Holly Clark’s 100-year-old hay loft is a getaway for grown-ups.
Remember those blanket forts you built as a kid? Depending on your preferred method of construction, they probably involved some combination of kitchen chairs and bed quilts. You might have furnished them with throw pillows, couch cushions, favorite storybooks, and stuffed animals. Kool-Aid and Goldfish crackers were likely involved.
Before the independence of adulthood, these makeshift structures offered a rare opportunity for privacy when the rest of your life was dominated by grown-ups telling you what to do. Those forts eventually gave way to teenage bedrooms, college dorm rooms, first apartments, and first homes. But while each of those steps are important and exciting, let’s be honest—each one is a bit less magical than the last.
All is not lost, however. There are plenty of good forts for adults, too, if you know where to look. There’s one in Fayetteville, in Holly Clark’s 100-year-old barn.
The outside looks—well, it looks like a barn. But step inside and climb the ladder to the hayloft, and you’ll find a space illuminated by dozens of string lights hanging from the ceiling. There’s a white shabby chic dresser and dining table and a reading nook in the corner with a mid-century lounge chair and floor lamp. But the focal point of the loft is the bed—queen-sized with a brass headboard, sitting on an oriental rug and draped with mosquito nets. “It’s very romantic,” Holly says.
Holly rents out the space—which she has dubbed, simply, The Barn Loft—to guests on the space-sharing website Airbnb. This is no Holiday Inn, however, and may not be suitable for all travelers. “There’s no heat. There’s no insulation. You climb up a ladder to get into the barn loft,” she says. “I’ve learned it’s best to give people a good understanding of what they’re getting into.”
Guests don’t seem disappointed. The space has more than 100 reviews on Airbnb and a five-star rating. A user named Aly and her boyfriend were Holly’s first guests of the season this year. “I won 10,000 brownie points with my boyfriend for booking this place. One of the most memorable places I’ve stayed. So, so romantic,” Aly wrote in her review.
Another guest, Caroline, stayed at the loft in September 2014 and says she can’t wait to return. “It was very pleasant and very private. We had a romantic honeymoon in this charming little barn.” Jimmy, who works for the U.S. Foreign Service in Kabul, Afghanistan, writes: “I really enjoyed my time at The Barn Loft and only wished I had more to spend. When I visit Fayetteville again, Holly will be the first person I call.”
She started renting the space in July 2011, about a year after she moved onto the property. “I had some friends who were coming over from Ohio on a regular basis to go rock climbing.” At the time, Holly was just beginning to convert her barn into an extra bedroom. “They thought, well, why don’t we rent that space from her so we can come and go as we please.” Her friends never ended up staying in the loft, but it did give her an idea.
Holly had read about the website Airbnb—which allows users to rent out houses, apartments, spare bedrooms, and even couches to travelers—and figured listing her loft would be a good way to bring in some extra dough. She put it on the site and reservation requests soon came rolling in. “That has been the only way I’ve advertised,” she says. Guests either find her in the Airbnb listings or get word-of-mouth recommendations from former visitors.
The space has continued to grow in popularity. She had 69 reservations in 2014 and expects to top that in 2015. “Each year I’ve had higher numbers of reservations,” she says. “I really enjoy meeting the folks who are passing through. I’ve had folks from all over the world.” The loft has become a popular rendezvous for long-distance lovers. Remember Jimmy from Afghanistan? He came to Fayetteville with a woman he had met only once before, in Afghanistan. “They had one meeting and then they started corresponding. He flew to the states and they drove from Washington, D.C., to stay in the barn. It was their first date,” she says.
There was another couple from France—she was going to college in the United States, and he flew across the Atlantic to meet her. They rented a motorcycle for a road trip through southern West Virginia but the weather conditions weren’t ideal for the ride. The couple ran into some rain and showed up at Holly’s door—soaked. “They were just like wet little ducks. I made hot chocolate for them.”
Holly often acts as a concierge for guests. “I try to rattle off all the things you can do. Hiking, rock climbing. I try to encourage them to get down to the gorge. A lot of them don’t even realize what’s there.” Once a guest from India arrived late in the evening but wanted to get some photos of the area before dark. Holly took the man, his wife, and his mother to the nearby Long Point Trail, which ends in a spectacular view of the New River Gorge Bridge. “We made it just in time to catch the sunset,” she says.
But the party still had a mile-and-a-half hike back to the car. “This is the first time I have ever hiked the Long Point Trail in the dark,” she says. “At one point the guy got a phone call and said, ‘I can’t talk now! I’m in the jungles of West Virginia!’”
photographed by ELIZABETH ROTH