Photography by Kathy Tran
Jeremy Turner was always a little jealous that kids’ rooms in movies were so much cooler than his. He stewed on the thought until inspiration struck one night when he was doing the dishes.
“What if I made adults feel like a kid again?” he thought.
The idea sparked a fun home project that grew into a chain of viral ’80s- and ’90s-themed Airbnbs. Each one charms guests eager to relive the bright colors and care-free days of their childhood.
Turner and his wife, Kelsey, were already operating a traditional Airbnb on the second floor of their 1934 duplex on Lower Greenville. It was successful for many years, but as Airbnb became more mainstream, new hosts started marketing their properties, and bookings began to drop.
“We hadn’t changed anything on our end,” Turner says. “I said, ‘Let’s make something special. Let’s give people a reason to stay at ours.’”
When the family moved to Little Forest Hills, Turner transformed their former home into an ’80s-themed Airbnb called The McFly because “you’re not going to get a cooler name,” he says.
The pastel-colored space pays homage to “Back to the Future” and is fun for the eyes with nostalgia factors in every corner. From the pay phone to the Officer Big Mac jail, everything will make you say, “Great Scott!”
“They see all these different things and are like, ‘I played that video game as a kid, or I had that clear phone,’” Turner says. “I wanted people to feel like a kid again, and they feel that. That’s the biggest success of it. I have a good idea meter, and I know when one will take off.”
Several of the Turners’ ideas have garnered national attention. You might remember The Vintagemobile, a giant green school bus they revamped into a mobile thrift store. The Ugly Christmas Sweater Shop, which was featured on “Good Morning America,” accidentally grew out of The Vintagemobile after the Turners started selling seasonal sweaters.
“The overarching goal of the sweater shop and the Airbnbs is to spread cheer, brighten someone’s day and create a family memory,” Turner says. “Some guests will thank me. I’m like, ‘I’m just doing my job.’ I love creating stuff.”
The McFly opened in 2018 and was so successful that the Turners moved on to the next decade. They converted their traditional Airbnb into The Slater, a ’90s-themed Airbnb named in honor of the lovable jock from “Saved by the Bell.”
The Slater features music posters and Memphis-patterned bedspreads similar to The McFly. But what really sets the Airbnb apart is the re-creation of The Max diner from “Saved by the Bell.” Change the LED lights to your favorite color and watch the dining room glow at night.
All of Turner’s Airbnbs are interactive and immersive experiences guaranteed to transport you back in time. No DeLorean required. Join the Breakfast Club in the kitchen stocked with Pop-Tarts, Froot Loops, Cap’n Crunch and other sugary cereals. Watch movies and cartoons on VHS tapes. Or play Duck Hunt on the Nintendo and try to beat the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game.
Most of the items can be found at thrift stores — Garland Road Thrift Store is a favorite — but some relics aren’t always easy to unearth. Turner looks on Facebook Marketplace or eBay for particularly hard-to-find items like the TMNT arcade game or The Slater’s Marge Simpson statue. The objects are often too heavy and expensive to ship, so he uses TaskRabbit to find drivers who will deliver them from out of state.
The Airbnbs have been featured on national websites like Travel + Leisure, Lonely Planet and more, but most business is local. That’s good news for neighbors who worry that living next door to the ultra popular spaces will entail loud parties, parking violations and excess trash.
“As a responsible Airbnb host, it’s something you want to be sensitive to,” Turner says. “We’re very strict about what happens at the houses. We want to filter out people who are going to cause a raucous. But the best thing is to have a good relationship with your neighbors and be thoughtful about them.”
The Turners don’t allow parties, and group sizes of no more than five people are strictly enforced, especially during the coronavirus pandemic. Only pre-approved visitors are allowed, and they must leave by 10 p.m.
Yet the rules don’t turn away Millennials, who can’t get enough of Turner’s rad pads.
In June, he opened The Topanga, named after the leading lady in “Boy Meets World.”
It’s located across the street from The McFly and The Slater in a fourplex that a neighbor wanted him to manage. But Turner was more interested in creating than managing, and he transformed the space into another brightly colored ode to the ’90s.
After a full day of reading Tiger Beat magazine and watching movies on VHS, guests can fall asleep under a “Rugrats” comforter.
“The [Airbnbs] have given me more confidence to keep going for it — keep pushing the boundaries on what is possible with Airbnbs and small businesses,” Turner says. “There’s a whole lot to explore.”
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