The Native Hotel, Malibu

Design firm Folklor breathes new life into a charmed property

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The faint lettering of the former Malibu Riviera Motel’s logo peeks out beneath the roadside signage now in use by The Native Hotel. The newest illumination in the sleepy coastal town’s night sky, rising from a thicket of palm trees along the Pacific Coast Highway, signals new life within the caterpillar of interconnected cabins that have laid snug in the wilderness just north of Point Dume since 1949. In its heyday, the building was an ascetic midcentury refuge for the likes of James Dean and Marilyn Monroe. It fell into disrepair during the 21st century, so its founders—a family of Malibu’s earliest settlers—sold the property to Shaun Gilbert of SKG Investments as well as the the owners of Folklor, the Los Angeles design firm charged with the aesthetic of hotspots as diverse as Venice Beach’s Gjelina and Koreatown’s The Line Hotel.

While Native’s 13 rooms remain an understated hideaway for notable locals and legendary surfers looking for unplugged crash-pads (there’s WiFi but no televisions), Folklor partners David Irvin and Rudy Moujaes are making the most of the four and a half acres of unspoiled woodland where the hotel sits, cultivating a community destination. Cycling passersby bound for Zuma Beach and Paradise Cove can roll up to Coffee & Waffles, a retrofitted Airstream trailer parked atop the driveway. Here, hearty daytime fare comes courtesy of Ludo Lefebvre, the Los Angeleno-Parisian chef behind Petit Trois and Trois Familia. Waffles are baked to order, stuffed with fillings like coconut and dried shrimp; sauces range from avocado to peanut caramel. Coffee is the domain of Claude Perez, formerly a fixture behind the counter at Malibu’s Cafecito Organico, now proprietor of local roastery Eucalyptus & Pine. Its name is an allusion not to the notes of its single-origin beans but the fragrant Malibu air.

The Native’s lobby, which doubles as an extension of Brooklyn retailer Jill Lindsey’s eponymous Fort Greene lifestyle boutique, has an air of the East Coast. While Lindsey curates the shop—with kaftans and sunglasses, Grown Alchemist lotions and Public Market T-shirts all giving some comprehensive competition to nearby Ranch at the Pier—her influence bookends the property. Just past Room 13, where Bob Dylan wrote the lyrics to “Blood on the Tracks,” sits a former shed-turned-spa where group yoga classes and beauty treatments are available. All instructors and masseuses have received Lindsey’s seal of approval. The shed formerly housed a library of negatives belonging to the hotel’s late founder, Wayne Wilcox, a celebrated local photographer, whose work now decorates signage, walls, even matchbooks for lighting incense.

Overnight guests will find incense packed into their key rings, and once inside their rooms, they can laze in custom-made robes cut from vintage kente cloth, swing on a hammock in the privacy of their bungalow’s high-walled, pebbled backyards, or lounge in king-sized beds, as the breeze blows in through the Dutch backdoor. The floors have been stripped down to the building’s original foundation, but if guests are craving a closer connection with nature, the hotel’s commencing a partnership with Habitas, a generator of luxury resort experiences in Tulum and Ibiza, to create a campsite where guests can book tents outfitted with soaking tubs—ideal for rinsing off the sand among the stars.

Rooms at The Native Hotel in Malibu start at $219 and can be booked online.

Lobby image by DYLAN + JENI, all other images by Adam Robb