Living With Locals: A Designer’s Apartment in Seoul

Pano - Airbnb in Seoul

Seoul has no lack of plush hotels and vibrant hostels, but during my third visit to this city I wanted to live with a local.

Thankfully, it’s legal to use Airbnb in Seoul (as long as the host is registered with the city) and with it, I easily found a private room in a “villa”, which is the term for old walk-up apartments – often with great locations in the heart of the city.

It’s tough to find an Airbnb in Seoul that’s an actual home where you can live with locals. The listings are filled with hostels and guesthouses, so when I spotted Ryan’s studio apartment I wasted no time in sending him a message.

Airbnb in Seoul. Designer room

A touch of Scandinavia in Seoul

South Koreans really like free stuff…when IKEA opened two years ago, everyone flocked there just to swipe the free pencils!”

Ryan is a graphic designer who’s also into interior DIY. Thoughtful embellishments fill the Scandinavian style apartment, with personalized pieces to offset some of the IKEA furnishing: framed pieces on the walls, door hangers, a work desk framed by plants and shelves lined with design tomes. When I asked Ryan about his interior styling, he surprised me with this tidbit of trivia: IKEA’s biggest store in the world is actually in South Korea.

The home is a constant work-in-progress. In the mere 10 days that I stayed there Ryan moved wall art around, painted his snowglobe display shelf, and was planning some other refurbishments. It probably looks even more stylish now!

In cute company

Although I’d wanted to get to live with a local, South Korea’s demanding work culture meant that Ryan worked late almost every day in the two weeks I’d stayed there. Luckily, I did have the companionship of his two adorable toy poodles Max and Koopa. Every morning I made a simple breakfast with groceries bought from the Lotte supermarket downstairs, and tried to plan the most efficient route around the city to cover all I wanted to explore.

I loved that Ryan’s place isn’t a typical “apartment” in a high-rise building, like in Singapore. His walk-up apartment in the traditional low-rise “villa” building is a stone’s throw from Beotigogae station, in a quiet interlude between Dongdaemun and Itaewon. One can also easily walk to the next station (Yaksu) where there are two subway lines.

“Once I hosted a disgusting, rude guy who left the main door unlocked, left beer cans on the counter and table, and puked in the bathroom without cleaning up!”


As a host, Ryan is as responsive and helpful as one could hope for, and I think it’s one of the benefits of sharing a place rather than booking an “entire home”. I had a super-early flight in, but he let me check in bright and early before 9am. He also texted back swiftly whenever I had any questions, like how to turn on the water heater or where to bin food trash (South Korea is extremely strict about sorting and recycling trash!)

The bathroom is smartly set up with a rubber mat so the dogs’ messes are easily cleaned up using the shower head – no issue for dog owners.

With his busy schedule and similarly introverted nature, it’s a pity that we didn’t warm up to each other quickly enough. However, he very sweetly took the time to chat with me one night, showing me his blog and entertaining me with horror stories of inconsiderate Airbnb guests.

“Once I hosted a disgusting, rude guy who left the main door unlocked, left beer cans on the counter and table, and puked in the bathroom without cleaning up!” Since I’m a neat freak who’s hosted Couchsurfers before, Ryan had my sympathies.

I felt so comfortable here that I have no qualms calling this Airbnb in Seoul a home away from home. When I was preparing for an overnight hike in Seoraksan, Ryan even offered to let me keep my luggage and bags here even though another guest would be staying over!

If you’re a solo traveler in need of a soothing aesthetic (and if you love dogs), skip the boutique hotels/guesthouses and stay with Ryan instead. You’ll love it.

Not on Airbnb yet? Get $40 off your first booking.

Send this to a friend