For many Australians, some of our fondest childhood memories are rooted in beachside summer holidays that seemed to stretch on forever. It was with these sentiments that husband and wife duo Lauren and Michael Charge searched for a property to secure as a working venture that could also make memories for their own family.
Whilst visiting Shoal Bay – the most eastern suburb of Port Stephens in the Hunter Region of New South Wales – the couple spotted a rundown 70s house that was up for sale. The connection was immediate: overlooking the bay’s clear crystal waters, with a view out to the pretty Tomaree Headland, it was the place of their own childhood summers and held the potential for their version of a luxury Australian beach house.
They knew they wanted to offer the flexibility of a space that could accommodate large groups as well as the option of separate family spaces, enlisting the support of Lauren’s brother Kain, a builder by trade, and his business Greenbuild Constructions. In two years – amongst the demands of young children, illness, pregnancy and birth – they significantly reconfigured the property to capture the stunning outlook and divided the space into three contemporary coastal abodes known as Salt at Shoal Bay.
Featuring a neutral palette and soft textural tones, they created contemporary coastal accommodation that is sure to remain fondly in the minds of many. The Dharma Door is delighted that items from our collection add a warming touch to this special place, so we took five with Lauren to talk about the process of constructing dreams, design and family life.
It is always great to hear the description of a project or vision ‘from the horse’s mouth’. How do you describe Salt at Shoal Bay to your friends and family?
We usually describe ourselves as an Airbnb holiday home - though our friends and guests remind us we’re more than that. So I guess you could say we are a boutique holiday home - designed to offer a simplistic, yet luxurious beachside stay. Our relaxed, neutrals interior palette has all been well thought out, to complement the magical Shoal Bay view. It’s a relaxing retreat for families, friends and extended groups.
You had been looking for an investment property that your family could also holiday in, and describe feeling connected to the site from the beginning. Can you share a little more about your original impressions and the way you were drawn to the original 1970s beach shack?
It really was the location that lured us in. Shoal Bay Avenue is a peaceful street with a large verge that’s lined with gum trees and is full of birdlife. The beach access is literally across the road, so you can duck over for a swim whenever you want to cool off; it’s almost like having the ocean and white sandy beach as your backyard.
Though the deciding factor for us was the incredible view from the upstairs deck, across Shoal Bay and out to Tomaree Head – it’s such a majestic backdrop that takes your breath away. Although we completely renovated and remodelled the original beach shack, the view is just as captivating.
How did the journey grow from there? What was your vision for the project - what did you set out to achieve?
We love to travel and find that we gravitate more towards staying in unique boutique accommodation than hotels. We realised there was such a gap in the market for beautiful accommodation like this in the area and wanted to create a space that families just like ours could return to year after year, to create their own holiday memories in.
In the renovation planning process, we incorporated all the things we would appreciate when holidaying with our kids. Things like hot outdoor showers, hooks for towels at the entry, areas to store surfboards, bikes and beach bags, a fire to warm up by in winter, and an outdoor barbeque for summer. My husband and I both have large extended families and we love the idea of being able to holiday together in the same place, with separate self-contained spaces for our individual families.
Things obviously change along the way. How did you respond to these changes, and inevitable challenges, as they arose?
We always joke that renovations are one step forward, two steps back. Unfortunately it’s less of a joke and more just the reality of the process. The key to keeping things flowing smoothly is to always have a few back up solutions. We worked with a great team at Greenbuild Constructions and every time there was an issue they came back to us with at least one or two solutions of their own which meant we were always able to make a decision pretty quickly and move on.
My advice would be, don't settle for something if it doesn't feel right.
What has worked well in the build?
The skylights were a big win. We made a feature out of them and positioned them directly over the showers and the beds so you can stargaze at night before dropping the built-in blind for complete block out – it turned out to be one of our favourite features! The first night we stayed there with the girls, we were stargazing in bed and they saw a shooting star for the first time. It’s creating those kinds of memories and experiences with them that makes all that hard work worthwhile.
You settled on a simple, neutral palette to allow the views to really shine. Can you tell us a little more about this?
I think coming from a graphic design background, I’m always conscious of how colour affects our mood and a neutral pallet keeps the mood very calm. Also in graphic design we talk a lot about negative space, so I was conscious that we something needed to be the focal point in the room and the view was already a big one. We chose to keep the neutral palette and bring in some texture through terracotta tiles on the splash back wall and the lining boards on the roof.
And what about your decorating choices? You have successfully blended a clean and contemporary aesthetic with some earthy and natural textural touches. What were your thoughts here and how did go about striking such a great balance?
To be honest, we mostly just wing it and go with what feels right! Though I really don’t think you can go wrong with natural materials, like timber, stone and jute. They have a sense of depth and soul about them. If a space feels too stark we will bring in some natural elements to soften it. For example you might have a stark white wall, but you can soften it by adding some timber hooks and hang a jute bag. This instantly adds a feeling of warmth and depth to the space.
Given that Salt is a relaxed luxury retreat, you obviously also need to marry good design with a few thoughtful touches that can allow guests to relax and make themselves at home. What elements at Salt help to achieve this?
We love including thoughtful pieces like our beautiful beach bags or laundry baskets from The Dharma Door. It’s special touches like these that we as guests appreciate when we travel. They’re unique and different from the pieces in our everyday lives so they all add to the overall holiday feeling.
How did your selections from The Dharma Door fit into this process?
We love the natural jute fibres of all The Dharma Door pieces and they way they soften a space. When we were styling Salt, we had a large white wall against a white sofa, and we knew we needed a natural element to stop it from feeling so stark. The Dharma Door Jute Mandala was perfect for the space, adding that much needed warmth.
What do you most appreciate about The Dharma Door products. How do you use them at home?
At home use our Dharma Door baskets are used as toy baskets, and beautiful storage for everything! I like to fill our home with things that make us happy. We used to have an old shoe box filled with hair brushes and hairbands and school scrunchies that we’d pull out every morning to get the girls ready for school. The shoebox recently broke so I took the opportunity to upgrade it to one of the beautiful jute baskets from The Dharma Door and it makes me happy every morning when I pull it out of the cupboard.
You completed Salt in two years while taking care of two small children and giving birth to your third daughter Claudia toward the build’s completion. How did you manage such a significant project while taking care of your family?
Sometimes I feel like we didn’t manage at all. There were tears (lots!), mother-guilt and days where I felt so exhausted and overwhelmed by it all. Thankfully, I was able to keep thinking of the end result and keep pushing through.
We've just spent time at Salt for the beginning of the school holidays with our kids and friends. We rode our bikes to Fingal Bay, we jumped off the jetty, we had a big group barbeque and then went searching for crabs on the beach at night with 10 excited kids, 8 adults and 3 babies. Walking along the beach under an almost full moon shining on the water, listening to the sounds of excited kid squeals, it really puts it all in perspective. Nothing ever comes easy and those overwhelming, hard days are worth it for the memories we are creating for both ourselves and our guests.
The Dharma Door exists to empower as many people as possible out of the cycle of poverty, with a large majority of artisans being female. When did you feel most empowered when you were creating Salt, and what are the highlights now that you are running such a popular destination?
The morning after I had Claudia, I was back on the Salt job site and I was discussing the shower niches with the tiler while my tiny newborn was held snug to my chest in a baby carrier. The tiler asked how old she was and when I commented just 23 hours old, he looked at me in shock. It dawned on me then how incredible our bodies are and what we are capable of. This is something women do all over the world – we give birth, and many of us keep carrying on.
There is nothing special about my story. Instead, it made me think of women in less fortunate countries that don’t have the luxury of great hospital support on hand, or the opportunity to relax at home or work flexibly around a newborn. Being back at work so early was my choice, however there are so many that don’t have that choice.
The highlights for us now that Salt is open is definitely seeing the way our guests use the spaces. We love when our guests tag us in their images or videos, or when they sign our guestbook or leave us feedback saying how much they’ve enjoyed their stay. We like that we’ve brought a little bit of happiness to their day or week and that they leave feeling like they’ve had a beautiful break.
And finally, we would love to hear about your biggest learnings on this journey to date. What words of advice, inspiration or learning would you like to share with others?
Build what you love. Don’t worry about what is on trend - fill your home with things that make you happy.
Visit Salt at Shoal Bay to view their accommodation and make a booking.
Images supplied by Salt at Shoal Bay
Photography by The Muse Collective
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