Image: The Balancing Barn
Courtesy of Living Architecture
The Balancing Barn in Walberswick, England, earns its name by dangling over the edge of a hill. The U.K.-based organization Living Architecture commissioned this four-bedroom vacation home in an effort to bring Modernist architecture to the English countryside.
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updated 9/4/2011 12:43:53 AM ET 2011-09-04T04:43:53

When architect Anna Noguera and her husband bought a 16th-century house in Girona, Spain, it was in such rough shape that only the walls could be saved. But after a three-year renovation, their five-bedroom home has a gourmet kitchen, pool, fireplace, and veranda overlooking the medieval town. Why should you care? Because this is a home you can rent.

Slideshow: World's coolest rental homes

Renting a house has become increasingly easy — and popular — in the past few years, thanks to sites like HomeAway and AirBnB. And there are some very cool rental homes out there. It’s enough to make a five-star hotel jealous.

Of course, anyone who’s sifted through dozens of ho-hum listings knows how much time can evaporate while trying to find the perfect place to call home for a week’s escape. But thanks to curated new websites, such as WelcomeBeyond.com, Boutique-Homes.com and Designtripper.com (full disclosure: this is my blog), travelers can browse designers’ rental homes that have been carefully selected for their cool quotient.

There’s no shortage of stories behind these rental homes and the creative people who run them — and sometimes even live on the grounds. There are the reality-TV stars who lost their deposit every time they rented a house with their five kids, so they finally bought and decorated one of their own. And the couple who shut down their design store in London and moved to Morocco, where they cater to new customers — houseguests — by steering them toward the best local markets and supplying a pair of traditional slippers to keep.

Spending vacation time in homes like this Moroccan one gives you special insights into your destination and the opportunity to live like a local — one who just happens to have exceptional taste. You don’t need to give up the conveniences of a hotel stay (some rental homes come with daily housekeeping), and you enjoy perks that range from gallery-worthy art installations to private gardens with tennis courts.

Even some homeowners can’t get over their surroundings. “There’s something amazing about visiting museums like the Picasso and Carnavalet, and staying in a building with a similar sense of history,” says Jorge Almada of the 18th-century, antiques-filled apartment he and his wife own in Paris. And it’s just as amazing that they want to share their pied-à-terre — designed by Louis XVI’s architect — with travelers like you.

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