The Team Behind the new Surfrider Hotel
From a gorgeous rooftop bar to outrageously chic interiors, the renovated Surfrider hotel is one of Malibu’s most buzzed about new openings. Meet the team behind the incredible transformation.
By Holly Bieler | Photographed by M.K. Sadler, Julie Wuellner & Nicole Franzen
When he was first learning to surf, Matthew Goodwin dreamt of Northern California. For years he’d heard word of the infamous swells up North, miles of coast he pictured as “more adventurous” than the waves he’d grown up next to in Ventura. Still a beginner, though, his mother had expressly forbidden rougher waters until he had completed his Junior Lifeguard training. So instead Goodwin headed a few miles down the coast to Malibu, and was soon frequenting a stretch of beach just west of the Pier, a friendly spot where novices and pros alike shared some of the best breaks in the area.
“[That] was actually the wave I learned to surf on as a kid,” he said. “It’s a great surfing beach; the variety of surf and the fact that it doesn’t take itself too seriously.”
From the water Surfrider Beach offers spectacular views; the miles-long curve of P.C.H. disappearing into the horizon, chalky, verbena-studded cliffs giving way to a mammoth range of the Santa Monica Mountains. From his board Goodwin would sit and take all this in, paying special attention to a small motel nestled on the edge of the PCH, shabby and dated but still irrefutably charming, with a distinctive sloped roof so unapologetically 70s Goodwin could practically imagine Stevie Nicks emerging from one of its chipped blue doors.
“To me, seeing the building from the water, it was always that mystical nook behind the Oleander bushes,” he said. “It was just sitting there, but clearly a witness to the passing of time in California.”
Over the next few years Goodwin would travel far from Surfrider Beach, graduating from Cal Poly with a degree in architecture in 2008 and soon thereafter landing in New York City, where he built a prestigious career as an architect and real estate developer. Partnering with racecar driver-turned developer Alessandro Zampedri, who helped open esteemed restaurants such as Michelin-starred NYC hotspot Rebelle, the two developed a range of big-ticket projects throughout the city, from luxury townhomes in Red Hook, Brooklyn to commercial projects on the Bowery.
With a ton of New York City projects in the pipeline and just recently married, to Australian Emma Crowther, Goodwin says he wasn’t looking for a change when Zampedri one day mentioned a little beach motel that had just gone up for sale, only a few miles away from Goodwin’s native Ventura. “The Surfrider,” Zampedri remembered. Had Goodwin ever heard of it? Within 24 hours Zampedri and Goodwin were on a plane to Los Angeles, whereupon they immediately put in a bid on the property.
“It was love at first sight,” said Zampedri. After months of wrangling Goodwin and Zampedri had become the official owners of the Surfrider, and after two years of permitting and planning, Goodwin and Crowther moved to Southern California full-time. And while neither Goodwin, Zampedri or Crowther had worked on a hotel before, Crowther says the team was excited to approach the project with completely fresh eyes, unburdened by what traditional hotel service or design should be, instead driven by a guest’s purview.
“If you have your process, you do the same thing,” said Crowther. “It can be hard to creatively pull yourself out of it. Whereas we had no idea what we were doing, and so we thought as guests. What would we want if we were staying at a California beach hotel? It’s kind of like the end result, the vision, came first, and then we figured out how to get there.”
This vision, Crowther says, was deeply rooted in the story of Southern California. From the beginning the team envisioned a space that was intimate yet luxurious, local but inviting, evocative of the rich history of California’s beach towns but in keeping with their contemporary lifestyle.“[Matt] had a very strong vision of what Malibu was and he didn’t feel like there were any hotels on the California coast that actually felt like California,” said Crowther.
“Our entire vision was creating a California beach house. We really wanted to stay true to California, and to Malibu.”
Integral to their vision was also creating a seamless, relaxing experience for guests, from reception to dining down to small details in every guest room.
“From the beginning, we really wanted to make this space special,” added Zampedri. “Stylish but very seamless, and not pretentious. Everything that was going to improve the guest experience, that was our priority.”
By 2016, renovations were fully underway. And while the property still retained all the quirky charm that had caught Goodwin’s eye years before, it was evident the decades had taken their toll. Originally built in the 1950s as the Malibu Shores Motel, the property hadn’t undergone any substantial redesign in its 70+ years, still featured a staid motel layout with no common areas and direct access to rooms from the parking lot, not to mention threadbare suites following the property’s most recent iteration as an apartment complex. Further complicating matters was the fact that not an inch more of space could be added; permits only allowed for construction within the footprint of the existing structure.
In the face of such strict confines, Goodwin, Zampedri and Crowther soon recognized they’d have to approach their substantial renovations with a strong dose of ingenuity. The team began consulting with with local companies including architect Doug Burdge, whose firm Burdge & Associates had been behind prominent Malibu projects such as the Trancas shopping mall redesign, and Nathan Jones and Matt Strangeway of Jones Builder Group, who would oversee daily construction.
As interiors were gutted, the building’s massive potential soon became clear. From common areas to the guest rooms, plans were drawn up that entirely repurposed the existing space, better utilizing every foot. A forgotten attic above the old manager’s unit was blown out, making way for a bright, intimate room that would eventually become a library above the reception area. The outdoor walkways between rooms, initially placed on the ocean-side, were redesigned to run on the mountain-side of the building, allowing for unobstructed ocean views and private balconies for each room.
And while the number of hotel rooms remained unchanged, at 20, interiors were completely redone, ceilings in each heightened by feet, carpeted floors replaced with elegant reclaimed teak, bathrooms outfitted with ceramic tile and luxurious rainfall showers. “Materials were chosen to create a tactile, sensory environment which is grounding and feels like home,” said Goodwin. “The colors and tones were extrapolated from the surroundings and applied across everything from architecture to furniture. Light woods resemble sand and earth. Subtle sages and tones of blue were woven in to reflect the local vegetation and ocean. Warm whites were chosen to create a sense of calm. It feels natural, organic and like it has been there for many years, which is the same to say for the coastline and mountains.”
As construction continued, one of the biggest obstacles arose from the team’s desire to have food service available to guests, complicated by the fact that the existing structure didn’t include any sort of open space large enough to fit a restaurant, and that even if it had, they wouldn’t have been able to open one. The property, zoned as a motel, didn’t allow for public restaurant service, a principal difference between hotel and motel zoning restrictions. So the team began thinking out-of-the-box once again, soon realizing the roof presented a veritable goldmine of both space and spectacular views of the ocean and Malibu pier. Plans were soon underway for a rooftop dining area with food only available to hotel guests, which fit within zoning parameters. A farm-fresh, organic menu was put together featuring food and drinks with a local edge, sourcing ingredients and produce from Malibu’s own One Gun Ranch and local farmers markets and farms, with items from acai bowls and avocado toast with pea shoots and meyered lemon to seared tuna tacos and stone fruit salads.
This dedication to local purveyors and companies extended far beyond the menu. At every step of construction and design, Crowther says, it was important to the team to reach out and engage with the community whenever possible.
“In creating a California beach house we really wanted to make sure we were actually doing that with integrity and authenticity,” she said.
This included hiring Malibu locals for hotel positions from management to reception, as well as partnering with local companies on everything from furniture to menu items and uniforms. Malibu Market and Design’s Eytan Levin was brought in as they started outfitting rooms, fabricating all of the hotel’s custom-designed furniture, including beds and tables in each guest room, to the outdoor furniture on the roof deck. Guests robes were furnished by Venice-based Parachute Home, team uniforms were designed by Malibu local Lily Ashwell, and the surfboards available to guests were even shaped locally, optimized for Malibu’s waves.
Crowther, leading the way on interior design, culled from her extensive travels to 60+ countries and her past experience to round out the design with unique pieces in each room and common area, sourced everywhere from Belgium to Japan.
“What Emma did was she took the things she likes,” said Burdge. “She wasn’t bound by a major hotel group’s line of sheets or soaps or anything. She was able to say, ‘I like this soap, or this pillow, I’m going to use it.’ To me that’s part of the success— you’re not in a chain. You just feel like you’re staying in someone’s home.”
Goodwin says this remained an important aspect of their vision, creating a space that exemplified the warmth of Southern California but in a truly authentic way. “We didn’t want The Surfrider to be trendy or themed,” said Goodwin.
“We wanted it to be timeless, for guests to come and be enveloped by the feeling of the true Malibu. The simple version built on simple pleasures like nature and so, we drew our design inspiration from the contextual surroundings with an aim to deliver a timeless California beach house.”
To achieve this timelessness, Burdge says it was necessary to remain true to the bones of the property, paying homage to its past even while it underwent formidable change. This included retaining the trademark, “quirky” East Coast-style sloping roof Goodwin had noticed from his surfboard years before, as well as the general shell of the property.
“There’s a little bit of history there, and I always tell my clients, lets respect the past by honoring what [a property] can become.” said Burdge.
In October of 2017 the hotel officially opened for business, and soon rooms were filling up more quickly than the team could ever have imagined. Almost immediately the hotel had reached 70% capacity, and soon thereafter was operating at near-full capacity on a nightly basis. Even Tripadvisor, a website where guests can write reviews and rate their hotel stays, could hardly believe The Surfrider’s success. Only a few weeks into opening, the site gave the hotel a call, saying they’d never seen another property amass as many five-star reviews in such a short period of time. The Surfrider guests hail from all around the world, Crowther says, from Asia and Europe to just a few miles down the road on Point Dume, with many Malibu-ites spending a night to sample the rooftop restaurant.
“It’s really nice because we get so many locals who will put their families here, but then they’ll also come and stay the night from their houses down the road,” she said. “I joke with people, go to The Surfrider, eat, and then have a hotel room as your dessert,” said Burdge. Indeed, the team says they’ve been overwhelmed by the positive reaction from locals. “It’s been amazing,” said Crowther.
“We’ve had so many locals drive up, run in and say ‘Thank you for doing this property.’ I’m obviously a foreigner, and Malibu the community has taken me in and made me feel a part of the family straight away.” Creating a space imbued with this kind of local warmth, Goodwin says, was long a central tenet of the team’s vision.
“From a design perspective, we had one simple task at The Surfrider: to create a space that could tell a story and become an experience,” said Goodwin. “And our story was Malibu.” MM
23033 PCH | (310) 526-6158 | thesurfridermalibu.com