Motels, traditionally the least beloved member of the accommodation family, are having a moment. For the last couple of years, design-minded, nostalgia-loving operators have been snapping up old east coast surf motels and giving them retro spruce ups.
Some hark back to the ’60s, with bold patterns, textures and splashes of colour. Some take their cues from the earthy tones of the ’70s. Others look to the neon lights and pastels of the ’80s. But these four converted coastal motels all deliver pure beachy escapism, at an attractive pricepoint. We’ll see you by the pool.
Caspar Tresidder breathed new life into Merimbula’s Hillcrest motel when he gave it a major face lift early this year. He added a 2021 aesthetic to the New South Wales South Coast building, but maintained the sun-tinged, vintage ’70s vibe of the original build. The motel still has the timber cabinetry, exposed brickwork and flat roofing you’d expect, but the reno has lightened up the rooms and leisure spaces considerably. The Exhale suites feature abstract art from Melbourne painter Adela Kusur, and the private balconies overlook the ocean. And if the linen from In Bed and fresh croissants baked daily by Wild Rye’s fail to sate your holiday yearnings, head to the swimming pool (with a nearby firepit). Alternatively, have a hit on the original clay tennis court, which was unearthed during the works and has since been restored.
Halcyon House, Cabarita Beach
This is the original east coast conversion. Sisters Elisha and Siobhan Bickle purchased the Cabarita Beach Hideaway Motel and converted it in 2015, reopening it as Halcyon House. Located halfway between the Gold Coast and Byron Bay, it soon became a destination for city folk looking for sophisticated, pretty-on-the-eye accommodation with a lush swimming pool. Another lure is its restaurant, Paper Daisy, where chef Jason Barratt (Raes at Wategos, Attica, Stokehouse) keeps the confident coastal menu simple. The main draw, of course, is Cabarita Beach itself. It’s a tranquil refuge from the constant buzz of city life, but still close enough to big towns should you want a change of pace.
The Mysa Motel, Gold Coast
The Mysa Motel is a breezy 10-minute drive from Gold Coast Airport, and only a short stroll from the nearest cafes and shops at Palm Beach. Husband-and-wife team Jason and Eliza Raine bought the former Palm Trees Motel two years ago and have since transformed it into a place with pink neon signage, restored vintage furniture and exposed breezeblock walls. Channelling the pastel hues of California, the seven light-filled rooms are painted in lavender, peach, mint and carnation, each one decorated with images of the surrounding area by photographer Trent Mitchell. Some rooms have private courtyards, and all have a smart TV. Plus, all guests have access to the kidney-shaped swimming pool that’s been converted into a magnesium mineral pool.
The Sunseeker, Byron Bay
Every inch of The Sunseeker is inspired by ’80s California. It’s heavy on copper fittings and fixtures, with coffee and cinnamon-coloured couches and upholstery, and there’s wood panelling throughout. Lots of wood panelling. The rooms (and set of bungalows) – on Bangalow Road in the heart of Byron Bay – come in three different sizes, ranging from options that fit solo travellers to rooms for families. The bungalows are lined up like a small village, and each one comes equipped with a barbeque, private deck, private garden and outdoor bath. Walk through a lush thicket of ferns to get to the jelly bean-shaped pool (poolside paint job: watermelon pink). The bar will sort you out with a lounge-appropriate cocktail. The Sunseeker has its own blissed-out summery playlist on Spotify – curated by the same team that put together legendary LA hotel Chateau Marmont’s playlists. That’ll clue you in to the vibe it’s going for. Give it a listen here. Plus, renewable energy is a focus here: 82 solar panels power every facet of the motel, and parking spaces come with charging ports for electric cars.
With further reporting by Astrid Watt, Georgina Safe and Sarah Norris.