They’re dotted all over regional Australia – once-stylish motels built in the 1950s and ’60s that have since been patched up, added to, and in many cases have been left languishing.
But a spectacular multimillion-dollar refurbishment of one 1960s motel in the NSW-Victoria border town of Albury is set to give inspiration to others around the country. It’s being taken back to its mid-century modern origins and redesigned as a Palm Springs-style oasis.
“The transformation is quite astounding,” said Nick Travers, director of Techne Architecture + Interior Design, which undertook the work.
“The motel building was pretty drab but was a handsome building originally, and quite cool. So we decided to take it back to its era and now the green-grey paint has been replaced with vibrant colours like orange, pink and white, there’s palm trees and greenery, and it has a real Palm Springs vibe.
“The design is cool, poppy and colourful and it’s light and bright with a feeling of optimism and romance and sentimentality. And there’s definitely an opportunity there for other motels like this to be brought into a new era for the next generation.”
The Astor Hotel Motel in Albury, with the pub at the front and the 45-room motel behind, is now open for business, and the owner hopes it will become a destination stop-off point as old-fashioned road-tripping comes back into post-COVID-19 fashion.
Already the new exteriors and interiors are exciting a lot of interest from travellers and locals alike. The rest of the rebuilding and refurbishment will be completely finished by the end of the year.
“I’ve done other hotel renovations but this one is off the chart to be honest,” said hotelier Peter Griffiths, from Pub Funds, which bought the property in mid-2019.
“There’s wow! and pop! everywhere you look and it’s very exciting to see.
“I wanted something a bit fresher, and I wanted someone to do it who was going to break the mould. There’s a bit of a revitalisation of jumping in the car and going on a driving holiday, especially in today’s environment, and I think this sets the bar for other hotels and motels by showing what can be done.”
While the original envelope of the hotel building is being maintained, much of the rest will be unrecognisable. There’s work being done to the bar, the restaurant, the function spaces, the gaming area and the amenities.
There’ll also be a new all-weather beer garden at the front – a breezy, fun outdoor area, with lots of greenery and palm trees.
The motel has been refurbished, updated and repainted, with the rest of the hotel due to be completed by the end of 2020.
Travers visited Palm Springs last year, and was inspired by everything he saw.
“Palm Springs is right in the desert, not far from LA, and I loved its style,” he said. “A lot of people love mid-century modern and there’s now a bit of nostalgia wrapped into it, too.
“With all our projects, we always try to tap into a sense of history and place and weave stories into the project. Now this is very much back to its vintage era in its design, patterns, colours, furnishings and atmosphere and, as well as being very vibrant and colourful, it’s also very warm and convivial.”
Motels have recently come back much more into the limelight as a result of comedian, TV presenter and architecture enthusiast Tim Ross’ coffee table book MOTEL, and then his national tour of live shows celebrating Australians holidaying in motels.
Ross believes the idea of “getting out of town” and taking road trips during the summer remains a strong and enduring part of the Australian identity, while he has particularly championed mid-century modern architecture.
With domestic tourism likely to boom in the coming months with more freedom to travel locally, and restrictions on overseas trips, it looks like the perfect time to improve the standard of accommodation in regional Australia.
“We’re hoping for some silver lining on the cloud [of COVID-19],” said former chef-turned-restaurateur-turned-pubs baron Griffiths, who has transformed a number of other regional hotels – and their fortunes – including the Royal Hotel in Queanbeyan, and Goulburn pubs the Tattersalls and the Astor.
“We needed to have a little point of different, and are now offering a whole package of food and beverage and fun. It’s going to be quite a destination. We’re hoping people will make a point of going there to have a great night out, with easy parking, a good meal and wine, and then stay the night.”
Griffiths is now on the lookout for other potential hotel and motel buys.
“We like to get into something that’s a bit of a challenge if it’s looking a bit tired or has fallen on bad times,” he said. “But I think The Astor in Albury has probably been pushing new boundaries in hotel values in the region.”
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