The Jersey Shore Enters Its Chic Era With a New, Art-filled Boutique Hotel

You can now stay in style just off the Bradley Beach boardwalk.

Owner and designer of hotel posed in front lounge area and an interior view of a queen studio living room area
From left: George DiStefano and Sebastian Zuchowicki, owner and designer of The James Bradley in Bradley Beach, New Jersey; one of the hotel's 17 guest rooms. Photo:

William Laird

I dropped my bags, flopped down, and posted a quick shot of the view from my bed to Instagram stories: Eames chair, sculptural floor lamp, huge, striking abstract painting taking up most of the opposite wall. Then, I rolled over and fell asleep. 

I woke up to a chorus of DMs: Where??? My friends wanted to know. Some had guesses: Montauk? Hudson? L.A., maybe? 

“No,” I replied, gleeful about my secret weekend getaway. “Jersey.” 

Interior view of mid-century Eames style chair and 80s inspired black furnishing and modern painting in the Superior King room at The James
The room in question.


George DiStefano, owner of The James Bradley, was amused when I told him about the reactions over breakfast later that morning. For him, that initial double-take (Really? The Jersey Shore?) is kind of the ideal outcome.

He spent his childhood summers on the beaches of New Jersey and knows his hotel is not exactly what people expect from this area. It's a tasteful rebuttal to those who might have preconceived notions based on, say, a certain late-aughts reality show. But he hopes people who come here often (or have family here, or want their family to visit them) will be pleasantly surprised by the new kid on the block. 

The James hotel exterior, a white house with a large porch and nice landscaping
The building that now houses The James Bradley was built more than a century ago as a family residence.

Courtesy of The James

The 17-room James Bradley opened in August 2022 just a block from the boardwalk in Bradley Beach, a community of just over 4,000 residents whose population balloons to the tens of thousands in the summer. Built in 1904 as a residential home, the building had been operating as a hotel since the 1960s — first as a hostel, then a party hotel, and most recently as a family-run bed-and-breakfast. It was just the second listing DiStefano clicked on.

“I wasn’t really sure what I was looking for,” he remembered, “but once I came across it, it just made sense.” 

An off white contemporary couch and rocking chair by the windows of the lounge in The James
The hotel's communal lounge area.

William Laird

The deal closed in July of 2021. As DiStefano prepared to shut things down for a 10-month renovation, he enlisted friend (and interior designer) Sebastian Zuchowicki to re-envision the space. “I was apprehensive at first,” Zuchowicki said of working with a friend in a creative capacity, “but the trust between us helped with all of our creative decisions.”

The two agreed that they wanted to balance their high-design ambitions with a consciously lived-in feel. “The space kind of blends into the rest of the neighborhood, which is important,” DiStefano noted. “We've been so welcomed and wanted to keep the integrity of it.” The more dramatic pieces — angular light fixtures, large pop-art prints — are balanced with lime-washed walls, heavy linens in dusty colors, and other layers of texture to soften the impact. 

Interior bed and dark green walls with contemporary art in the deluxe queen room at The James
Each space at The James Bradley has unique art pieces and objects sourced from flea markets — and eBay.

William Laird

Together, they sourced furniture and objects from eBay, Etsy, and flea markets as far away as Paris. Some pieces were custom made by local artists, while others were crafted by DiStefano (an occasional woodworker) in the on-site wood shop. Each room is unique, a showcase for one-of-a-kind art pieces; mine had a painting by Australian artist Pamela Tang at center stage, just above the headboard. Many items are for sale, so things are constantly being swapped out — a never-ending process. 

“People joke with me all the time, like, ‘What are you doing on your phone?’” DiStefano told me. “I'm looking for keychains, I'm looking for lamps. It literally took me seven hours to find these little water jugs that I'm obsessed with.” 

A modern bed with dark bedding and minimal decor and side tables
Some rooms feature custom-made headboards.

William Laird

The obsessive attention to detail is something he hopes people will notice. Remembering all the touches he’d appreciated during his own past hotel stays, DiStefano made sure The James Bradley would be on the same level: “Turndown service was important to me. I like having fresh baked goods in the room when you arrive. There’s a signature scent. Little things like that are the differentiating factors.” 

Rooms are stocked with toiletries from Flamingo Estate and baskets of locally made snacks; guests can pre-book a transcendent massage treatment in the newly opened spa room upstairs. In the mornings, the airy breakfast room offers a signature blend from Odyssey Coffee in nearby Ocean Grove, fresh pastries and homemade granola, and a hefty breakfast sandwich starring pork roll (a New Jersey classic). There is no restaurant on site, but custom private dining is available upon request for weddings, events, or whatever you’d like. DiStefano and Zuchowicki are currently working on a redesign for the bungalow at the back of the property, which will eventually become an exclusive-use rental.

Chic wooden beach chairs and retro yellow checkered beach umbrellas line the beach at The James
The James Bradley's summertime beach setup.

Courtesy of The James

During the summer, guests will have access to a designated area on the beach with lounge chairs, umbrellas, and refreshments. But rooms were booked up even during my winter visit. A short drive lands you in Asbury Park, a year-round destination for its music and bar scene (and the occasional surprise appearance by the Boss himself). The hotel has been popular with couples, groups of friends, and young families, and there are already some new regulars — plus a few old ones. “One couple has been coming here for 20 years, and their room was always number 5,” DiStefano told me. “She said, ‘It’s OK, you can change our room if you want.’ I felt bad, but they came back to stay in that room last summer and loved it.”

With a reaction like that, DiStefano knows he’s doing something right. It’s enough to have him plotting his next move — potentially a bit farther from home. “I’m going to look a bit in Sicily, and then around the Florence area,” DiStefano told me of a potential Italy project. But remember: New Jersey is where it all began.

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