Memory upgrade

Squeezed between higher-profile neighbours, Cabarita Beach is not your typical tourism hot spot. But its perfect surf and barely touched beauty make it ideal for a new boutique hotel that recalls bygone summer holidays with a nod to thoughtful modernity.

Cabarita Beach, on the New South Wales north coast, is the kind of quintessential Australian seaside town that is hard to find these days. A pristine headland dotted with pandanus juts into the Pacific, gifting the hamlet its storied surf break and sheltering the golden, largely empty beach. As they once did along most of Australia’s east coast, Norfolk pines rather than skyscrapers signal that just beyond the dunes lies a town. And unlike its neighbours to the north and south, Cabarita Beach consists of little more than a collection of shops, a surf club and, until recently, a solitary run-down motel.

“We have nine children between us and we bought The Hideaway motel with the idea that we would turn it into our family beach house,” says Siobhan Bickle, laughing with her sister, Elisha, as they survey the classic 1960s surfer crash pad that has re-emerged as Halcyon House, a startlingly bold new boutique hotel. Equidistant from both the overdeveloped Gold Coast and the bucolic, bohemian Byron Bay — but a world away from both — Cabarita Beach is little known beyond locals and itinerant surfers. For this reason it seems an unlikely place for one of Australia’s newest, most distinct boutique properties. However, the Bickle sisters are part of a shrewd Brisbane real-estate and hospitality dynasty that has a proven knack for identifying untapped potential and breathing new life into overlooked locales.

After discreetly operating a handful of the city’s most successful venues over the past decade, the family has emerged publicly as major players in the national scene. Halcyon House is their highest-profile project to date, a flagship of sorts that will be followed by the hugely ambitious Howard Smith Wharves project, a 3.4-hectare riverfront plot in the Brisbane city centre undergoing community and commercial redevelopment. When plans for a no-frills family beach house were drawn up, the sisters found the entrepreneurial lure of creating a new kind of hotel on the spectacular seafront site too irresistible to refuse.

“When we took the gamble to open a hotel we were determined not to build a sleek designer hotel like you see everywhere, but one that would be faithful to the spirit of Cabarita,” Elisha says. “Also, we wanted a house full of idiosyncrasies and memory-making potential.” To that end, the sisters engaged two prominent designers with distinct yet differing styles to give the old motel a new lease of life. Sydney-based architect Virginia Kerridge faithfully updated the existing structure with her considered touch. To the town’s approval, the characteristic arches of flimsy stucco were rebuilt in enduring whitewashed brick; communal spaces were pivoted towards the dunes; an additional level was added with its ceilings set to a breezy, light-filled height. Even retro besser blocks, once widely shunned, are newly celebrated. Kerridge has reinterpreted the idea of the classic 1960s Australian beach motel and perhaps the greatest endorsement for her work is that it appears as if she were never there at all.

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Photos: Hugh Stewart, © Vogue Living, July/August 2015

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