Pete & Carol Heth: Farming Airbnb-Style

Fifteen years ago, after having spent 25-plus years in the construction industry, Pete and Carol Heth began contemplating where their career path would take them next. They experienced their “ah-ha” moment when they embarked on a tour sponsored by a local bed-and-breakfast organization. 

The Glamper has been a hit with guests staying at the Heths’ farm. It took Pete a year to restore the classic Airstream. Amenities include an outdoor kitchen and patio, as well as an “outhouse” that provides a spacious bathroom.

The tour opened their eyes to new opportunities. “We spent the next seven years discussing our options,” Carol says of the ideas they had for the cottages and outbuildings that dotted their West Hempfield Township farm. 

Over the course of those seven years, Pete began to tinker with the idea of slowing down but recognized that bringing his business to a complete halt would not suit his project-driven personality. “I was getting to the point where I didn’t want to chase down jobs anymore,” he explains. “And, I didn’t want to travel all over the place for jobs any longer. I was happy staying local and doing jobs on my terms.” Carol, who had always handled the interior design aspect of projects, shared Pete’s outlook. 

They agreed that “slowing down” would allow them to really delve into the pros and cons of their proposed venture. For example, they recognized that while they both love to cook, they didn’t want to be tied to the bed-and-breakfast policy of providing guests with a morning meal. “Besides, I’m not a morning person,” Carol adds. 

Carol handles all the interior design/decorating details for each property. For The Glamper, she went in a “kitschy” direction. The tufted-fabric effect on the walls and ceiling was created with wallpaper.

Fortunately for the Heths, the Airbnb concept – which simply provides travelers with a place to stay and no expectations of a meal – had made its debut several years before they would become members of the hospitality industry.  

Eight years ago, they forged ahead and remodeled their first cottage. Its success prompted them to transform an outbuilding and remodel another cottage. Three years ago, they upped the ante and went in a new direction – glamping – by restoring an Airstream and positioning it on the edge of woodland on their property.  

The Glamper is surrounded by unique privacy fencing.

They became hosts through Airbnb (actually, they’ve reached superhost status, which entails at least a 4.8 rating and meeting other requirements), VRBO (they are rated as premier hosts) and Glamping Hub. Recently, their glamping accommodation was deemed the best in Pennsylvania by a Google News story.  

The outdoor kitchen features a Big Green Egg for grilling and a granite island.

As for their goal to slow down, the pandemic stymied that. Because of the unprecedented demand for talented remodelers, Pete continues to be busy. Plus, the Airbnbs have become a full-time job for both of them. “The reservation requests and questions never stop!” says Carol. “Sometimes I look at the time stamp and see people are posting reservations or questions at 2 or 3 in the morning!” As for Pete, he holds out hope that “one of these days, I’ll get to slow down.”  

Unique Remodels

It only seemed natural that the Heths would work in tandem on the projects, as their interests and talents have been in sync since they were students at Hempfield High School, where Carol was enthralled by art and Pete by anything relating to wood. Additionally, Pete’s Midwest upbringing on a farm taught him values such as recycling and upcycling. 

The tiled shower in the “outhouse” provides a view of the sky.

As business partners, they loved working with clients who allowed them to stray from the norm and add the unexpected to projects. That was often achieved through the saved/recycled elements they added to their designs. “Things might sit around for years, but we always find a use for them,” Pete says. Carol’s philosophy mirrored Pete’s. If a product or decorative element caught her eye, she would buy it, knowing she would ultimately find a use for it down the road. 

The Heths’ mutual interests extend beyond working together. About 10 years ago, the empty-nesters began exploring the food scene in earnest and embraced a healthier lifestyle from a food and cooking perspective. As a result, they remodeled their 1860s farmhouse, adding a large cooking- and entertaining-friendly kitchen. They transformed their pool deck into an outdoor-living area that contains a kitchen and dining areas. The lower level of the house was converted into a bar and game room. They began hosting dinner parties that deviated from the norm in that guests were paired up and given the ingredients and instructions to prepare each of the courses. 

The Glamper is also outfitted with a small kitchen and a breakfast bar.

Kevin Martin, a designer who worked with Carol on the kitchen project, professed his admiration for her style in the September 2015 issue of this magazine, noting she had “the courage to be different” in that she fearlessly incorporated a multiplicity of colors, textures and sheens into the design. Pete added his touch by designing and installing a barrel-shaped ceiling – inspired by the Chihuly Glass ceiling at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas – that he lined with corrugated tin he had been saving for just the right project. 

Even though the bathroom inside The Glamper is not spacious, it is stylish and colorful.

Relaxing in Style 

Cooking ultimately became the inspiration for the design of their first project, a cottage they named The Fairview. “Most people take a vacation from cooking, but we wanted to provide our guests with a reason to cook while they are on vacation,” Carol explains. 

The urge to get cooking apparently overcomes guests as soon as they walk through the door – the Heths treat all their guests to farm-fresh eggs and Pete’s homemade scones, which are beyond tasty. In fact, a guest shared that the scones would be the reason for a return visit. In addition, guests are obviously inspired by the spacious, beautiful and fully equipped farm-style kitchen. “I loved cooking in that fabulous kitchen,” a guest from New York shared. The Fairview’s screened porch that overlooks woodland is another guest-favorite space. 

The draw of The Fairview is a fully-equipped and spacious kitchen.

The Heths’ next project involved transforming a small outbuilding into a French Country-inspired getaway they call The BirdHouse. The theme was inspired by some metal cutouts of birds Carol had bought on her travels. Completed five years ago, its selling point is a beautiful outdoor courtyard that contains a fireplace. “That’s the one everyone wants to stay in,” Pete notes. “We could have 100 BirdHouses and they’d always be booked.” 

The vibe of The BirdHouse is French Country. Guests love its courtyard.

Next, they remodeled a one-story cottage that had originally been a horse barn. For this project, they employed a midcentury-modern vibe and named it The Mod Pod. It features a screened porch and a luxe enclosed outdoor shower. The Heths have a sentimental attachment to The Mod Pod – it’s where they started married life and where Carol’s late mother lived before moving to a nursing and rehabilitation center. 

The Mod Pod takes its decorating inspiration from midcentury modern.

After taking a small break, the Heths began contemplating their next project. “We always wanted to do something in the woods,” Carol says. “I kept seeing all the stories about glamping and I thought, ‘That’s it! We’ll go in a glamping direction!’” The couple then began searching for an Airstream trailer in need of rehabbing. “We found one out near Pittsburgh through Marketplace and bought it,” she says. “It ended up being in worse shape than we originally thought, so Pete decided to take it down to the frame and start over.” It took him the better part of a year to restore the classic Airstream. “It was a learning experience,” he says. “Restoring it involved a different kind of construction.” 

As for Carol’s part in bringing the Airstream back to life, she decided to go in a “kitschy” direction. First, it appears the inside of the trailer is embellished with tufted fabric. “It’s wallpaper,” Carol shares. “Believe me when I say it was a chore to do.” An animal theme is also evident – via dog-related accessories and art that decorate the interior spaces and pink flamingos that are visible outdoors. Art purchased in Savannah, Georgia, is also part of the décor. 

For The Glamper, the Heths elevated the amenities a bit. While all their properties feature spa-like bathrooms, The Glamper posed a space problem. To remedy the situation, they constructed an “outhouse” adjacent to the Airstream that provides guests with an additional and more spacious bathroom. The Glamper also features a large patio and an outdoor kitchen that is equipped with a granite island and a Big Green Egg, which has become Pete’s favorite way to grill meat and cook other items.  

Field of Hope 

The Big Green Egg is a story in itself. As they were working on The Fairview, the Heths attended a dinner event that was held in a field at a local farm. While Carol was impressed with the event, she could not help but to consider its potential as a fundraiser. The fact that one of her daughter’s childhood friends was dealing with cancer and the pressures it placed on her family from an emotional and monetary perspective, motivated Carol to gather family and friends to plan and host such an event on the Heths’ farm. She named the event Field of Hope. Through dinner tickets, donations and sponsorships, Field of Hope was able to provide three individuals dealing with serious medical diagnoses and their families with monetary help. 

Pete and Carol Heth utilized their construction and interior design skills to transform the cottages and an outbuilding on their farm into Airbnb, VRBO and Glamping Hub rentals.

What was perceived as a one-time endeavor took on a life of its own and Lancaster County Field of Hope became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that, in addition to the annual farm-to-table dinner, now hosts fundraising events year-round. “Since our first dinner in 2016, we’ve been able to help 22 individuals and their families,” Carol says of the more than $180,000 that has been dispersed. 

Carol credits the generosity of standholders at Lancaster Central Market, local restaurateurs, breweries and wineries, area farmers, other vendors and now, chefs from Washington, D.C., who attended a previous dinner and volunteered their services, for the fact that Field of Hope incurs minimal expenses in executing the event, thus providing recipients with maximum funding.   

As for the Big Green Egg, Field of Hope is a distributor of the product, with proceeds from any sales going directly to the organization. “We call that venture Green Eggs & Hope,” Carol notes. Each sale includes a bag of charcoal and a cooking experience on the display model. 

Lancaster County Field of Hope Events
June 5, 4-9 p.m.
Bands for Hope
Admission: $20 (includes beverages)
Food: Available for purchase from 22 BBQ and Simply Sweet
Music: Provided by Oscar’s Box and DJ Jay Eddie (‘50s & ‘60s)

July 24, 4-9 p.m.
Bands for Hope
Admission: $20 (includes beverages)
Food: Available for purchase from Good Guys Chicken & Fries and Simply Sweet
Music: Provided by Snapsquatch

September 25
6th Annual Farm-to-Table Dinner

Details TBA

All events are held at 4338 Fairview Road in West Hempfield Township. For details, visit lancofieldofhope.com, call 717-538-3877 or email lancofieldofhope@gmail.com.

A Learning Experience 

Even before they became involved with Airbnb, the Heths were not strangers to welcoming guests to their home. For years, they owned a house on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, which they rented out through a management company. Having to deal with the aftermath of one too many hurricanes was the final straw and they sold it. After that, they began to explore the world of short-term rental homes through companies such as Airbnb and VRBO. 

Even today, they like to keep tabs on the industry and take a yearly vacation that includes as many as 25 family members. They also like to take explorative weekend trips. Both scenarios entail accommodations reserved through a service such as Airbnb or VRBO. “We’ve had both good and bad experiences,” Carol relates. She gives four stars to a property they like to stay at on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. “It’s quiet and the views are spectacular,” she says. In Savannah, they stayed in a converted warehouse. “The drawback there was that it was really noisy,” she recalls. In Key West, a compound of three houses was perfect for a family vacation. “One time, we stayed in what I would define as a glorified shed,” Carol says. “It can be really hit or miss. You need to do your homework.” 

Exploring Your Options
Over the past decade, it seems travelers have been seeking both adventure and a homey place to stay, not to mention one that is pet-friendly. As a result, companies such as Airbnb, VRBO, Glamping.com, Glamping Hub and BringFido are thriving.

Airbnb Founded in 2008 by three college graduates who were friends and roommates, the original premise was simple: In San Francisco, hotel rooms were both scarce and pricey, especially when conventions were in town. So, the cash-strapped roomies invested in some air mattresses and began advertising their service, calling it AirBed & Breakfast. To their surprise, their minimalistic version of a bed-and-breakfast proved so popular that they developed a business plan and began presenting it to incubator organizations. Admittedly, potential investors deemed it a totally crazy idea but somehow it gained traction and with it, the interest of the traveling public. By March 2009, they had launched a website (the name was shortened to Airbnb) that initially attracted 10,000 users and enlisted 2,500 properties. Since then, the promise of an air mattress on the living room floor has expanded to an international (191 countries) selection of houses, apartments, condos, mountain cabins, seaside cottages and luxury accommodations. Airbnb is now a $31 billion company. For more information, visit airbnb.com.

VRBO The roots of this company extend back to 1995, when a Colorado resident began searching for a way to advertise the availability of a condo he owned at a ski resort. Vacation Rentals By Owner was born. In 2006, the company merged with Home Away and became known as VRBO. In 2015, it was acquired by the Expedia Group. Today, VRBO’s portfolio includes 2 million rentals worldwide, ranging in style from traditional homes to lighthouses and converted storage containers. For more information, visit vrbo.com.

Glamping Hub About seven years ago, two of the company’s co-founders, David Troya and Ruben Martinez, began to notice that travel trends were shifting. Travel enthusiasts were looking for “experiences” that were unique, eco-friendly and bordered on roughing it. As Martinez shared in an interview, “People want to sleep under the stars without having to sleep on the ground.” Based in Denver, Colorado, and Seville, Spain, the company launched in 2013 and now offers customers the choice of more than 35,000 properties and retreats worldwide. For more information, visit glampinghub.com. (Note: There is another company/website called Glamping.com.)

BringFido Sixteen years ago, Melissa Halliburton of Greenville, South Carolina, was growing frustrated by the fact that pet policies for the traveling and dining public were murky at best. She and a group of friends resolved to clarify the matter and spent the better part of a year contacting hotels across America in an effort to obtain their pet policies. The results were posted on a website Melissa named BringFido. Since then, the website has grown to include dog-friendly restaurants of all varieties, events, campgrounds, hiking trails, dog parks/beaches, bed-and-breakfasts, rental properties and more. For more information, visit bringfido.com.

The last year has provided a learning experience like no other. When Covid made its presence known and closures were instituted, the Heths shuttered their business from mid-March to early June. When they reopened, business was brisk. “We stayed busy through the rest of the year and it looks like it will continue that way this year. I think people just wanted a break from seeing the same four walls every day. Yes, they were still seeing four walls here, but they were a different four walls,” Carol theorizes. She attributes the surprising number of locals who visited to that theory. She’ll always remember the young Amish couple who spent their honeymoon at the farm. “They arrived via Uber,” Carol recalls. “He even called just before they arrived to give me a heads up that they were Amish.” (The chickens, emus and donkeys no doubt made them feel at home.) 

The Heths’ flock of chickens provides welcome gifts for guests – farm-fresh eggs. Donkeys (and emus) are also part of the welcome committee.

The pandemic has prompted the Heths to devote more time to cleaning the cottages after guests depart. For that reason, they have initiated a 36-hour window between rentals in order to thoroughly clean. “Anything less and I’d spend all my time cleaning!” Carol says. 

While they welcome pets, the Heths feel the property is not child-friendly and prefer to keep it an adults-only getaway. They’ve come to discover that visitors from urban areas tend to stay put once they arrive and take advantage of food delivery services. “I notice that big-city people want to veg out and relax,” she observes. “Sometimes their cars stay parked until it’s time for them to leave.” 

Still others take advantage of the opportunity to commune with the natural world. “So many of our guests love the river trails that are just minutes away from our farm,” Carol says. Then, there are the super shoppers who have discovered Lancaster’s art galleries, outlet centers, downtown shops, small towns, farmers markets, unique restaurants and antiques shops and are on the go from morning to night. “Our guests just love to go to Central Market,” she observes.  

The Heths opened glamping season by preparing dinner at the site. Pete grilled flank steak on the Big Green Egg, while Carol’s contribution was a rice dish and spring salad.

The world has also found its way to the Heths’ farm. “Oh, my gosh, we’ve had people from Scotland, England, Japan, Canada and Germany stay here,” Carol reports. Pete believes their guest book covers “every state – even Alaska.” The Heths treasure the friendships they’ve formed with guests. “We love to interact with them. We’ve become really good friends with some people from Scotland. In fact, we’ve been Zooming with them about once a month since Covid,” Carol notes. “We’ll have other guests we’ve become friendly with come over to our house for dinner or drinks.” 

Covid has revealed an issue – internet access – the Heths are now trying to remedy.  “If we’re full and everyone is trying to access the internet, it’s an issue,” Carol explains. “High-speed service is lacking out our way.” Hoping to solve the problem, the Heths have sought the expertise of several companies. “We’re reviewing several options,” Pete remarks. “I figure it’ll be a good investment,” he says of what appears to be their next big project.     

The Heths’ properties can be seen/reserved through
Airbnb.com, VRBO.com and glampinghub.com.

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