April Brown and Sarah SklashSeptember 13, 2017
Longtime friends April Brown and Sarah Sklash were working in public relations and at ServiceOntario, respectively, when they decided on a whim to enter the hospitality industry. They’ve only been moteliers for a short time but they’ve already managed to conceive of a motel concept so whimsical and enchanting that it’s no surprise they’re seeing unparalleled success. For the duo, the June Motel in Prince Edward County in Ontario has tested their resilience and aesthetic, pushing their friendship into new territory, but it’s clear the hard work has paid off. The transformation of the former masculine-driven the Sporstman Motel has become a feminine Millennial enclave in the Canadian wine country. Here, Brown and Sklash talk about becoming moteliers, crafting an Instagram-ready destination, and how Millennial pink is the perfect color palette for their maiden hospitality project.
How did you find the Sportsman Motel and what made you want to buy it?
April Brown: 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 has grown in popularity year over year. Luckily, Sarah had a strong pulse on the real estate market in the area. Truthfully, 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 [it] 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.
Why did you want to undertake something like this?
AB: 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. Purchasing a vintage roadside motel introduced us to a whole new world. We were suddenly challenged in new ways, and we had endless opportunity to be creative in how we transformed not only the look and feel of the place but also the entire experience of staying at a motel.
Neither of you has professional design or hospitality experience, what drew you to the business?
Sarah Sklash: As travelers ourselves, we know that where you stay has a big impact on how you see and experience a destination—it’s an important part of every trip. For us, it’s all about creating an experience and designing a space that people want to hang out in. Being travelers and Millennials ourselves, we instantly knew what to create and design because we were essentially the target audience.
What were some of your biggest challenges with the June Motel?
AB: Just being a female and managing a renovation of this scale was a huge challenge. We learned everything as we went, including how to use a drill and manage our team of trades and contractors.
SS: As a motelier you have to wear a lot of different hats every day. Some moments you’re the boss, other times your dumping garbage, doing dishes, greeting guests, or pouring drinks in the lobby bar. Knowing what hat to wear and when is really important to being successful as a motelier.
You’ve said YouTube helped you learn a lot about design and construction. How hands-on were you?
AB: We were really involved from the very beginning. Sarah and I weren’t afraid to roll up our sleeves and tile the lobby floor and wallpaper the rooms, and so much more. We hired an electrician and called in our friends and family often. When it came to the lobby, we called a friend who’s an incredible interior designer, Keri MacLellan of 4Walls Interiors, a boutique interior design studio.
June Motel is such a sweet, feminine spot, how did you conceive the design narrative?
SS: We designed this place with the Millennial traveler in mind. We know they are Instagram obsessed and we realized it was important to design visual experiences that they’d want to share during their stay with us—a funky neon sign when they check-in, a statement wallpaper behind the bed, and Millennial pink doors.
Do you have plans to take on any more projects in the future?
SS: We definitely have bigger plans for the June. We have about one acre behind the motel to grow on. There’s so much potential to add new amenities or additional accommodation units.
What was one of the most surprising things about this process?
AB: How popular we became, just weeks after opening as the June. It was incredible how we blew up this summer and primarily from social media alone.
What is your favorite part of the motel?
SS: The lobby bar and campfire. It’s so incredible to see your guests come together in the evenings and share stories and s’mores around the campfire. Whenever I see guests out there laughing and making new friends, I realize again what a special space and energy we’ve created.
How did you choose your materials and color palette?
AB: We knew what our clientele would go crazy for because we were them for many years: Millennial city girls, venturing to the county for a wine weekend. We also took a lot of inspiration from the motel itself. We wanted to create something that truly felt like it belonged at a vintage motel. The wallpaper, Millennial pink, and neon signs all had the right touch of retro while being on trend today. That balance between old and new is really important.
What has been the feedback you’ve received?
SS: People are loving the June both online and in real life. Ninety percent of our guests are coming in saying that they came across us on Instagram and just had to come.
What’s next for you?
SS: In the next few months, we plan to do a few motel road trips to gain more insight into the world of motels and gather fresh ideas and design [inspiration] along the way. We hope to document the journey as we go, and who knows, we may find a second motel along the way.