Stay at This Sustainable Airbnb

This Californian family lives by example at a permaculture-focused Airbnb.

| May/June 2019


Photo by Shaunie Briggs

Walking onto Shaunie and Mike Briggs’ property in Winters, California, is like falling down a rabbit hole into a whimsical slow-living paradise. After passing through a tall steel gate, you’re greeted by nodding sunflowers, sculptures made of repurposed steel, rustic outdoor dining spaces, and a few private guest cottages. Ducklings waddle from one flower bed to the next, olives dangle from trees, and shaded napping spots beckon for a lie down. Although Winters’ quirky downtown is only a mile away, you’d never know it from the sounds of birds and rustling tree leaves.


Photo by Shaunie Briggs

The Briggs created this restorative space — and opened its doors to the public via Airbnb rentals — to share their passion for healthy, seasonal eating and organic gardening with others. “If you bang on someone’s door and say, ‘I have something I have to tell you,’ then they’ll slam the door in your face,” Shaunie laughs. “But if you cook them good food or hand them fresh flowers or bring them a homegrown melon, then they’re like, ‘How’d you do that? I want more.’ ”


Photo by Shaunie Briggs


The Inspiration Behind the Vision

Shaunie, who’s Native American and grew up in a family of hunters and fishers in San Luis Obispo, California, has always loved cooking. However, her interest reached new heights when her son, Matt, was diagnosed with a digestive disease 12 years ago. “I did a bunch of research and eventually learned that everything I knew about food was wrong,” Shaunie says. “Our whole family changed our diet to be more plant-based and less processed, and we all had more energy. Matt even got well enough to move back out on his own.”

In turn, Matt’s newfound appreciation for a whole-food diet led him to study permaculture. In the 10 years since, he’s dedicated much of his time to teaching his parents about permaculture practices and helping them install various native perennials, evergreen hedges, and water-funneling swells throughout their property.


Photo by Emily Wilson

“Now everything I know about gardening is different too,” Shaunie says. “I used to plant everything in rows, clean up under my trees, and think all weeds were bad. You can make a list of things [we’re taught] that are actually the opposite of what you really should do. That just fuels the information that I’ve learned, and I have to share it.”

On her journey to find the best way to share what she’s learned, Shaunie dabbled with running a pop-up food stall at her local farmers market, and then took over the remaining lease on a small restaurant. She and her family eventually decided that their best effort would be to lead by example, and they opened the doors to their 1-1/2-acre property.


Photo by Shaunie Briggs

The Buildings

The quiet, enclosed acreage was once an apricot farm, and in one corner of the property, you can still see the old tracks used to cart apricots to and from the orchard. The Briggs have restored the original wooden barn into an eclectic hall for hosting potlucks, workshops, and community gatherings. The barn’s main attraction is an expansive 16-foot-long farmhouse table; Mike welded the base himself, and the wooden tabletop is repurposed from an old bowling alley’s wooden lanes. More than a dozen thrifted chandeliers hang over the table, an antique buffet table lines the back of the building, and clusters of velvet-covered chairs provide intimate spaces for post-dinner conversations.


Photo by Shaunie Briggs

Each year, approximately 20 painters from around the world gather in this unique spot for the town’s Plein Air Festival, which Shaunie founded in 2006 to promote community pride and a sense of place through art. Artists spend a portion of the festival with their easels set up around the property, where they find easy inspiration in the abundant gardens and bohemian setting.

In addition to the barn, there are three main buildings on the property: the 1910 original farmhouse that the Briggs family lives in year-round; the Bunkhouse, which sleeps four; and the Gallery, which was once Briggs and Company Art Gallery, and has since been reimagined into a spacious living room with enough beds to sleep 10. Both the Bunkhouse and the Gallery are available for Airbnb rentals.


Photo by Shaunie Briggs

Thanks to California’s mild climate, the Briggs also converted a handful of the property’s old utility buildings into covered outdoor nap spaces, complete with comfortable mattresses, vintage pillows, and cozy blankets. Like the barn, these outdoor rooms are decorated in a way that Shaunie and her friends jokingly call “Shaunie Chic,” a playful use of thrifted materials combined to achieve a rustic, well-loved, and somewhat eccentric look.


Photo by Shaunie Briggs

“I love outdoor rooms,” Shaunie says. “I love the idea of having a small, cozy home for shelter, and having the living take place outdoors as much as possible.”

Shaunie’s penchant for outdoor living extends to private outdoor bathing spaces. Bathing nooks are dotted throughout the gardens for soaking or rinsing off, and many guests have enjoyed their first outdoor bath or shower at the property. Although the facilities are concealed, the occasional barn cat may meander past.


Photo by Shaunie Briggs


The Gardens

The property includes five gardens with a mix of edible, ornamental, and native perennial plants, and fruit trees are everywhere you turn. Olive trees grow on the property, and their branches dangle enticingly over quiet outdoor dining spaces. You’ll also spot lemon, tangerine, orange, walnut, almond, fig, peach, nectarine, elderberry, guava, and loquat trees and bushes throughout the property. “We’re moving toward about 80 percent perennials that will continue to reproduce, and we’ll fill in with annuals in beds,” Shaunie says. “We’re adding more and more natives and perennials that require less water.” Planting perennial crops is an excellent way to address several permaculture principles at once.


Photo by Emily Wilson

The Briggs’ biggest landscape adventure took place a few years ago, when they borrowed a tractor and dug a water-holding swell from the front fence all the way to the back of the property. The swell is 3 feet deep and 8 feet wide, and full of wood chips to hold water runoff from the main buildings. The family is aware that water is precious, especially in California, where droughts and wildfires have become the heartbreaking norm. The swell helps the family contain water naturally on the property without investing in tanks, and after a big rain, they can use pickaxes to dig little streams and divert the water into various garden beds.


Photo by Emily Wilson

“It was a scary decision at first,” Shaunie says, “but now we’re ready to dig an even deeper trench because it’s working so well. We know exactly how much water our land can hold.”

The Briggs also planted a native hedgerow to provide shade over the house and create a microclimate. With more water and shade on the property, they’ve noticed a definite drop in the temperature inside their home. Six years ago, it was sweltering hot indoors during summer, but now they have no need for air conditioning, and don’t even have a unit at the main house. 


Photo by Emily Wilson

The Community

The heart and soul of the Briggs’ home comes from the relationships created by the people who live in and visit the space. Whether it’s local farmers dropping off seasonal produce, artists painting the gardens, or Shaunie’s grandchildren learning how to bake, the community brings an overall sense of peaceful joy that leaves one wondering why the whole world can’t be like this. “I want everyone who comes here to feel like family,” Shaunie says. “I meet close to 75 percent of our guests, and I always give them a hug.”


Photo by Emily Wilson

Oftentimes, the guests will send Shaunie a message before arriving and ask if they can explore the gardens or learn more about the Airbnb’s features. She takes that as a sign that they’re open to meeting her and hearing more about the sustainable frame of mind that the family operates within. Over the course of one weekend, interested guests could be offered a slice of gluten-free cake, invited to see how honey is harvested, or welcomed around a table where everyone is preserving olives. They’ll see Shaunie hanging laundry to dry, Matt working in the permaculture beds, and Mike welding the steel structures and fences found throughout the property. After watching the family go about their day-to-day lives with such creativity and intention, it’s nearly impossible to leave without feeling inspired to dig a little deeper for yourself. And that’s exactly what the Briggs want.

Hannah is a backyard medicinal herb grower who enjoys transforming her harvests into hydrosols, body care products, and pressed flower art. She hosts botanical body care workshops nationwide, and can be found on Instagram @Hannah_Aften.



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