From Vacant Rooftop to Designer Urban Paradise

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Interview with the creator of Notel. The inspiring tale of how his passion for Melbourne collided with his creative vision and resulted in a unique place where people can experience and ponder.


Jasmin Pedretti – Journalist

After walking up the staircase with walls dripping in pink paint, and then stepping onto the Notel rooftop, we were excited and intrigued. 

Somehow, we were totally immersed in Melbourne but secluded from it at the same time. 

But just like the delightful surprises awaiting us, James Fry, the owner of Notel met us with genuine warmth and enthusiasm. A rooftop of quirk awaited us. 

The rooftop was not always so beautiful. For years, it was a vacant lot that could only be accessed via a ladder. After 10 years of running the carpark underneath, James decided to utilize the space with alternative accommodation.

Struck by the sleek look of airstream trailers, he decided they were the way to go. The rooftop is now a trendy, colourful oasis where people are offered the unique opportunity to stay in original 1970’s airstream trailers from America.

It’s an experience, a journey. 


JP: What was it like to see your vision come to life? 

JF: Incredible. I was very confident Melbournians would embrace it. For that to actually transpire and for people to enjoy it and come up here and ask questions, it was very rewarding. 

JP: At Ponderings, we are all about celebrating ideas and the courage to put them into action to create something wonderfully unique. What advice would you give someone with a cool idea, who might be hesitant to act on it out of fear of failure?

JF: My advice is to give it a crack. Particularly here in Melbourne. What better place could there be to trial something unique? Melbournians particularly love and embrace ‘different’. 

JP: Speaking of Melbourne, what is your favourite thing about the city?

JF: The laneways, has to be. The coffee culture, the street art, the hidden gems, the diversity. We’ve got every cuisine, it’s so multicultural. You can walk down Flinders lane and cover 90% of what’s in Melbourne. You’ve got boutique clothing, fine dining restaurants, casual catering. Yeah, we’ve got everything.

JP: I can hear the passion in your voice! What has been your proudest moment since opening Notel? 

JF: I think the proudest moment was day one when I could go, yep, we got here. It was a really difficult push to get it to the opening date that we’d set. I also sometimes stand up here to greet guests but don’t tell them I’m the owner. Watching their reaction when they first walk through the door and they’re like holy moly this is different, it always gives me a great feeling. 

JP: Who has been the coolest or most interesting guest at Notel?

JF: I don’t know if I’ve got a favourite guest. We had the Hart sisters (Jessica and Ash hart), we had Hugh Sheridan up here, with his band California Crooners.

JP: When it comes to comfort and luxury, a trailer generally does not come to mind, what makes your trailers worth lashing out for? 

JF: The general rule of a caravan is to pack the entire house into a tiny little space. Which is exactly what I didn’t want here. We have stripped the interior completely and made it into a luxurious oasis. We have a full height, beautiful shower and a very comfortable bed, all within a caravan. 

What should people know about Notel before deciding to book? 

That we are not a hotel. We are an experienced-based accommodation. You’ll have a lot of fun, and gaining entry to the hotel is not straight forward. 

I see…

You want to know more, don’t you? The experience starts from the moment you book. You’re required to download an app, and then the key is sent to your smartphone. We send you a text message on the day of your arrival to remind you that not all roller doors roll. It might look like a roller door but doesn’t act like one. It’s a challenge. 


JP: What kind of feedback do you generally receive from guests? 

JF: The overwhelming majority is that they love it. It’s so different, and they love the experience. However, occasionally, people don’t get us. We were too far off a hotel stay for what they were wanting, and I love that. Because we are not for everyone. We are for people who are after an experience, celebrating something special and have got a bit of adventure about them. If all you want is a bed to sleep in, stay somewhere else. We are not for you. 

While talking to James, I could not wipe the smile off my face. I was captivated by his genuine passion for the city, which is reflected in the space he has created. He took the quirky charm of Melbourne and put it on a rooftop. His enthusiasm for adventure was infectious, and after talking to him, I felt a renewed sense of passion for life and taking a chance. Our team fell in love with Notel, and if you are looking for a city adventure, here is a great start!