Travel Talk: Why Are Retro Motels Suddenly So Popular?

Motel Molly

Motel Molly is set to be the latest refurbished motel to join the many that have recently opened around Australia’s East Coast. Over the last few years, it’s seen a number of motels from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s get chic upgrades, all while still preserving their retro charm.

So, why the sudden popularity? It can be attributed to a few things, including the rise of sustainable travel, our desire to support local businesses and, finally, our newfound interest in exploring more of our own backyard.

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“Staying in roadside motels is easy and it’s arguably safer,” Eliza Raine, owner of revitalised Mysa Motel at Palm Beach on the Gold Coast, told Traveller. “There’s less contact with people than larger operations like hotels and resorts. For travellers, it provides the opportunity to slow down and take it all in, especially as motels are often located in small towns.”

Also among the revamped motels to open on the east coast are The Sunseeker in Byron Bay, inspired by ‘80s California; Halycon House in Cabarita Beach, which opened back in 2015 and also houses acclaimed restaurant Paper Daisy; and Kyah Boutique Hotel, a pastel-hued boutique hotel in Blackheath, Blue Mountains.

The latest property to join the trend is a beachside motel in Mollymook. It uses the existing structure of the former Surfbeach Motel, but was re-done by Sydney-based design practice Richards Stanisich, reports Travel Weekly.

Motel Molly
Image: Motel Molly

The team painted it in pops of pastels and added more free-flowing spaces in the rooms, as well as different styles of them, including some King Suites with kitchenettes, Moroccan-style sunken baths and balconies. Set to open in November 2022, the property also has landscaped gardens, an outdoor BBQ area and a pool.

Earlier this year, The Isla in Batehaven, Batemans Bay also joined the revived motel trend. While its now-co-owner Yanna Dascarolis describes its former motel, Abel Tasman, as a “boring, brown giant rectangular block”, it’s now easily destination-worthy, rather than just a roadtrip pitstop.

The owners, a group of friends, wanted to create a luxury experience that encapsulated the raw Australian coastal surround but also paid homage to the country’s European roots — an ethos that helped inspire its name: The Isla.

The Isla
Image: The Isla

“We wanted to create a bright and breezy, retro-inspired getaway,” Dascarolis says. “Expect colours and thoughtful design in every detail, modern tech features throughout and lush, spacious rooms to retreat to after a day exploring the beautiful coastline.”

The owners hired Those Architects to put their vision to life. “It’s not a huge building, but it’s not small either, and there wasn’t the budget to redesign the structure, so our interventions had to be small, but meaningful,” says Simon Addinall, Director of Those Architects. “It shows how recycling a building makes sense financially and environmentally — you can have fun with it, too.”

Image: The Isla

Those “interventions” lean into the 70s vibe with a warm palette of colours — ochre, ivory and kelp green — and materials, including oak feature walls and terrazzo bathroom trims. Commissioned artworks from Vynka Hallam hang in the suites and Pool House, as well as one piece from Tegan Franks.

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