If you’re a fan of boutique stays, luxury escapes or Pinterest-worthy interiors, it’s highly likely you’re familiar with Salt at Shoal Bay. As Shoal Bay’s newest — and undoubtedly coolest — new accommodation offering, Salt at Shoal Bay has become a hotspot in every sense of the word. In just 18 months, Salt has acquired almost 50K Instagram followers, has been seen on the feeds of some of Australia’s most admired tastemakers, been the backdrop for countless brand campaigns and has become the most idyllic and in-demand family holiday stay in the picturesque Port Stephens region. Scroll on take a tour of the dreamy beachside property and meet its owner and creator, Lauren Charge (and her adorable daughter, Claudia).
What was the inspiration behind creating and building Salt?
“We had been looking for an investment property in the area and something that would create some form of residual income to allow us to travel overseas for long stretches. We love to travel and find that we personally gravitate more towards staying in unique boutique accommodation than hotels as they tend to have the feeling of a unique experience rather than a mass-produced holiday. 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, but with separate self-contained spaces for our individual families.”
How long did it take you to build Salt — from the initial idea to completion?
“We always joke that renovations are one step forward, two steps back. Unfortunately, it’s less of a joke and actually the reality of the process. Overall, from purchase to completion it took around two years. We purchased the property in February 2016 and started making plans immediately. We requested a delayed settlement to allow enough time to prepare our plans and submit them to council as soon as the property had settled.
It took much longer than we initially anticipated. Shortly after we started, our then youngest daughter, Evelyn, got quite sick with an auto-immune disease. While it can be a bit complicated to explain, in short, her immune system began attacking her brain and central nervous system. It was a pretty traumatic experience in hindsight and for three months we just put everything on hold to focus on her getting better."
“WE LOVE THE CRYSTAL-CLEAR WATER AND THE INCREDIBLE HEADLANDS — SOME DAYS IT CAN FEEL LIKE YOU’RE IN THE WHITSUNDAYS OR HAWAII WITH THOSE MAJESTIC MOUNTAINS.”
Shop the look: Moroccan Woven Backpack.
When did Salt open for business?
“Salt officially opened in March 2018, just in time for the Easter school holidays. It’s been a wildly bumpy first 12 months and a steep learning curve, but we’ve been so grateful for the incredible response. We are fully booked in Salt One and Salt Two for all weekends until January 2020 and Salt Three is the same until December, except for a few weekends. Earlier this year, after having so many enquiries, we made the decision to offer our mid-week rates at a heavy discount. We felt so bad that we had to disappoint people and tell them they couldn’t book a weekend until next year, so we’ve made it a more cost-effective incentive for guests taking leave from work midweek to come visit. We’ve had a great response so far!”
What is your connection with the area Salt is located in?
“Both my husband, Michael, and I have strong nostalgic ties to Port Stephens, and although our paths never crossed when we were younger, we both spent our childhood swimming in these beaches, jumping off the jetty in front of the Country Club and riding bikes to Fingal Bay (the next town). I grew up in the area and went to primary school in Nelson Bay and my grandmother lived in Fingal Bay. Michael grew up a little further out of town and his Nanna has lived in the retirement village at the end of the street for almost 50 years.
As we got older, with children of our own now, we bring them back to the area regularly to visit grandparents and great grandparents. We have always loved Shoal Bay Avenue [where Salt is located] — it’s right on the beachfront, but it’s lined with gumtrees. The combination of the birds chirping, kookaburras laughing and waves crashing is so beautiful. It was while visiting Michael’s Nanna one day that we found out the property was for sale. Once we saw the view from the deck we were so inspired to create something that truly framed and accented those incredible mountain views.”
“IT’S A VERY CALMING SPACE THANKS TO THE MOUNTAIN VIEWS, THE SALTY AIR, THE BIRDS AND THE SOUND OF THE WAVES.”
What do you love most about Shoal Bay?
“The crystal-clear water and the incredible headlands — some days it can feel like you’re in the Whitsundays or Hawaii with those majestic mountains.”
How would you describe the style of Salt?
“Each space really has its own unique style so it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what the style is as a whole. Salt One and Salt Two are very island luxe-meets-coastal beach house, while Salt Three is more coastal cottage. All three are a relaxing retreat for families, friends and groups.”
What feeling does Salt evoke for you when you step inside?
“For me, I see all the little jobs to do [laughs]! But overall, it’s a very calming space thanks to the mountain views, the salty air, the birds and the sound of the waves. When we stay, we try and settle in for a few days to give us time to switch off and ignore the to-do list. It’s easier when we visit with friends — we love having a glass of wine together in the evenings while sitting by the fire in winter or on the decks in summer. It’s just so nice to see all the kids playing beautifully and the adults relaxing.”
“WE LOVE HAVING A GLASS OF WINE TOGETHER IN THE EVENINGS WHILE SITTING BY THE FIRE IN WINTER OR ON THE DECKS IN SUMMER.”
What is your favourite design feature of the property?
“That’s a hard one, but the hot outdoor showers are pretty nice on a fresh winters morning after a dip in the beach across the road. To come back after a swim and have a quick hot outdoor shower before warming up by the fire with a coffee in hand is a beautiful feeling — and it leaves us feeling a million miles away.
One of my favourite memories though is stargazing with the girls under the Velux Skylights on one of our first nights there — we were setting up the spaces and rushing to get the girls off to sleep so we could pull an all-nighter setting up the other bedrooms.”
What colour palette have you chosen throughout and why?
“Natural and neutral to keep the spaces calm. Coming from a graphic design background, I’m always conscious of how colour affects our mood and a neutral palette 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 palette neutral and bring in some texture through terracotta tiles on the splash back wall and with the lining boards on the roof.”
What is your favourite item in Salt?
“I love our Huski Studios lounge from House of Lita — it’s such a beautiful relaxing piece to lounge about on in the backyard and watch the kookaburras in the gums above.”
“TO COME BACK AFTER A SWIM AND HAVE A QUICK HOT OUTDOOR SHOWER BEFORE WARMING UP BY THE FIRE WITH A COFFEE IN HAND IS A BEAUTIFUL FEELING — AND IT LEAVES US FEELING A MILLION MILES AWAY.”
What was the biggest splurge in the property?
“The timber windows, but I just love the feeling and warmth that timber evokes (even when painted) — it just feels different to aluminium windows.”
Where do you like to shop for furniture and homewares?
“Everywhere — we love to support small local stores wherever possible. It wasn’t always possible with being such a big project with high traffic requirements and the need for durable pieces. This meant we weren’t always able to shop for those beautiful, bespoke one-of-a-kind pieces. Some items like rugs and sofas needed to be replaceable and affordable. We chose pieces from Freedom and mixed them in with pieces from smaller stores in the area like House of Lita, Edde, Salt & Stone, The Home Interior and Homebody.”
Photography by Alex Warden.