116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Transforming a dairy barn into a vacation rental Airbnb near Iowa City
Meredith Hines-Dochterman - for The Gazette
Jun. 10, 2021 3:57 pm, Updated: Jun. 11, 2021 11:04 am
Anyone who wants to milk the Iowa country experience for all it’s worth will find what they’re looking for at Lucky Star Farm southwest of Iowa City.
In 2019, owners Susan Kasal Young and Rich Young converted the farm’s milk house into a one-of-a-kind Airbnb, opening the 700-square-foot living space to guests in January 2020.
“When we first opened, we had this vision that it would be booked on football weekends or big weekends in Iowa City, when maybe there’d be overflow out into the county,” Susan Young says, “But that wasn’t true — people were really excited to come stay out on the farm from the get-go. We totally underestimated the number of people who would want to come out into the country. It’s busy all the time.”
So busy, in fact, that the couple had to block out a week for their own vacation. At last count, the milk house space was booked through August. Nearly a quarter of their guests are repeat visitors.
“I think they make a new reservation as they’re leaving the driveway,” Rich Young jokes.
“That’s high praise,” Susan Young adds. “When you have a lot of options and you choose to come back, that makes me feel good. We’re doing something right.”
The Milk House at Lucky Star Farm
Where: 2625 Highway 1 SW, Iowa City
Occupancy: Up to four guests; 2 bedrooms, 2 beds, 1 bath
Cost: $149 to $169 per night; two-night minimum required
Phone: (319) 683-4042
The Youngs have hosted families wanting a change of scenery after months of online schooling. The children complete their studies in the milk house, which has high-speed Wi-Fi, and then run around the farm for the rest of the day. They’ve welcomed couples hoping to get a taste of the Iowa countryside. The space also has been used for a retreat.
“We’ve had a writer who’s been here several times finishing up a novel that she’s working on,” Susan Young says.
Sustainable, family-centered farm
The Youngs bought the farm in 2011 with a mission to create a sustainable, family-centered farm that provides ethically raised food and educational opportunities for the community.
Before, the farm was one of the many small dairy farms scattered around the area. The milk house, which was built sometime before 1950, was where the cows were led for feeding and milking. After each milking, the building’s concrete floor was washed and the water carried away through the floor drains.
Because sustainability is part of the farm’s mission, the original building was remodeled to maintain its charm while functioning as livable space.
Many materials were repurposed from the farm, including the weathered siding and old tin from the barn. The concrete floor and drains were left uncovered except for the addition of area rugs for décor and to combat chilly weather. The stanchion where cows were once tied for feeding and milking remains now displays extra blankets. A loft was added to serve as a second bedroom, with access gained by a steel ladder.
The loft is a hit, according to the farm’s youngest guests. Rich Young says he often spots a child jumping on the loft bed within minutes of checking in. Either that, or they’re outside, playing with one of the farm’s cats.
Visitors have room to roam
Guests of The Milk House have free rein on the farm during their stay.
There’s a beach by the pond, where they can relax, swim or try the stand-up paddle board. There’s a dock that’s great for catch-and-release fishing and a trail that takes guests around the property.
Then there are the animals to visit — chickens, llamas, ducks, cats and goats. There’s a fire pit with complimentary firewood and roasting sticks, as well as use of a grill. Because Lucky Star Farm is known for its fresh eggs, guests will always find plenty in the refrigerator of the milk house’s modern kitchen — perfect for a country breakfast.
“People often say, ‘This place has everything you need,’ and I take great pride in that,” Susan Young says.
The full kitchen is stocked with quality cookware and utensils. The sitting area is both comfortable and functional. Susan Young says every time she and her husband stayed at an Airbnb, they would take notes about what they liked and what they didn’t like.
“We tried to incorporate the best of other Airbnbs that we’ve visited around the country and make sure that we have those elements here,” Susan says. “We tried to make it comfortable and functional.”
And, most of all, the Youngs work hard to make it fun. A leather-bound notebook on the dining table is filled with positive comments from past guests, but Rich Young says the laughter he hears from their visitors says it all.
“That was our primary goal, to be able to share this whole place with people,” he says.
“We’re fortunate to be able to have this space right now,” Susan Young adds. “It’s really fun to see other people enjoy it as much as we do.”