Motel Mogul: April Brown
Featured on the Netflix six-part series, Motel Makeover, best friends and creators April Brown and Sarah Sklash transform a dingy roadside motel in Canada's Sauble Beach into a second location of their trendy The June Motel, originally in Prince Edward County, Ontario. hertelier design writer and founder of Spaceez, Alpa Patel, gets the scoop from April on how they created the first June Motel and goes behind the scenes on the Netflix experience.
Tell us about the June Motel and the history behind it; and how you came to acquire it?
Sarah and I were both looking for that next chapter in both our careers and personal lives. The daily grind in Toronto was no longer as fulfilling as it once was when we were in our early 20s. We started to dream about having something of our own, a new creative outlet. Meanwhile, Sarah and I had been coming out to Prince Edward County with our friends for years. She and her boyfriend had recently bought a cottage in the area, so we had seen first-hand how it’d grown in popularity year-over-year. Luckily, Sarah had a strong pulse on the real estate market in the area. Truthfully though, there was a little fate in how it all worked out as well. This motel had merely come up in conversation, but we instantly thought “we should buy that motel”. We drove out to look at the motel one week later, two months later put in an offer, and less than six months from that initial conversation, we moved into the dingy roadside motel that it once was!
Did the motel always have an eclectic, artistic feel to it?
Not at all! It was called the Sportsman Motel and it was a popular stay for fishermen and hunters in the area. The only artwork was a sign that said, “No Gutting Fish in Room!”. For us, finding something that was old and outdated was part of the fun! We really wanted to infuse new life into the motel and reinvent the entire experience of staying at a motel.
Was it the need for space that pushed towards this type of design or was it something that came from your insight?
A bit of both! We were inspired by the larger motel revival trend that was happening in California, Palm Springs, Miami, etc. So a big part of our design stemmed from that iconic motel era – neon signs, funky wallpaper, and mid-century furniture. However, as travelers ourselves, we understand that where you stay has a big impact on how you see and experience a destination. So it was important for us to use our insight to create a larger experience for our guests.
Share the thought process that led to the current look of The June?
One of our favorite design mantras is “find a piece you love, and build from there.” For us, that was the funky palm print wallpaper that you see in The Classic rooms at the motel. For us, this was the perfect balance between retro, motel vibes, and current trends! It also helped that it was Instagrammable, which is a huge part of all our designs. We designed the place knowing our target audience would be social media savvy millennials, so a highly visual experience would be important.
How did your backgrounds help with your business and design approach?
I think we approached the project as travelers and millennials, versus hoteliers or moteliers – I think it helped to really put ourselves into our guests’ shoes! We were caught thinking “this is how it’s always been done”, instead we shifted our thinking to “wow, this is how it should be done."
What are your absolute favorite things about The June? Is there anything that is often missed by visitors and you would like us to see or talk about?
We both absolutely love the communal elements of the motel – the indoor/outdoor Lobby Bar. This is absolutely the heartbeat of The June, and it’s really special to see our guests come together in the evenings for wine and s’mores at the campfire.
Can you share pointers with us about what makes for a good motel design?
Focusing on creating a visual, Instagrammable experience has been huge for us! In our first year, we grew our Instagram to over 22K followers. Before being on Netflix, the majority of our guests who booked with us said that they found us on Instagram. It’s a really powerful platform when you’re leveraging it correctly!
As well, our guests love the thoughtful details that go into the room. We think through every item and even the signage to make sure it all contributes to the overall aesthetic and experience. We’re ‘Good Wine & Good Vibes’, and we make sure that shines through in the little details. So we put specialty soap and body oil from a local apothecary, sound machines, and more. We even pour you a welcome glass of wine on arrival!
When did you decide to buy a second property?
We knew early on into Motelier life that we wanted to expand. We loved the creative process of transforming the entire experience of staying at a motel, and we wanted to do it all over again, but it wasn’t until 2019 when we found the perfect “diamond in the rough” property to purchase in a retro beach town a few hours outside of Toronto. We spent about a year looking at old-school motels all over Ontario and Quebec, and while we stumbled across a few gems, we fell hardest for the retro 70s motor lodge that we found in Sauble Beach.
How did the Netflix show come about?
Jessica Nahmias, creator, and director of our Netflix show Motel Makeover discovered us on Instagram thanks to a personal connection she had with our graphic designer, The Paper Bakery. When we first opened our Prince Edward County location in the spring of 2017, Jessica booked a stay with us and she was actually one of our first guests! The idea for the show stemmed from when Jessica stayed at an unrenovated motel in the mountains of Alberta, and it reminded her of her stay at The June Motel in Prince Edward County. She thought about our story and how cool it would be if the motel renovation process was documented. We met a few weeks later and told Jessica we were thinking of buying a second retro motel in Sauble Beach. We then bought the motel, Jessica teamed up with the production company Proper Television, who eventually partnered with Netflix to make the show. And the rest is history. You can read the full story of how the show came to be here.
How did being on Netflix impact your brand and business?
The Netflix show introduced The June Motel to the world – literally! This platform has massive reach, and we’ve received all kinds of support and engagement from people all over the world - design lovers, travel lovers, entrepreneurial spirits, and people who just happened to have stumbled upon the show and enjoyed it. Both motels saw a vast increase in the number of people dropping in to have a drink, shop the gift shops, or just check out the motels because they saw the Netflix show. Our Instagram following grew from around 66k followers to 271k followers after the release of the show, and we’ve since grown our team, launched an online shop, have had the opportunity to do a number of media interviews, and partner with some dream brands. We’re very close to already selling out for this entire summer, and that’s the real testament to the power of Netflix.
Is there anything else that you would like to share?
You can find us on Instagram at @thejunemotel and @motelierlife. We also just launched an online shop, making it easy for our guests to shop the room and all our favorite things. You can purchase our wallpaper, motel room apothecary, accessories, prints, and more at www.thejunemotel.com/collections.