frome, Somerset, having been painstakingly restored by artist Craig Barnes. Craig says of his passion project: “It should be a place to look back at the past and wonder, but also a place for dreaming and scheming about the future.”
Eccentric is the new normal
There are fairy-tale holiday cottages, like the ones run by Kent Holiday Cottages or, better yet, the wonderful House in the Clouds (above), where you can stay in the gorgeous 1920s converted water tower in the upmarket holiday village of Thorpeness in Suffolk.
There are quite a lot of helicopters and planes available to rent. And then there’s the totally enchanting Owl camping pod (below) that you can hire near Nantwich.
Quirky and historic
Real castles. Treehouses. Submarines. We’re all big kids these days. Embracing our inner child and taking delight in the childlike and whimsical. You can even go and stay in an Enchanted Faraway Tree camping pod, no doubt inspired by Enid Blyton’s books with a very similar name.
Although these places seem inspired by children’s stories, they are aimed at adults as much as children. (In fact, rather ironically, children aren’t welcome at the Enchanted Faraway Tree.
Stay in a folly
In the past, the only people who could afford to indulge their architectural fantasies were royalty and aristocrats: think of the Royal Pavilion at Brighton, or Marie Antoinette’s Hameau de la Reine (Queen’s hamlet) a faux rustic village where, contrary to popular belief, she didn’t used to play-act the role of milk maid.
Nowadays, some of the aristos’ finest fantastical buildings are open for anyone to stay in. Look at the Folly Fellowship’s site or the Landmark Trust. Pineapple-shaped 18th Century summerhouse (below) for the weekend, perhaps? Or fancy a getaway in a former pigsty that looks like a classical temple? You can even sleep over in a real church. It’s called champing, geddit?
The current craze for zany stays is redolent of the mid-20th Century American fashion for theme motels and hotels. The Jim Seelen Motel Image collection is an amazing source of Mid-Century motel inspo.
Cheaper-to-run, standardised chain motels and cheap air travel did for the theme motel. But they could be due a comeback in an era where we love to assert our individuality, and can’t resist an Instagram-able moment. You can still stay in the odd survival from this era, such as the Wigwam motel in San Bernadino, California.
This is novelty architecture, where a functional building is designed to look like something else, be it an elephant (below), basket of fruit or teapot. Many of the Airbnb OMG! properties would fit into that category.
In a difficult world full of war, climate crisis, cost-of-living crisis, and all the other crises, escapism can seem like a reasonable choice. Of course you can’t afford to buy your own home! But you might just be able to afford a weekend away in a fairy-tale cottage. You can’t save the world, but you can escape from its imminent demise for a week in a UFO-shaped glamping pod.
We love these places because they are playful and fun, and they let us escape from reality and indulge our fantasies. And there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as we don’t make the flight from reality a permanent one. In fact, in our own homes, perhaps we’d do well to indulge our taste for the whimsical and childlike a little more in a world of minimalist good taste.
The world outside the front door can be very, very real, and adulting can be very tough. So why not allow yourself a little escapism and embrace the whimsical in the safety of your own home with some lovely and magical things like the ones we’ve rounded up here?
Some people are sneery about things like adult fans of Lego (AFOLs) and grown-up gamers, but maybe letting ourselves escape and relax at home, coddling our inner child, rediscovering the joy of play, is what we need in these troubling times.
Embrace the whimsical
And perhaps we should extend that to the way we decorate our homes too. ‘Good taste’ be damned. Why not embrace the whimsical and the childlike? Maybe we can’t all live in a house shaped like a UFO or a pineapple, but we can embrace the whimsical and playful in our home décor: treat ourselves to some cute toadstool lights, portraits of animals dressed up in fine clothes, or fairy-tale inspired homewares.
We love to fill our children’s rooms with fun and fantastical things, but keep it strictly sensible in the grown-up rooms. But why should the kids have all the fun?
Free your mind
Artist Dang Viet Nga designed the Crazy House (officially the Hang Nga Guesthouse), another eccentric place you can stay, in Da Lat, Vietnam. She said of the house: “It’s a message to others to think outside of the box. Don’t limit yourself by the rules and the expectations – free your mind and let your imagination run wild.” And that’s good advice.
We should let these fabulous fun and fantastical places inspire us to make our own home just a little bit fabulous, fun and fantastical in a world that can be quite depressing. If you need more whimsical inspo, look no further than Ron’s Place, an ordinary flat in Birkenhead that former occupant, Ron Gittins, transformed into a palace of outsider art, complete with its own Minotaur fireplace, hand-painted regency room, and Egyptian columns on either side of the front door. In a world that’s frequently grey and often quite frightening, let yourself be more Ron.