When a Winter Springs couple decided to open their home to vacationers via Airbnb, the travelers – and their remarkable stories – flowed in
Perhaps it’s the chicken coop out back whose inhabitants regularly pump out fresh eggs. Or the honey-producing beehives, far enough away from the house, but close enough to create a buzz. Or the covered outdoor pottery studio open to all guests to try their hand at the spinning wheel. It could be the Jurassic Park-like entrance to the property, complete with electronic fence opening to a tropical, paradisiacal setting.
Whatever it is, this 2,400-square-foot family home-turned-Airbnb destination has attracted its share of characters, creating lasting memories for unofficial innkeepers Pete Brennan and Sherri Graham – and their Airedale Terrier Luke.
“We got home from a trip to this large house that we booked through Airbnb, and we loved the experience so much, we decided to give it a try,” says Sherri, describing the popular online service that allows homeowners to rent out rooms in their houses to travelers. The couple listed their own home on Airbnb with no preconceived notions. Theirs was not a oceanfront villa or mountain retreat, but rather a quaint house in an equally-quaint part of Winter Springs, miles from any of Florida’s famous attractions or beaches.
In their first month of business, rooms in the couple’s home were booked for 19 nights, serving a dozen guests. It was a welcome and overwhelming surprise, one that has since provided the couple with endless entertaining stories.
“At first I cooked fresh eggs for everybody,” says Sherri of her early days as an impromptu bed-and-breakfast owner, “but now I tell them to help themselves.” While Pete and Sherri don’t encourage guests cooking beyond breakfast, at times it can’t be helped. A Duke University employee brought his 14-year-old daughter to attend jump rope camp at University of Central Florida – and he brought armfuls of groceries with him. He told Pete and Sherri that he had to cook meals for his daughter to take each day because of her severe food allergies.
A large Chinese family also arrived one day with loads of food. Plus, the parents didn’t speak English, but luckily the children did. Pete and Sherri let them do their thing and they ended up cooking incredible meals for everyone, including the gracious hosts, during their stay.
Language can be a barrier at times, as the appeal of Sherri and Pete’s out-of-the-way abode has reached the four corners of the world in less than two years. Visitors from 12 countries including the United Kingdom, Brazil, Ireland, Sweden, Israel, Germany, and France have come through the doors. Sherri had to resort to hand signals twice to teach French and Chinese children how to make pottery. When the sculpting is done, Sherri fires all the creations and sends the finished pottery to her guests once they have returned home.
Some guests who are visiting for work ask Sherri and Pete to tag along. An Iranian-American comedian, Max, stayed at their home when he was in town for a special comedy show at Winter Springs High School. Max asked Sherri and Pete to come see his show. They did, but the all-Iranian humor went right over their heads.
Environmental activist/author Julia Lorraine Hill, known to her fans as Butterfly, was in town to give a lecture at Seminole State College and invited her hosts to be her guests, as well. It was a fascinating evening, as Butterfly is famous for living in a 180-foot, 1,500-year-old California Redwood for 738 days to protect the tree from loggers.
Most guests offer something fascinating, and Pete and Sherri relish in who will be next. Like Les Fiore, a French inventor, who was marketing his mobile stringer for tennis professionals. His world tour not only ended here at the Pete and Sherri’s Airbnb, but Les flew his parents in from Lyon, France, to stay as well.
The guests Sherri and Pete tend to remember most are the ones who touched their hearts. That includes one memorable older couple, the husband with serious health issues, who were in town to see the Daytona 500, one of the husband’s bucket-list items. Pete and Sherri also opened their home to families and friends coming to the area for funerals of those lost in the Pulse nightclub shootings.
“We hosted six young men from Puerto Rico for two nights, all paid for by Airbnb,” says Pete.
The most heartwarming stories are the two reunions Pete and Sherri have witnessed. Visiting parents left the house one day to meet with their long-lost daughter; they shared an emotional video when they returned. Then there was the teary-eyed reunion of a biological mother and her daughter, who was adopted at birth. They met each other for the first time in front of Pete and Sherri’s house.
“Right there,” Sherri says, pointing toward the porch. “They all shared so much love in their hearts.”
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