“I grew up in a big Italian family not far from here, and visited the beaches all the time,” recalls George DiStefano of his upbringing near the Jersey Shore’s Bradley Beach. “When I come down here from New York City, where I now live, I feel relaxed and comfortable.”
While the popular coastal destination has never lacked restaurants or recreational offerings, DiStefano couldn’t find the stylish, design-driven accommodations he prefers to stay at while away from home. So what did the investment banker-turned-property management company owner decide to do? Develop something he, like-minded aesthetes from all over, and fellow New Jerseyans would embrace.
After spending months researching locations and buildings online, DiStefano stumbled upon Bradley Beach’s historic Sandcastle Inn for sale in May 2021. Immediately, something clicked. “I knew I could make it something special,” he says. “I’m an eternal optimist, and work so hard for things I believe in. I knew it was going to work out one way or another.”
Though the original bones of The James – the name comes from the 1904 building’s first owner – were preserved for the 16 rooms and suites and one bungalow, the design required a more considered overhaul. For that, DiStefano enlisted the help of his best friend and rising interior designer Sebastian Zuchowicki. To keep things in DiStefano’s words, “minimalist, timeless, and always looking like it was recently done,” the duo used an eclectic mix of organic materials, textures, and muted tones so every space lends “a layered, thoughtful effect.”
Art, too, is a focal point of The James. But instead of bland and uninspiring pieces many hotels depend on nowadays, DiStefano made a point of selecting items that “feel like they’re from my personal collection.” With that in mind, you’ll discover varied mediums throughout the property, from ceramics to photography, and a wide range of artists, from established heavyweights such as Ed Ruscha to close pals like Ed Wink.
But beyond good looks, gracious hospitality is at the heart of The James. Since the hotel is less than two blocks from the beach, umbrellas and sun lounger rentals are complimentary for guests. Another perk to staying here? Unlike other Jersey Shore towns like the perpetually packed Asbury Park, Bradley Beach is blissfully quiet and uncrowded.
It’s also tough to dream up a more chic place to start your morning than the dining room, where DiStefano and his team up whip bountiful, made-from-scratch breakfasts including pork roll sandwiches, coconut french toast, and seasonal quiches. Even the coffee is a custom blend by local roasters Odyssey Coffee.
“I’ve thought about every little thing I would appreciate in a hotel, from the height of the window treatments when you enter your room to the homemade chocolate chip cookies and bath salts we gift all our guests,” explains DiStefano. “I just love hosting people, and curating nice experiences for them.”