Designing a New Path
A local couple builds success as Airbnb superhosts
JORDAN GIOVANNUCCI just might be the poster child for the Latin proverb, “Fortune favors the brave.” Over the past five years since moving to Wilmington, she and her husband CHRISTOPHER RUSSELL have risen from being new homeowners to achieving Airbnb Superhost status for the three properties they rent out. But, says Giovannucci, their success has required hard work, risk-taking, and sacrifice.
At first, their plans were modest.
“We bought a house in Kings Grant in anticipation of doing an Airbnb to help with the mortgage,” she says.
Meanwhile, she took a job as a homeowners association community manager and Russell was employed in the construction industry. In their spare time they renovated and decorated a section of their new home, readying it for guests. But shortly after the space – dubbed The Swan – hit the listings, COVID shut down the travel industry.
When they were able to reopen The Swan, Giovannucci and Russell found a new market as the pandemic continued: traveling health care workers. The unit stayed booked with business travelers and, increasingly, vacationers – even honeymooners.
“After we kicked off with The Swan, we started looking at other places,” Giovannucci says. “A downtown space popped up and we saw the potential it had. We both felt confident we could remodel what needed remodeling; we believed it could definitely be a duplex.”
That project was more demanding – and expensive – than the first one. Once the couple closed on the purchase of the building, they started working on it.
“We sold our second car so we could do the renovation. It kept us busy during the pandemic. We were both working full-time so we’d finish work and then go to the house. We worked 90-hour weeks for almost three months,” she recalls.
The new units opened in February of 2021, allowing Giovannucci to leave her job to focus full-time on the three Airbnb units, which enjoyed solid bookings. Russell left his sales position last year.
“We had crazy ambitions to be successful, and once things started to kick off, we thought, ‘Let’s just do this thing,’” she says. “I went all-in, doing anything we could possibly do to offer the best experience.”
Seeing their Airbnb offerings from guests’ point of view and striving to make their experience distinctive and enjoyable is, Giovannucci believes, what has earned the couple their 800 five-star reviews and their place on Airbnb’s 30 Under 30 list in 2022.
“It matters when you think about being the guest, putting yourself in the guest’s shoes,” she adds. We make [our units] a welcoming space: top-notch clean, top-notch all over. We give 110%. We stay at a bunch of Airbnbs to remind ourselves of what’s important. We are always improving.”
Giovannucci’s flair for the unusual and whimsical in decorating the couple’s properties has attracted attention – and opportunities. Working with a limited budget and highlighting architectural features that couldn’t be changed, she created a different look for all three units, from the lush décor of The Swan to the metro-retro design mashup of the Plastic Peach downtown. Now she’s getting design work.
“I went all-in on the crazy stuff, and that has become my trademark,” she says. “I am constantly asked, ‘Can you design my house, my this, my that?’ I have always wanted to do that, so I dove headfirst into it. I advertise a little bit but most of my work comes through word of mouth. I have a big project coming in to town, but I’m not ready to announce it yet.”
The couple’s downtown Airbnb duplex is attracting more than just guests. They field an increasing number of requests from photographers and film production companies to use those spaces as backdrops.
Will they buy more properties? Giovannucci is uncertain about the specifics, but says she and Russell are deciding how to expand their business in the areas of design and hospitality.
She’s frank about the amount of effort both of them have invested in their enterprise.
“We’ve made a ton of sacrifices, both personally and financially, to make this work,” Giovannucci says. “We still have just the one car, and everything [for renovation] has to fit into that Honda CRV. We’ve done without so our guests can have more, and it’s paid off. We want to maintain that reputation.”
To view more of photographer Madeline Gray’s work, go to madelinegrayphoto.com.
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