Husband and wife team Jess and Dave Frid had dreamt of opening a hotel for years, but it was when this motel on the outskirts of Byron Bay appeared on the market that they decided to take the leap. Since buying the space – which had existed quietly as a slightly tired motel for decades – Jess and Dave’s team has organically expanded to include a powerful group of creatives, makers, stylists, and producers, who have worked together to redefine the term motel. With its playful but expertly stylised brand identity evident through everything from the interior design to the perfectly curated minibar (think handmade chocolate from social enterprise Hey Tiger and locally made adaptogenic kombucha from Good Happy), The Sunseeker offers an eco-luxe, super sexy stay on the outskirts of Australia’s favourite holiday town.
All based in the creative mecca that is the Byron Shire, The Sunseeker community now includes Tory Bauer (artist, director, producer and creative consultant), Julia Ashwood (travel writer, stylist, consultant and founder of The Vista), Lila Theodoros (the branding wunderkind behind Studio Muse Muse) and Bec Villanti (meditation teacher, co-founder of natural condom brand Jonny and now The Sunseeker’s GM).
Inspired by the collaborative and compassionate energy of the place and the community who live there, Jess and Dave teamed up with Byron-based designers and builders who specialise in working with a lighter impact on the earth, to build The Sunseeker not only as a holiday destination, but as a (perfectly styled and sustainably curated) space for connection. We spoke with Jess about the journey of The Sunseeker, and how sustainability undergirds the aesthetic and ethos of the space.
Dave and I have done a myriad of things in our past lives – we’ve worked in not-for-profits, in branding, in marketing, and on a few personal property projects together a few years ago. We’re now parents to two kids who we adore, so The Sunseeker was in part a project for them, a space for us to enjoy as a family.
We moved to Byron from Melbourne around three years ago, with two babies in tow and a desire to slow down and enjoy them. We wanted to have a bit of an adventure while they were still small, and we just completely fell in love. We felt immediately welcomed by the community here, and saw very quickly that there was something special in this group of conscious minded, creative people.
This idea for a hotel was a dream for us for a long time, and for some reason it felt like the right time. Balanced Earth (the sustainable building specialists) were the first people we began to work with, and then it was a series of conversations that led us from one person to the next until the full team was on board. It happened really gradually, we were working on architect plans and structural ideas – all the practical stuff – before we even got into branding and all those really exciting sides to the project.
It was a dream first. Pre-Covid, Dave and I travelled a lot both together and apart and then with very young kids in tow. We stayed in all sorts of different places, and I guess for where we were at in our lives with such young kids who we want to spend time with, we felt that there wasn’t an accommodation offering that covered all bases. We wanted to create something that wasn’t a large family friendly resort or a boutique high-end hotel where kids aren’t welcome. The Sunseeker is somewhere that you can holiday with family and friends and have fun, and a place where the kids can come and have fun as well. It’s a reflection of us and where we’re at. It’s about anticipating the needs and bonus elements that everyone might love. For a mum that might be having really nice high quality bath products and beautiful hand-crafted cocktails, and for kids it might be having a scooter to roam around on.
It’s a small town, and you don’t have to be here for too long to connect with people who are around. We were here for about two years before we started the project, and we’d immersed ourselves a lot in what was going on around town. It was really evident that the community was really collaborative, and as we made friends they’d introduce us to someone else who was doing something amazing… it all happened pretty beautifully. And also, with a little bit of luck. We didn’t know any of the people who worked on the project before we started, and in a year of Covid lockdowns it felt amazing to be working together on a project we all believed in. We all knew that we were really privileged to be working at all, and we were really determined to have an offering for people when things did open up again.
It’s a natural process. If you move closer to nature and you’re as immersed in it as you are in the Byron Shire, your appreciation and connection is amplified no doubt. Byron’s pretty progressive in a lot of ways, and there are a lot of leaders in the fields of sustainability across the board. Dave and I definitely immersed ourselves in that world, and being as sustainable as we could just became a non-negotiable for us. Sustainability is a big word and it’s impossible to be perfect, but for us it was a journey – about doing things better and being considered in every step we took. Can we do it better? Is there another option? What’s the most sustainable way? It was always just how we were going to do it, and that started very early on.
The builders were all briefed on waste disposal and recycling, and repurposing elements from the old motel became central to the design. We pulled up the tiles in the motel rooms and we didn’t know what we’d do with them at first but we knew we could do something – they ended up being our crazy pave at the front entrance. We used bricks from the motel rooms to build the fireplace in the library, and added water tanks and solar panels and hemp insulation. All of the brands and companies we partnered with we chose because their values were aligned with ours – from the builders to the company that made our compostable stickers. The options are out there, and it’s a little more time consuming to find them but for us it was just the way we were going to do it.
And as travellers ourselves, we understand that sometimes when you’re on holiday you’re not necessarily thinking about acting in the most sustainable way. We decided to consider the details, to make it easy for guests to live sustainably while they’re staying with us.
I’m proud that we did it. We had the conversation so many times, and then you wake up the next day and you get scared or you get cold feet. Obviously the team and the sustainability side, they’re the beautiful things but at the end of the day I’m just proud of the product. I’ve stayed there with our kids many times and they love it. It’s pretty nice on a quiet moment when you’re walking around and kids are playing on the scooters and their parents are having a drink by the bar, it feels amazing to see it come to life.
One moment that’s forever sketched in my mind was very early on in the process. We’d stripped out one of the rooms and it was just us and the builders in this bare motel room, sketching floor plans on the walls with pencils. We had ideas and visions, but really the project formed as it came together – it’s been playful since the beginning, and that’s something we still see so clearly – day to day at The Sunseeker.
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