Artists attract adventurous travelers with eclectic Airbnb
SALISBURY, North Carolina
As she climbed a rickety staircase in the dark, Whitney Peckman had to hug the wall next to her for fear of falling.
It was Labor Day weekend in 2004 and Peckman and her husband Syed Ahmad were literally blindly following Randy Hemann. They were climbing the only pair of stairs in the 20,000 square foot building that once housed the Flowers bakery in Salisbury town center.
“There was only one door and it was dark – pitch black,” Ahmad said.
The two professional artists – Peckman works primarily in painting and Ahmad in glass – were shown the property by Hemann, then president of Downtown Salisbury Inc.
Up the stairs, the trio entered a spacious room that was falling apart. The parquet was strewn with holes. The garden hoses hung like metal vines. Wooden two-by-fours supported a sagging ceiling.
Looking at the decrepit space with artistic eyes, Peckman and Ahmad saw more than just a repairman. They saw the possibility.
“We’re artists and we looked at it and we said ‘Wow. Amazing,” Peckman said. “It’s every artist’s dream to live and have a studio in a warehouse or an old factory or a giant open space. “
The two bought half the building and moved to downtown Salisbury from their home in Northern California. They have since transformed the dilapidated space into an expressive and eclectic home and art studio. Since 2018, the couple have listed a space in the loft on Airbnb, offering exploratory travelers more than just a place to rest their heads for the night.
“He’s someone looking for an adventure, looking for a cool place to stay,” Ahmad said. “It’s not someone who just stays overnight who wants their privacy. He is someone who is looking for something different.
Peckman and Ahmad’s decision to open the doors of their loft to real strangers was not made overnight. The couple took the plunge by first offering a space in the loft on couchsurfing.com, which connects thrifty travelers with people willing to host them for free.
“I decided to couchsurf first to see the concept, and then I started hosting,” Ahmad said. “It was a good experience to do that. We have come to see that the idea of having strangers in your house is not that bad.
Besides, as artists, having a second source of income is not bad either.
“Doing what we do in the art business is not a very safe job,” Ahmad said. “It’s a feast or famine situation. Some years are good and some are bad, so we try to do different things. We have the space, so we want to earn income from it and maintain a lifestyle. “
The couple’s first Airbnb guest was an engineer from Berkeley, Calif., Who was in town for work. She booked the space for 10 days, but her visit ultimately lasted an entire month. After her stay, she recommended the place to a colleague in Raleigh, who has also become a regular visitor to the loft.
Peckman and Ahmad said they have developed a group of several loyal customers who always stay overnight at the loft when traveling around town. Most of the loft’s clients are people in their twenties and thirties. Customers who stay on weekdays are usually there for work, but weekend visitors are almost always tourists. Whatever the reason a guest is there, Peckman and Ahmad are quick to welcome them with open arms.
“They become like a family,” Ahmad said.
Peckman and Ahmad are friendly and interactive hosts, partly because of who they are, but also because the space demands it. The loft is essentially a cavernous room, a choice the couple made when renovating the old building.
“We haven’t built anything too much in terms of partitioning space,” Ahmad said. “We wanted to keep it wide open because that’s what space wants to be and you don’t want to interrupt that. Basically you had to be in space, working in space to see that it would have been a crime to chop it up.
The Airbnb listing gives travelers several options. In the corner of the main living space is a bed which can be separated by hanging curtains. Up a staircase, overlooking the bright studio where Peckman works, is another bed. There is also a ‘hideabed’ sofa in the living room which can be turned into a comfortable place for a guest to rest if extra space is needed.
While most of the guests enjoy getting to know Peckman and Ahmad, others are less interested in talking. It’s good too.
“If they don’t want to interact with us, that’s okay,” Peckman said. “We show them around, show them where everything is and give them our phone numbers. We are here in this space, but we are in our own quarters and the only time you will see us unless you want to see us is that I usually go out in the morning and make coffee and I am happy to have you. prepare breakfast . “
Both received the coveted title of “superhosts” on the Airbnb site.
The cast and crew of the feature film “Goodbye, Butterfly” would likely agree with this assessment. Four members of the film crew stayed in the loft for a month while filming the psychological thriller in Salisbury in 2019.
“We were trying to figure out how much their place in Manhattan would cost, because it was one of the nicest apartments we’ve ever seen,” Tyler Wayne, writer and director of the film, said in a previous interview with The Post.
The master bedroom in the loft was even a film location, but you might not know that. Peckman said the film crew removed almost everything from the bedroom to make it look like the movie.
The artist’s loft was temporarily off the market due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since re-registering the space, Ahmad said it has been a bit slower. But recently, travelers have started to return. The couple hosted guests at the loft over the weekend and have a few bookings coming up on the books.
While it has been around 15 years since the couple first purchased the space, there is still work to be done. In the smaller room that serves as the unfinished foyer of the loft, Peckman and Ahmad plan to set up a “great art gallery.”
“It can also be a space where we can come up with an ‘Airbnb experience’ quote,” Peckman said. “For example, I could teach a class in cutting linoleum blocks, or I could teach an abstract painting class. Syed can offer an infused glass class, so they stay here and have that artistic experience.
At this point the future gallery and workspace house is dark, the wooden floors have a few shallow craters, there is a lot of work to be done. Once again, both artists can see the possibility.
“It’s a great idea and it’s so flexible for people,” Peckham said. “When we open the gallery upstairs, we could ask other people from the area to come and teach something. They could teach, people stay here. It will be a truly symbiotic opportunity.