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The Surfrider Malibu hotel is the ultimate California beach house. Originally the Malibu Shores Motel, this boutique property’s chic and laid-back design fits beautifully within the context of the area’s surf culture. We chatted with co-owner Emma Goodwin to learn more about her design process and how she honored the destination’s origins while infusing the spaces with contemporary California flair.

Photography provided by the Surfrider Malibu

What was your vision for the Surfrider Malibu?

Our vision was to create an in-context Californian experience that feels like a guest’s very own Malibu beach house, complete with staff. It’s a hospitality experience and a lifestyle — more than a hotel. The epitome of the California dream. 

How did you honor the original 1950s Malibu Shores Motel?

We actually maintained the original shape of the building to pay homage to its past. But rather than having the room entrances on the front like the old-school motel feel, we flipped them so that you entered the rooms from the mountain side of the property which instantly elevated the design. This meant that upon entering each room, guests have full floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the ocean or a private terrace and copious amounts of natural light. We also opened up the attic space to create a library and pitched ceilings in the upstairs rooms to give the feel of a private beach cottage retreat. In addition, we cut off an entire section of the roofline to become our guest-only bar and restaurant that overlooks Malibu Pier and First Point.

How long did the construction for this project last? 

Construction lasted almost four years. We wanted the hotel to feel like a new boutique hotel rather than a painted motel while still nodding to its iconic past. 

What inspired the architecture and design?

Designer Charles Eames famously said, “The role of a designer is like a very good and thoughtful host anticipating the needs of his guest.” In the same vein, we worked backward, anticipating the needs of our guests. We workshopped how we wanted guests to feel in the space, what we wanted their experience to be. We added tactile elements, raw woods, natural stone and organic linens to help people feel grounded in relaxed and open spaces with crisp whites to help them feel revived and inspired. We layered elements like sound and scent so that the space became a completely sensory experience.

Our inspiration was then taken from the hotel’s natural surroundings — the textures of the canyons and mountains, the cinematic colors of Malibu, and the depth of the ocean. We aspired to create a truly local experience. We wanted the hospitality experience to include eclectic and worldly elements that added layers to the physical design.

Why did you decide to fill the spaces with custom-made furniture?

Every single detail at the Surfrider was intentional and thought-out. So to design a full experience then slot in off-the-shelf furniture just didn’t make sense. We wanted the interior elements to be just as intentional as the architecture and overall design. So we set off on a furniture design and fabrication adventure.

What are some of your favorite decor and design elements?

Definitely the hammocks that are strung on every balcony. They are handmade by one of the last remaining tribes in the Amazon rainforest. Each hammock is created with an indigenous palm called buriti and is hand dyed using plant materials and earth pigment. They smell amazing. Our custom and complimentary surfboards, designed with local shaper Wax Surf Co, are in a color palette taken straight from vintage surf magazines. Each ceramic has the story of a local artist. Each book in the library was chosen to add to the overall Surfrider story. The Surfrider is truly the sum of all its parts.

What was your process for finding pieces for the hotel? 

It was like treasure hunting — slow and steady. We never wanted the design to feel like it was out of a catalog. We set out to source and intermix renowned designer pieces with vintage and local artists. Our library has original Le Corbusier prints and the Surfrider Suite has a Picasso. Other rooms have imagery by some of our favorite photographers. 

What is the ultimate feeling you hope guests experience?

Inspiration, lightness, and the reminder of what it feels like to be truly free and alive. A throwback to that feeling of liberation that lingers in our minds. A sweet nostalgia, when we think of the golden days in California’s history.

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