A renovated motel on Australia’s beautiful north coast retains all its nostalgic charm with a thorough update by Akin Atelier, elevating its offering to cool, new heights.

The Sails Motel in Brunswick Heads, on New South Wales’s north coast, is an original in every sense of the word. Harking back to the heyday of the motel and ‘car trip’ holidays, along with fish and chips on the beach and towels drying on the balcony, memories of youth come flooding back. Nostalgic and charming without resorting to kitsch or overwrought detailing, the motel, complete with pizzeria and wine bar, is a meeting hub of sorts for the small town. Consisting of a 1960s motel, it was joined by a sympathetic, single-story addition in the 80s and a large house that sits adjacent, which plays home to the open plan reception and retail space. From there, it drops down into the pool bar area before revealing the lounges and umbrellas of the tranquil swimming pool oasis.

Owner and operator, Simon Johnson with partner Amanda, moved to the area with the objective of reviving the motel and seeing another generation of visitors enjoying what it and Brunswick Heads has to offer. Working with accomplished hospitality and retail design firm Akin Atelier, the couple’s brief established the direction and goals of the renovation. As a business, functionality and durability is paramount, but being practical alone doesn’t always make for great results, particularly when what you’re trying to achieve is an idiosyncratic, mid-century, motel aesthetic.

“We focused on the joinery, which the guests would interact with every day,” says Kelvin Ho, designer on the project and director of Akin Atelier. “There are some really subtle curves in the joinery with some really lovely inlays of laminate… even the shelving where people would be placing their clothing, we wanted to line that with a pop of colour, and I think it was those little gestures that didn’t feel too overwhelming [and] a reminder that you’re on holidays… playful [with] moments of spontaneity and fun in them.”

Teak plays a big part in the success of the motel’s renovation. Using Laminex Natural Teak, there’s a warmth and tactility to its application, with both Johnson and Ho remarking on its connection to the original motel and a way of elevating each room with pragmatic solutions.

“Laminex was actually a pretty obvious choice for us,” says Johnson, “the last refurb happened in the 80s and it was in the rooms when we took over the property, so we had a pretty good gauge of how the product would stand the test of time.”

“The warmth of the material (Laminex Natural Teak) comes through, but as a laminate it plays to the nostalgia and retro charm of the building,” explains Ho of the specification.

Laminex Portsea has been inlaid into the joinery, referencing and tying into the original branding of the motel, bringing with it a sophisticated and calming, coastal feel. Laminex Pale Honey completes the trio of laminate, a gentle reminder of the era and wonderful complement to the woodgrain. “We’re really happy with the palette and the impression you get from entering the rooms,” says Johnson, “and how it is revealed as you move through the space.”

Updating and elevating the motel to a more hotel-like experience was the essence of the brief. Complete with restaurant, bar and pool, The Sails Motel has been designed, if your heart so desires, as the place to provide all you need. Akin Atelier’s gentle renovation is a success through its homage to the period and motel’s history, with plenty of credit reserved for Brunswick Heads’ beautiful natural surroundings.

“It was nice to be able to continue a legacy of the motel, to be respectful and design something that felt like we were continuing the tradition,” says the designer. “Simon set the tone of being the custodian of the building and not wanting to change it too much. We were able to show a level of restraint, to work through the design process and pick materials that felt quite true and honest to the building itself.”

Learn more about The Sails Motel here, and explore Akin Atelier’s portfolio on their website.

Design: Akin Atelier
Video: The Local Project
Photographer: Jonny Valiant
Joiner: Ace Commercial Interiors
Builder: SHAPE