Vacation Rental

Meet ‘Cabana,’ a Local Airbnb Built for Fun

Glam Hollywood vibes and the dancing cage from Embers fill this Oak Grove home

By Aurora Biggers September 24, 2021 Published in the Fall 2021 issue of Portland Monthly


When Portland-based designer Mel Hignell purchased this 1957 house in 2017, a four-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bath ranch on the Willamette River dubbed ‘Cabana,’ she saw room for improvement. A lot of room. “I remodeled quite a bit of it,” Hignell says. “Structurally, it needed some work. The decking was falling apart. The downstairs bedrooms were really terrifying—blue carpet from the ’70s does not smell that great. It was just really gross—a lot of popcorn ceilings and really grimy.”

Hignell, the founder of a full-service Airbnb and vacation-rental design and management firm called White Spider that owns/manages six homes spread across New Orleans, San Francisco, and the Portland area, says she relied on her own instincts for the remodel. First, she painted the exposed-brick, nonfunctional fireplace in the upper level living room white and made it gas-powered, and threw a black-and-white Marquis De Mod painting above the couch. Then she sprinkled religious iconography throughout and added leopard wallpaper in the bathroom.

“I was getting in the shower one day and was like, ‘You know, I don’t want to wallpaper an entire wall. I just want one sheet of paper,’” she remembers.

On the side deck, Hignell threw in a stone gas fire pit, framed against dark wood and bright green decorative plants, complete with an outdoor bar fashioned out of a vintage True beverage cooler. Hints of green (velvet chairs), red (patio umbrellas), and blue (a kitchen feature wall) break up the otherwise black-and-white scheme. Hignell decided not to deviate too much from the original aesthetic: “When we came in, it was black, cream, and gold,” she says.

She did, however, ditch the blue shag carpet and replace it with “gorgeous Berber.” The second living room sports a five-foot sofa, white walls accented by a black Z side table, a framed leopard king painting, and a sculpture refashioned with a gold lightning bolt, a nod to the immortal Ziggy Stardust. “It’s kind of a mashup of glam Hollywood Regency and postmodernism at this point,” Hignell says.

That signature style came to include a saltwater pool, jetted tub, and “vertical dancing pole” equipped with fog machines and strobe lights outside. A major draw is Cabana’s dancing cage, which was salvaged from Embers, the iconic Portland gay bar and dance club that closed in 2017. And the “SIN WILL FIND YOU OUT” neon cross? Custom made by Carousel Lights for Pusha T’s Darkest Before Dawn: Prelude tour. A newer addition to one of Cabana’s bathrooms: a pop art painting of Madonna as the Virgin Mary, captioned “Get Naked” in neon print.

While Cabana is Hignell’s main home as well an Airbnb (the price varies with demand but can near $1,000 a night in high season), its steamy poolside and neon fixtures make it a hot ticket for music video shoots.

“We have a ton of videos being shot at Cabana all the time,” says Hignell. On Cabana’s Instagram, you can spy Portland’s own self-proclaimed “pop-princess” artist Tox!c posing in front of Pusha T’s cross, promoting her song “Tastes Like Summer.”

Though it isn’t a “party house” per se (under the auspices of Airbnb’s sacred rules), Hignell says the house is made for a little Airbnb-approved bacchanalia.

“Every single portion of my home is designed to be comfortable. I want people to relax, bring friends, break bread, drink wine, have a shot of tequila, whatever. I just want people to be really comfortable,” says Hignell. “That being said, people fall asleep all over my house.” And with four king beds, two massive sleeper sofas, cushioned lounge furniture scattered throughout every room, and condoms on hand in candy dishes or a vintage condom dispenser on the deck, getting cozy in Cabana is pretty easy.