Essay turned Airbnb gaining popularity amid pandemic

CINCINNATI – From the street, the Swing House is beautiful in itself. The long, slender three-story structure shows its history.

What would you like to know

  • The Swing House in Cincinnati is a work of art and an Airbnb
  • The building itself incorporates works of art and has a gallery in the basement
  • The centerpiece is a functional swing
  • The place gained popularity for travelers during the pandemic

Its brick facade, now painted blue, prominent windows, and ornate trims show off the same 19th-century Italian style you’ll find in Cincinnati’s old quarters.

Opening his door, however, opens up something quite unique, a house Mark de Jong calls his 30-year dream and the only place he welcomes strangers to experience a day with his art.

He made buildings the center of his work. At any time, they can be the backing, the canvas, the materials, or any combination of the three.

The Swing House is all of the above. He started converting the property into what he calls an art house in 2017.

The house itself would become a work of art, but would also house a gallery of sculptures made from pieces collected throughout the project.

De Jong unveils his gallery

“There is a piece of wood that hides this space between the plinth and the floor,” said de Jong, showing how he incorporated this spiral material into his work.

All of the sculptures in the gallery have a similar geometric style, either circles, arcs or rectangles, representing time and the body. These same themes resonate throughout the building.

The house itself is a long rectangle. De Jong removed the ceilings on the second and third floors, giving the lower level of a room a massive, endless look.

There is a functional purpose, however, for keeping the ceiling so high. The swing that gives the Swing House its name is in the center of the room. A heavy wooden rectangle, de Jong said its design reflects the dimensions of the building itself.

“The swing is a pendulum, a timepiece,” he said. “So it’s a matter of passing.”

Things are moving too.

Long, thick ropes connect the room to the ceiling, which allows the swing to carry riders on a long, low arch along the length of the building. De Jong said he designed the area around the arch so runners wouldn’t hit any of the furniture or other guests.

“If someone is working in the kitchen, because the arc is getting higher there, you would miss their head completely,” he said.

De Jong has other art houses all over the city, such as the Square House to Northside, which he sold, and the House of the Circle at Camp Washington, which he rents, but it’s the only one where foreigners can stay overnight.

“The artwork is actually activated by the people who stay here,” he said.

He opened Swing House as Airbnb in 2018 and in the years since, de Jong said hundreds of people came to stay.

“I see all kinds of different people,” he said.

During his early years, de Jong said it seemed like most of the guests came for the art and the experience.

“Some people come here for two days and never leave the place,” he said.

Then last summer he noticed a change in demand. The COVID-19 pandemic has created a different kind of traveler, looking for a different kind of accommodation experience. The Swing House was fine.

“I think mainly because I’m a self-contained house and I am able to control the cleaning of this one and also who comes in and the fact that no one else can be here but the guests,” de Jong said.

He reopened the house on Airbnb at the end of May 2020.

“In June, I was beyond what I was before the pandemic and it has since picked up to the point where I’m almost complete,” he said.

A survey of Welcome net shows that travelers are more interested in small accommodations and short-term rentals and less interested in large hotels in the wake of the pandemic.

In de Jong’s case, his two-guest limit and his anti-party rules that could once attract a small demographic are now attracting all kinds of pandemic-conscious travelers.

During this time, he said he was happy to build up a new following.

“In a way, it was like a surprise,” he said. “Being a host was something I never thought I would enjoy, but I do.”

He begins each visit to the Swing House with a personal tour, sharing the time and effort it took to create this place with floating furniture, insanely high ceilings, and a whimsical centerpiece.

“It was a house that went through a very difficult time,” said de Jong. “The city should have demolished it. “

As a longtime neighbor, he saw the potential within these walls. For 30 years, he wanted to find a way to incorporate a pendulum into the design of a building. Now there is one that any interested traveler can try out for a night.

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