If you’re able to make people feel at home when they’re away from home, you’ve got a very special talent. The ability to nurture people’s desire to be private, feel spoiled, comfortable, safe, and like they’re in a spot that was custom built for the experience they’ve set out to have – that’s something powerful and is way more complex of an equation that one may think.
It’s not all about fixing a place up with the most expensive accoutrement you can find, or adhering to the latest design trends in an attempt to go viral on Pinterest, and it’s definitely not about skimping on the subtle details that take a space from good to great; understanding good design and being able to put theory into practice is a true art, as is translating the personalities of your clients into the physical realm to connect the synapses of art and business. These delicate responsibilities are just another day for the creative team at Common Good Studio, who undertook the overhaul of Southampton’s latest and greatest boutique lakeside motel project, The Beach Motel.
“Sarah and I have been working as interior designers for 13 years, first at other studios really learning the craft and trade of interior design,” says Common Good co-founder Natasha Popek-Konieczko. “Being exposed to interesting projects, clients – ranging from small boutique properties and restaurants, up to larger multi-tower complex communities really gave us such a great education and understanding of project process and design and what’s possible.”
She and co-founder Sarah Forster are steadfast in their belief that good design starts with a shared culture and dedication to collaboration. “As creatives, it’s always really special when you meet someone you connect with – we both really connected in terms of our design processes and how we ideate and talk around concepts, then develop them. So we could really see the power in the relationship,” she laughs.
“The opportunity to create something really destinational within Ontario just feels so of-the-time and in a way that helps us reconsider what a great vacation is… The Beach Motel is close to the water, there’s a bit of that design language in Southampton, and we really wanted to accelerate that – we wanted that feeling. We wanted to bring in textures, materials, design elements that evoke a wonderful getaway spot.”
It’s clear a rinse and repeat style of working is the equivalent of a cardinal sin at Common Good Studio – every project is paid its respect and given the opportunity to manifest as it should, organically and creatively. “We’ve kind of vetted our process by having a kick-off meeting with each client and really getting to know them and finding the foundation of who they are as a couple, as a family, as business owners – we use that to get to know how they use their space and embedding ourselves in their vision… From there we sketch out our plans and layouts for spaces and support the planning with powerful imagery that helps the client imagine how the space will come to life. Materiality, all of these details form as we build these incremental stepping stones from the get-go.”
The vibe between The Beach Motel and Common Good Studio was strong from day-one. Natasha and Sarah have a secondary nature that informs their working culture by aiming to travel as much as possible, exploring concert spaces, galleries, restaurants and neighbourhoods, trying to identify the feeling or emotion that each space has and how they were achieved. That relationship between space and spirit, a true Genius Loci approach, is key to developing culture into physical spaces.
We’ve all spent a night or two in a motel, and often associate a one-night rest stop with having to find a spot to rest your head while en route to your destination, but back in the 50’s and 60’s the concept of the motel was built out of a desire for populations to explore a region, one locale at a time. Contrary to our modern interpretation of the motel as perhaps more seedy, cheap, or dingy than we’d like them to be – motels were jumping points to explore an entire area over the course of a vacation in the ol’ family front-wheel-drive. Stay, swim, and eat here, then jump to the next spot, and the next spot, and the next.
That idea of exploring a small town like Southampton or an undiscovered diamond in the rough, is helping the revival of the boutique motel in recent years and putting rural Ontario back on the map for tourists and seasonal visitors who may have traditionally opted to fly south when in search of some R&R.
The Beach Motel itself, a 15-room complex with a small reception area and an owner’s suite, was completely run-down when new owners, Samantha and Dane Buttenaar, bought it. It was nearly at a point of disrepair, confesses Natasha, but the charm and architectural roots of the building were too lovely to let go. It sits in a residential area of Southampton and the design motif for the build was to emulate the experience of going to an epic lakehouse.
“The opportunity to create something really destinational within Ontario, within a relatively short driving distance, just feels so of-the-time and in a way that helps us reconsider what a great vacation is,” says Natasha. [The Beach Motel] is close to the water, there’s a bit of that design language in Southampton, and we really wanted to accelerate that – we wanted that feeling. We wanted to bring in textures, materials, design elements that evoke a wonderful getaway spot.”
Samantha and Dane had a plan to DIY it, but in the fall of 2020, Natasha and Sarah came on board to help rejuvenate the property. The build began by working through demolition and construction simultaneously, with Dane acting as the Project Manager. In thinking about DIY, the ever-popular HGTV-series marathon or cheesy homegrown reality show culture comes to mind. Sarah insists that a project like this, on this scale, was going to take more than some elbow grease and a slick editing job in post production.
“When engaging us, they were getting a full set of construction drawings… we’re able to put in place all of these pieces and decisions and instructions to ensure we’re able to bring it to the end point of our final vision,” says Sarah.
“Design adds value up front and this was more about giving the community a space to enjoy and be proud of – with DIY there are so many decisions to be made and so much planning. DIY is a whole industry and I think our profession has become a bit skewed. It’s wild.”
“I think when Sarah and I heard about the DIY of a hospitality project, we were like: ‘oh my god, no, no, no,” laughs Natasha. I think in terms of the opportunity for destinations like this within Ontario and Canada, design just adds so much more value. DIY can be a financial sinkhole in terms of your investment on a project of this size. This was about getting the very best product at the end of the day. HGTV makes it look really easy.”
As you can clearly see, this is a space that does two things very well. One, it satisfies the niche and fits the bill. It’s fresh, clean, warm, breezy, and gives its visitors a taste of Ontario’s re-emerging motelier lifestyle dedicated to showing off rural communities that punch well beyond their weight. Two, it feels like it’s always been there or was meant to exist along the lakeshore on Huron Street the way it sits today.
When design, feeling, and a culture of collaboration between designers, owners, and builders intertwine so beautifully, the result is something that becomes a part of the community – The Beach Motel isn’t so much a new establishment as much as it feels like the second coming of a storied property. This new era is its renaissance moment, made to help it bring Ontario travelers to Saugeen Shores.
Words by Nelson Phillips
Photos by Niamh Barry