In Conversation with Emma Goodwin

We can personally vouch for how cool The Surfrider Malibu is {thanks to some pre-COVID travels}, overlooking the iconic Surfrider Beach it's easy to understand why this thoughtfully refurbished Californian Beach House has become a multi-award winning stay just outside Los Angeles. Australian expat & friend of the brand, Emma Goodwin, spent years in New York City where she met her now husband and business partner ~ together they bought their vision to life, concepting and overseeing every detail of The Surfrider. 

Growing up on the Australian east coast, with surf and sand an essential part of her lifestyle - The Surfrider oscillates between Californian cool & Australian surf culture in both design and attitude, from the rooms, to the surf boards you can take for a morning wave, right through to the considered cocktails & paddock-to-plate rooftop menu. Join us, in conversation with Emma...

We want to know more about you! What does a typical day look like? 

I’m an early riser and wake with the sun. And that’s about the only typical part of my day.

At The Surfrider we work on a monthly and seasonal calendar in terms of the experience we are creating and so part of my days are focussed on the present while the other part is looking ahead at what’s to come. Examples include working with Chef and our local Malibu farmers on the design and concepting for our menus (including cocktails since those are also botanically focussed with local ingredients!), photoshoots, programming for the seasons ahead, meeting with the Surfrider team to bring the vision to life, checking in on in-house guests and planning for arriving guests. Then, of course, the less glamorous parts of hotel ops and business ops in general! 

In between I fit in other projects I am working on and try to take slow moments for sunshine, good food, exercise and always nature. California makes all of these things easy! 

The Surfrider Malibu has become a Californian Icon (already!), you've done an incredible job with the space. Tell us, how did the idea come to life? What was your design process with fitting out the space? 

Thank you so much! That’s very kind. 

As fate would have it, The Surfrider somewhat landed in our lap. I think I was always destined to end up in the hotel and design space, however we weren’t actively looking for a hotel project at the time. As with most things though, looking back and it all makes complete sense. A lesson in always being open, I guess. 

We were living in New York, traveling frequently to California for work and play. For a State with such an international reputation, we felt that there wasn’t a boutique hotel that really and truly embodied the true essence of the California we knew; a State of raw beauty, a life guided by the sunshine, design-forward, casually cool, creative, soulful and fun. 

This became the basis of our design philosophy and every decision then and now. 

For us though, “design” doesn’t just mean architecture or interior design. We believe hospitality and hotel design is the architecture of an entire experience. This means tapping into every element, every tiny detail (even the ones you can’t see) and all of the senses, including the 6th! Design is about how we want the guest to feel and, at The Surfrider, it’s that soul stirring sense of Californian freedom. 

On top of that, we are an eclectic bunch. I am Australian. My husband is Californian and our partner is Italian. Three cultures who happen to be very good at travel and probably the best in the world when it comes to the beach lifestyle! Bondi Beach meets La Dolce Vita meets Baywatch :) 

With that in mind, we used our own cultural experiences and our perspective of “California" to influence the food, the music, styling, the language we use, the botanically infused cocktails, the color of the surfboards, the scents… all the sensory details to create what we hoped would be a guest’s ultimate Californian Beach House, in the ultimate Californian destination. 

A place where our guest's would write home and say “wish you were here”. 

Tell us about your morning coffee order? 

I am a little spoilt in the coffee department. My husband bought me an espresso machine for a gift a few years ago with a vow to make me coffee every morning. It is a rare occasion that he doesn’t live up to this. Of course, he had to perfect the Aussie flat white!  

And your Neighbourhood?

I live on the Westside of LA. It wouldn’t have been right to move to California from NYC and not live near the beach!! 

I love that my home is 15 minutes to Venice, 15 minutes to WeHo, 20 minutes to Malibu, easy access to the beach and mountains, beautiful tree lined streets with the most incredible gardens, all while having the perks of urban living within walking distance and the beauty of California at my doorstep. The joke in LA is that you can be surfing in the morning and skiing in the afternoon.

Brentwood Country Mart is walking distance from my home. It’s an original farm converted into restaurants and boutiques such as Shop Doen, GOOP, Jenni Kayne. I recommend a visit if you’re ever in town. 

You live in California (we're incredibly envious!), what are 5 must-knows/local secrets/tips for anyone visiting or considering making it their home? 

  1. Embrace the dichotomy of a Californian life! Live it all. 

  2. Get out every weekend, whether it be exploring the city or the State. There is so much to explore and every pocket feels like a completely different world. Let nature be your guide. 

  3. I love exploring the California Case study houses. The Eames House, Stahl House, Neutra, Saarinen houses. I think they are an amazing window into life during The Golden Era of Hollywood that shaped California as we know it. Similarly, some of the old hotels and restaurants! It’s so fun to think of their history and what went on within the walls. 

  4. Malibu is only 20 minutes from Los Angeles westside. Lots of international travellers have this idea that it’s hours away. Make a point of spending a few days there. It’s to LA as the Hamptons is to New York, only closer and cooler. Be sure to walk around the Pt Dume headland and explore as many beaches as possible, they are all so different! And of course, find yourself a great Classic playlist (or use "Surfrider Sounds”) and drive up the Pacific Coast Highway, all the way to Pt Mugu with the windows down and the music on loud. It doesn’t get much better! 
  1. Some favourite restaurants off the top of my head:

The Surfrider Roofdeck!! *We have people book rooms just to eat on the guest-only deck, it’s amazing! 

Botanica *Female owned and operated, incredible collection of flavours

Polo Lounge *It’s a classic and has to be done once when visiting LA. 

Destroyer *so clever!

Gjelina *great for long lunches with friends, 

Gjusta *best for coffee and brekky 

Chez Tex *a little French wine bistro in Venice. All natural!

Cara Hotel Restaurant *Great design. Great rosé!

Great White *perfect “Venice Beach” breakfasts by fellow Aussies! 

And your home, what makes it a special space to you? 

My home is an original 1930’s Spanish home with an incredible story. It was previously owned by an actress in the 60’s. Her late husband was Hemingway’s best friend and biographer. They shared many good times and soirees in the home. She also did stints with Mother Theresa in Calcatta. An incredible woman who has taught me so much about life. You can feel that magic the minute you enter the home. If only these walls could talk!  

How do you use your Marloe Marloe pieces? Where in your home will we find them? 

Sculptural moments, flower vases, jewellery holders, serving bowls!! Honestly, the list goes on. I love how versatile they are. Alone they can be statement pieces, but equally, practical solutions to every day needs. Absolute perfection. 

Lastly, how's 2020 been & what's next for you? 

What a wild time to be alive! Living in the USA took a lot of resilience in 2020, that’s for sure. We really felt the brunt of everything going on, all while not being able to get home to see family, friends and have that hit of the Aussie summer that keeps so many of us expats going. At the beginning of it all, I told myself “ok, this is our reality, we can either carry it like a heavy weight on our shoulders or like it’s part of the dance”. We chose to dance (or attempt to!), though, admittedly, some days were more like a drunk shuffle then a dance. In the end, it’s taught me a lot about myself and a lot about our business. As cliche as it sounds, there’s a silver lining and a lesson in everything. It’s all about perspective and the story we tell ourselves, isn’t it?!

What’s next… I’m currently working on the redesign of a beachfront home in Malibu, some top secret projects that I’ll tell you about when I can, renovating my own home and plotting a trip home to Australia. 

Emma styles the STEVIE & LULLY in Lava & Bone

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