There is something about Byron Bay
Here, on the most easterly point of Australia, life has an immutable creative rhythm. The rainbow-tinged hippie hotspot has become a magnet for linen-clad families, eco-conscious millionaires and Hollywood glitterati, all chasing the free-wheeling way of life.
But, even with its recent monied tide, the town’s DNA and creative hijinks have remained the same. A tight-knit community of artists, makers, doers and free-thinkers gives this Northern Rivers town its true identity. And The Sunseeker, a newly rejuvenated 80s brick motel, is testament to this fact.
Owned by couple Dave and Jess Frid, The Sunseeker is a love letter to Byron Bay and its creative mishmash lifestyle. After buying the tired 80s motel in May 2020, the pair, originally from Melbourne, rounded up a dream team of the best local designers, their friends, including interiors consultant Julia Ashwood (co-founder of the equally vibey Eltham Hotel and The Vista travel website), to sprinkle their magic dust to create a contemporary but nostalgic motel for guests to live out their beach-bum fantasy.
“Having lived in Byron for a few years and being exposed to all the creatives here and feeling creative ourselves, we wanted to create a place that we didn’t think existed,” Jess says. “A place which was low-key and warm but exciting and imaginative, where kids are welcome and where we could holiday with friends and family.”
Mission accomplished. Throughout my stay, guests are a mix of sunbathing models and influencers, while road-tripping young families splash about playing Marco Polo in the pool. There are Porches parked next to station wagons and every morning guests and locals chat together as they line up outside the motel’s take-away coffee cart. Everything feels refreshingly unpretentious.
Inspiration came from far and wide, spanning from the effortlessly cool beach shacks in northern Ibiza where the couple used to holiday, to the design-forward Flamingo Estate in Los Angeles. But the main muse was the building itself. The pair decided to work with the existing structure of the motel, retaining the 12-room main building, six freestanding weatherboard bungalows and kidney-shaped pool, and focus their energies on revitalizing the interiors.
“We debated so much about whether to cover or retain the 80s red brick. It’s not an easy feature to work with,” Jess says. “But we decided it was the motel’s heritage and therefore the essence of the place, so we needed to connect and have fun with it by bringing design elements together that would only work within this structure, such as pouring a red terrazzo floor to complement the original red brick.”
This being Byron, where the love of nature and the ocean runs deep, sustainability was always going to be built into the motel’s blueprint. Exhibit A: they hired local sustainable building experts, Balanced Earth. Nothing was thrown away mindlessly and great care was taken to salvage, re-use and repurpose elements from the original motel. Most of the furniture is either vintage or made by local designers and artists.
The original room tiles were smashed and turned into the already iconic crazy pave for the entrance. The fireplace in the library came from an old brick wall, all the kitchens in the family-size bungalows were built using timber panels from other parts of the property, and each room in the main building—single rooms and one-bedroom suites—contains terrazzo bench-tops made using waste concrete.
The result is a spellbinding slam-dunk in design. There is something new to take in every time your eyes wander the room, from assorted curios by the best of the best local craft makers, bespoke wicker wall sconces and playful, chubby furniture, to the swirly wrought-iron bookshelf and coffee table books you actually want to read. Outside is as much fun as in, with a poolside tiki-meets-tropical-brutalist bar (the old barbecue hut) that serves up biodynamic wine from small-batch producers and spritzy cocktails. Even the mini bars have been carefully curated, featuring locally produced nibbles, bottled cocktails and healthy kid snacks without any refined sugars.
Staying true to its motel roots, there is no restaurant on site, but gourmet hampers ranging from cheese, charcuterie and fruit baskets to barbecue staples like sausages and steaks can be ordered from the local grocery store.
The Sunseeker may be about showcasing Byron’s Bay eclectic and creative community and moving forward it will no doubt align with local events. But, really at the end of the day, it’s simply a great place to play. Which is really what holidays are about, right?
thesunseeker.com.au; doubles from A$280 per night.
Byron Bay is a 20-minute drive from domestic Ballina Airport or a 90-minute drive from international Gold Coast Airport.