We recently found out that Behomm member Ringo Gomez-Jorge had written an article about Behomm for De Morgen, renown Belgian newspaper, describing his experience as a Behommer. We didn’t know about this article and we were happily surprised to see how he explained the first feeling before joining, the uncertainty “I couldn’t believe that people with such beautiful homes would be able to enjoy our flat”... and how he has already done six exchanges in six months. Happy to share with all of you his article:

It’s an August Friday afternoon and I’m at home again, with my backpack laying on the living room floor, after a much-too-hot holiday in Madrid, and it strikes me how normal everything looks. Living room, kitchen, bathroom and bedroom – all in the same state I left them. There’s nothing to show anyone’s been here at all in my absence, except for a half-eaten maxi-pack of Special K breakfast cereal on the side, a white bottle of Dove body milk in the shower, and a plant on the window sill that isn’t normally there. Ana moved the plant because she thought it looked a bit sorry for itself, and she’s a landscape architect with green fingers. And that’s pretty much all I know about Ana, although I suspect she’s about fifty years old and likes to watch her figure.

Like me, Ana is a Behommer, as in we both use the internet platform Behomm, a website that enables you to swap your home with people from all over the world. And this is how Ana and I agreed to exchange homes for a few summer days. So she came to Borgerhout for the first time, to stay in my flat, and my girlfriend and I went to her luxurious apartment in Calle de Encarnación, close to the Royal Palace of Madrid. Hers is a beautiful apartment that’s half way between a boutique Spanish hotel and an Oriental courtyard. Think classical columns, colourful carpets, indoor palm plants, wooden blinds, ethnic lamps, that kind of thing. At night time, we took Ana’s advice and opened all the windows to feel the lovely breeze cool our sweltering backs.

At first I thought Behomm was elitist, simply for rich snobs
with fancy homes. On the websites says: ‘Taste has nothing
to do with luxury’ and this appears to be backed up in reality.

I’ve swapped homes six times in six months: Berlin three times, Amsterdam, London and Madrid. Copenhagen, Paris and Barcelona are also on the horizon. All because Behomm is so easy. Once you’re a member of the ‘community’, which is 95 euros for a first year trial and then costs 190 euros a year, you can easily scroll through properties to look at pictures and send messages to other members, to see if you can tempt them into a house swap. All arrangements are made individually between the two parties, so José and I agreed to leave our keys with a neighbour for our exchange, for example, and I met Iona in an East London coffee shop to swap keys and have a chat.

Antwerp vs. Berlin

You don’t always need to exchange homes for exactly the same period; you can also arrange non-simultaneous swaps. During my six-day trip to Berlin, for instance, hostess Peter wasn’t staying in Antwerp, but at his second home in Hamburg. He didn’t have time to enjoy Antwerp at the moment, so he keeps my flat in credit for another time. And when he does want to come and claim it, I’ll make sure I’m on holiday or staying with friends.

Even though I’m enjoying house swapping now, I must admit to judging the platform unfairly when my girlfriend first came up with the idea. Behomm isn’t just any house exchange website. The creators, a couple from Barcelona called Agustí Juste and Eva Calduch who run a graphic design agency together, had been arranging house swaps through other sites for years, but wasted a lot of time looking for homes with a similar sense of aesthetics. So in 2013 they started their own curated platform. They decide whether you can join their community or not. So, to be part of the Behomm story, you first need to be invited by a (distant) acquaintance before being approved by the platform, which is done based on your profile and home; or you can apply for an invitation at their platform. Only creatives and design lovers who live in tasteful homes are accepted.

You don’t always need to exchange homes for exactly the
same period; you can also arrange non-simultaneous swaps.

At first I thought this was complete elitist nonsense: a house exchange platform purely and simply for rich snobs with fancy homes. The website is bursting with all sorts of far-out interiors: from a 400-square-metre natural home in Thailand with a view of the sea, to a 200-square-metre loft in Brooklyn with a piano and zebra-print cushions. I don’t have any zebra-print cushions, and my windows look out over the main road to Turnhout, which all made it quite simple for me: I don’t belong to this ‘community’, and I don’t want to.

 

So it took a few months before I agreed to let my girlfriend upload some photos of our home to be approved by Behomm. Strangely enough, our apartment was accepted no problem. Okay, our home is 120 square metres, with a parquet floor and quite swanky furnishings, including a few large house plants and designer pieces by Maarten Van Severen (chair), Castiglioni (lamp) and Alvar Alto (three-legged table), but I wouldn’t call it a designer home. The fixtures and fittings leave something to be desired, too. All our wall sockets are skewwhiff, there are wall skirtings missing, and our kitchen floor is like a terrazzo from 1967, patchy cement included. It’s a flat that your average aunt or mother-in-law would describe as ‘Quirky. It’s definitely different.’

Behomm wants to offer people with a similar profession
and sense of taste the chance to travel in an enjoyable,
inspiring and affordable way.

So apparently Behomm isn’t so unbelievably elitist after all. The description on the website says: “Taste has nothing to do with luxury”, and this appears to be backed up in reality. Behomm wants to offer people with a similar profession and sense of taste the chance to travel in an enjoyable, inspiring and affordable way.

Misfit

Now, I’m still a Behomm misfit. José, Peter, Teresa, Berndt and Ana all have at least ten years more of work experience behind them, and undoubtedly healthier bank balances to match. Their homes easily surpass mine both in terms of budget and aesthetics. For example, José’s apartment is spread across two floors and looks out over the glorious Sarphatipark in De Pijp
in Amsterdam, pretty much the loveliest neighbourhood in the city’s canal district. Berndt’s, situated on Paul Linke Ufer in Kreuzberg, has a roof terrace and fashion shots all over the walls, including a life-size print of nudes wearing stormtrooper helmets by Helmut Newton, and a 1960s rocking chair in the shape of a plastic egg.

I was quite nervous for the first swap, because I couldn’t
believe that people with such beautiful homes would be able
to enjoy our flat.

Peter has a green velvet corner seat that I spent hours on, and a picnic bench dining table. The wooden floorboards in Teresa’s apartment, with two kitchens and two bathrooms in the heart of Kreuzberg, are lit by sunlight akin to an Instagram picture... so beautiful that I often think back to it.

 

To be honest, I have to say I was quite nervous for the first swap, because I couldn’t believe that people with such beautiful homes would be able to enjoy our flat. After leaving everything spick and span at home, and as my girlfriend and I settled down with a glass of white wine, left for us by the hostess, in José’s ample living room, we wondered what she’d be thinking of our small abode. Well, it turns out that José thinks it’s completely lovely and fine and fun. Just like Teresa and Ana and Iona and Peter.

From my six exchanges, I can safely say that design
elitism isn’t something that Behommers suffer with.

It’s striking how easily people can choke on their own prejudices. Well-to-do design lovers with all their airs and graces, don’t you know? From my six exchanges, I can safely say that design elitism isn’t something that Behommers suffer with. José thinks our flat’s rough edges are intriguing, Ana gushes about the Moroccan supermarkets on our road, Teresa loves our ceramic cups, and Peter finds it perfect for enjoying getting on with work. I give them all a few tips and they’re able to explore the city from my perspective. So we both experience different lives, just for a short while, and this has an incredibly inspiring effect.

 

Security

I don’t need to point out the main advantage of a house exchange: you get free accommodation, and a kitchen so you don’t need to eat out three times a day. This of course holds true for all house swap platforms, but with Behomm you can find homes you like faster. And more importantly: the fact that the platform is curated provides a sense of security. You’re swapping with other design lovers and not with some unknown shmuck or other, who might just empty the contents of their stomach on your floor after a heavy Saturday night out drinking. In an interview, founder Calduch explains that there have only been a few minor incidents; accidents, rather.

Behomm makes travelling more affordable. Because with Airbnb, the platform that offers accommodation at democratic prices, things can sometimes go awry, and the prices for accommodation in popular cities such as Amsterdam, Paris and Barcelona have already risen dramatically. A room in Amsterdam, for example, would recently have cost me 150 euros per night. Why? Because the owners know they can get away with it.

The fact that the platform is curated provides
a sense of security.

And they’re often not just people like you or me with a spare room anymore, but estate agents buying up premises to play hotel with. This kind of thing is unfortunately happening more and more. I recently booked a last-minute trip to Paris with friends, and ended up in an Airbnb apartment. As we checked out, there was a local family patiently waiting for us to leave. ‘Book unique homes and experience a city like a local,’ is what it says on the website. And we did indeed exchange a few friendly words as the keys were handed over.

Behomm does help enhance the sense of wanderlust,
and it’s incredibly addictive.

But Behomm doesn’t resolve everything. You definitely need to request a swap at least a month in advance, for instance, which means that Airbnb and the hotel sector do work faster. And, with just over 3,000 homes in 66 countries, the platform doesn’t cover all the corners of the world. You can also be rebuffed sometimes. To my great disappointment, for example, I have unfortunately not yet been able to find anyone willing to swap in Tokyo – so a flat in Antwerp does have its limitations on the house exchange market. But Behomm does help enhance the sense of wanderlust, and it’s incredibly addictive. My girlfriend recently received an exciting email from Amsterdam. A swap next week won’t work for us, but simply declining the offer seems silly. So we look at the photos: a fancy loft in the Oud-West neighbourhood. A non-simultaneous exchange then? Why not... a little trip to Amsterdam in reserve can’t do any harm.