In fashion and homewares, one way to practice sustainability is to take what’s worn and make it fresh again, rather than buying something new entirely. That can be applied in travel, too — taking accommodation that’s done its time and updating it to make it feel new again. Fortunately, that’s a trend happening across Australia over the last few years — specifically, the revamping of motels.
One such motel tapping into the trend is The Isla in Batehaven, Batemans Bay, four hours’ drive south of Sydney and across the street from the beach. It took over the former Abel Tasman, described as a “boring, brown giant rectangular block” by the now-co-owner Yanna Dascarolis. Today, The Isla is a two-storied motel with 18 rooms and three suites: Vista, Grande and Poco.
“It was well built, with good foundations, and we thought if we got creative, we could rein it and give it a new lease on life,” says Dascarolis. “The previous owners had kept everything very clean — it was just very basic and furnished like a traditional roadside motel. So, we ripped everything out completely and started afresh, including the managers’ residence and reception area, which are now our Grande and Vista suites.”
Rather than replace the reception, the co-owners, a team of friends, opted to go without. Instead, guests are given a lock code to their room and to a “Cantina”, a small room with ice and vending machines with locally-sourced items like canned cocktails, beers and snacks, as well as holiday essentials you may’ve forgotten to pack like toothbrushes, phone chargers and sunscreen.
Should you wish to mingle with other guests or your group, there’s a cabana-style Pool House with a dining room table, comfy chairs and lounges and, to help set the atmosphere, Sonos speakers. After a morning spent exploring Batemans Bay local cafés and restaurants (grab lunch at JJ’s at The Marina or drive north an hour to reach Cupitt’s Estate), grab snacks from the nearby IGA or Cantina and settle into a chair at the outdoor plunge pool, tunes blaring from the Pool House.
Dascarolis says the owners’ aim was to create a destination worthy of its beachside address — rather than just a pitstop motel. Instead, they were after 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.
“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.”
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.
Dascarolis says the green tiles, which came from Europe, were especially difficult to get as they were refurbing during the pandemic and its shipping delays. “But we managed to secure every element to bring the design to life,” he says.
“The challenges of the last few years have given us a newfound appreciation for what we have here in Australia,” says Dascarolis. “We really wanted to create something that brings back nostalgic feelings and creates interest everywhere you look but still feels luxurious and high-end.”