The June Motel in Sauble Beach, Ontario — the latest outpost from moteliers April Brown and Sarah Sklash — is a real trip. The vibe is elevated ’70s beach town, inspired by retro motels and the stunning Sauble Beach sunset: think woven accents, mid-century modern–style furniture and nostalgic neon signs, all wrapped up in a pastel apricot and pistachio palette.
After having great success with the first The June Motel in
Prince Edward County, April and Sarah are reprising their “good wine and good vibes” formula, but this time it’s supersized: this location has 24 guest rooms, a pool and patio, Heydays, the indoor-outdoor restaurant, and The Shop, a destination to discover treasures from female-owned businesses. Plus, it’s just a few blocks from kilometers of sandy beach!
So, get into the mood with some Cat Stevens and James Taylor, and scroll through our Q&A with April for the lowdown on how she and Sarah created a sun-soaked retro retreat less than three hours away from Toronto.
House & Home: What did you and Sarah (right) do to keep busy before you started buying, renovating and running motels?
April Brown: We were both in Toronto in 2016 — I was working in PR and Sarah was working for ServiceOntario. We were getting tired of the nine-to-five and looking for a big life and career change. At the time, we were thinking of a side hustle in Prince Edward County, where we had been going with our girlfriends for getaways; we dreamed of hosting a weekend wine camp. When we were looking for a place that could host it, we discovered a rundown motel that was a popular place to stay for fishermen and hunters, and it was for sale! Things escalated very quickly after that and, with no experience in motels or design, we found ourselves moving into the motel and running it a few months later. The rest is history!
H&H: How did you find your new diamond in the rough?
AB: In 2018, we looked at all the motels for sale with more than 20 guest rooms that were less than a three hours’ drive from Toronto. Neither of us had spent much time in the Sauble Beach area, but we knew the Bruce Peninsula was a hidden gem that was about to boom. The motel itself completely charmed us… and there was a pool, so we were pretty much sold. We can’t totally explain it, but this town has a certain magic to it, plus 11 kilometers of freshwater beach, sunsets and day trips up the Peninsula!
H&H: Any major hurdles when the project started?
AB: Just the global pandemic smack in the middle of the renovation! It was the scariest and hardest time in our business. Construction in Sauble Beach came to a stop, and supply chains and shipping delays made ordering furniture and material more challenging; we had to reevaluate our timelines. Our goal, pre-Covid, was to open at the beginning of June, but we ended up opening on Labor Day weekend. A week before opening, we weren’t sure if some of our materials would show up so we could finish the project!
H&H: How did you begin the design process?
AB: We started with designers at Westgrove and collaboratively designed the guest rooms and retail section. We quickly realized, however, that we wanted to be very hands-on in the design process and that we were better off seeing it through ourselves. We had such a strong vision for what we wanted The June to feel like, plus we had a tight budget that required extra creativity.
H&H: How would you describe the overall design aesthetic?
AB: We were inspired by the motel’s 1970s architecture and Sauble’s beach town feel. We asked ourselves: If June was a real person and went from wine country in the 1960s to the beach in the 1970s, how would her style and personality evolve? We created that ’70s aesthetic with colors like Benjamin Moore’s Apricot Beige, Roasted Sesame Seed, Palladian Blue and San Carlos Tan. Paint is a powerful and affordable tool that we like to use to set a mood and transform a space.
H&H: Who was your biggest design inspiration?
AB: We’re huge Sarah Sherman Samuel fans! She’s an inspiration and a true DIYer. She also has such a signature aesthetic; you can tell she really knows her style and follows her instincts — something we’re still learning to do! We don’t have formal design training, but we’ve developed an eye for creating beautiful and welcoming spaces, and we love to pour over design magazines and social media as a way to learn from the pros.
H&H: Did refurbishing the pool cost the moon?
AB: The pool was a big chunk of the budget, for sure. We knew it was going to be the heart of the property, and that it needed a lot of work. We had never owned or renovated a pool before, so there was a big learning curve. Everyone said we had to tear it out and start over but, of course, we didn’t have the budget for that. We had to find creative solutions. Sometimes having a tight budget leads us to making design decisions that we love in the end, like having glass fencing along one side of pool, with a wood fencing around the other three sides.
H&H: The pool and patio areas have a great combination of contemporary and retro style. Was that mix intentional?
AB: We restored the pool using photos from the actual motel in the 1970s and ’80s as inspiration. We knew we didn’t want it to look like any other pool with the usual plush white loungers and white umbrellas. This mix was about finding our unique style, poolside. We aren’t strict about being authentic to a certain period, but we were inspired by a fresh take on a 1970s vibe. Embracing natural wood tones with the deck extension and fence created a really beautiful contrast with the ceramic planters and palms, terracotta side tables and retro yellow fringe umbrellas.
H&H: The decorating is so layered on the patio. How did you achieve the right balance of pieces?
AB: It’s always a puzzle. We plan for one thing, but we’re constantly tweaking and evolving as we see the design come together. The planter banquette in the middle of the patio was originally supposed to be white, but we realized we wanted to bring in more natural materials and warm woods to the outdoor space to make it more inviting. We’re all about mixing materials and playing with color to create the magical moments that really make the design click with us and our brand. We also believe that string lights and plants can magically transform any space!
H&H: What’s your favorite furniture piece or accent on the patio?
AB: Tough question! I think the tiled tabletops are a DIY project that really had impact. We couldn’t find outdoor patio furniture in our style and on our budget, so we built them! We framed the tabletops and used 2″ x 2″ white tiles and a terracotta grout to get the look. These tables instantly add pattern and an interesting visual element, especially when a guest snaps a pic of their food.
H&H: The guest rooms have a California vibe mixed with mid-century modern touches. How did you achieve the look?
AB: We believe in finding one thing you really love, then building the design around that piece. For us, that was the bed and pendants from CB2. We love the low bed and how it makes the room feel more casual and inviting, as well as the natural wood tones that add warmth. The pendants, specifically, have so much impact, especially when the light casts shadows throughout the room — it really sets the mood for a romantic getaway.
H&H: Did you design with longevity and wear and tear in mind?
AB: Yes! The flooring, for example, is wood-look vinyl, which is affordable, durable and easy to clean. This was one of those very practical decisions, but sometimes, the prettiest thing wins because it’s no fun being practical all the time. A big part of how we design is to seek out the moments in a space that have impact, where we can create that “wow” feeling — and we don’t usually compromise on those decisions!
H&H: Keeping the textured ceilings, using conduit to cover the television and pendant wiring and clever paint treatments: did these smart choices help keep the budget on track?
AB: We knew how much we could invest for the business plan to work, so we were very mindful of budget throughout the project. It’s easy to spend a lot of money on things a guest would never really notice, so we had to be strategic with our spending.
H&H: The double rooms have a cool custom tambour headboard. Take us through that design decision.
AB: That was another practical choice: we wanted to move the placement of the light fixtures. Instead of opening up the wall and repairing it all, we opted for a headboard that would conceal wiring and make moving the electrical a little easier.
H&H: The wave-patterned wallpaper really works with the design. Where’d you find it?
AB: We looked through a lot of wallpaper books, and nothing felt quite right, so had bespoke wallpaper designer Candice Kaye create a custom paper. One of the designs Candice shared with us featured a wave that she hand-painted herself: it was stunning. From there, we played with scale, color and intensity. We love how the scale of the wave is so bold and dramatic, but it’s in a faded, sun-bleached color.
H&H: The neon art is so charming. Why did you create this vignette in each room?
AB: A pop of neon is truly The June! It’s authentically retro, pink and adds a touch of playfulness.
H&H: You’re not afraid to use faux greenery, indoors and out. Have you ever considered using the real thing?
AB: We’ve made the mistake of buying real plants! It’s difficult because, as a seasonal business, garden stores close every winter.
H&H: It looks like the mosaic tile flooring in the bathroom is original. Was this the jumping-off point for the room’s palette?
AB: We thought the floor tiles were cool and authentically retro. Plus, we’re always looking to save some money, so we decided to work around the tiles. We carried the color from the floor tiles through to the main room and then created a moment of contrast and surprise with turquoise tile in the shower (below) and paint on the walls.
H&H: What’s the counter material in the bathroom?
AB: It’s a wood-look laminate; it’s affordable and easy to clean. We’re always looking for ways to stretch our budget and invest where it really counts. And it’s funny how grout can really change a tile. We opted for a thicker white grout line to really emphasize the graphic square pattern.
H&H: Do you think you’ll ever tire of the color palette?
AB: Maybe, but no time soon! Half the fun will be giving these rooms a refresh in 10 years.
H&H: The Shop, your lounge, reception and retail area, feels like an airy Cali-cool living room. Were you trying to make the space so inviting that guests would never leave?
AB: We loved this space right from the beginning, even when it was dark and filled with junk. We brightened it up with big windows and designed the space so it would feel like you’re arriving at your friend’s really cool beach house. We were conscious to make it look more lived-in than a traditional hotel lobby, with vintage trinkets, coffee table books and a record player. We also worked with our friend and artist Christine Flynn to create a gallery wall. She has such a California vibe, and she has incredible shots of Lake Huron and the Bruce Peninsula, which help create a sense of place.
H&H: This furniture grouping is totally mid-century modern meets surf shack. How did you get the look?
AB: We worked with Article to bring our vision to life. Article has such a mix of styles; the pieces work perfectly together. Adding different textures helps create a space that feels layered and offers lots of visual interest. The mix of styles also helps make a space look unintentionally cool and organic — as if someone has lived here for years and has curated the pieces over time.
H&H: The Shop feels so airy, even though there’s three distinct lounge spaces, the reception area, plus a shopping zone. Was it a challenge to plan the layout?
AB: Nailing this layout was not easy, and there were a few revisions! We wanted to make sure it was a comfortable space to just hang out in, but we also wanted to monetize the space through the gift shop and food and drink. The Shop comes to life when guests are enjoying the morning light and a cup of coffee, or when they put on a record and sip a canned cocktail in the evening — it’s truly the most magical space.
H&H: What’s next? Are you ready to buy and renovate motel #3?
AB: Eventually, but we’re still recovering from motel #2. Plus, we have a few exciting things up our sleeves for this winter…