Last year, when Habitas opened its lifestyle hotel in the hippie beach town of Tulum, Mexico, it offered everything, and more, for a savvy Millennial traveller. Not only was it built in collaboration with local carpenters and artisans (thus ticking the ‘give-back’ box), it also made sure that sustainability was key with its environmentally-aware ethos, that has become all-important to the way many of us want to travel.
Within the next year the brand, founded by Oliver Ripley, Kfir Levy and Eduardo Castillo, will be expanding with new properties opening in Malibu, Namibia and Bahamas. And extending its reach further – as well as cementing its reputation for offering globally curated experiences that focus on wellness, food and music – are the two most recent urban clubhouses which have opened in New York and L.A.
“Our mission is to change peoples’ lives by creating deeper human connections,” says Oliver Ripley, talking exclusively to Forbes. “The desire to connect with one another is what makes us human. It’s how we enter this world and how we leave it. People are prioritizing experiences over material possessions. We want to bring people together, friends and strangers, and create experiences that people carry with them long after they leave Habitas. This is why Habitas Rise, our impact arm, is such an integral part of what we are creating. If we are facilitating community, then arguably the people who need help the most are those that have been displaced from their homes — so we have been working closely with a refugee camp in Uganda, which our community is supporting.”
At the Tulum property, eco credentials are at the heart of the resort, with the 32 guest rooms built on elevated platforms so as to not disrupt the area and surrounding jungle, and each one constructed with indigenous materials, with a natural palapa roof. The bohemian design sees handmade furniture made from local hardwood, raffia lamps, animal hide stools and local textiles. Bathrooms, meanwhile, offer a private outdoor rain shower and a custom-made line of bath products using all-natural ingredients, like coconut, avocado and honey.
“Sustainability is a core belief in our approach, our design and how we integrate with local communities,” says Oliver. “We focus on low-impact construction, using local materials to minimize environmental impact.”
With a diverse and interesting selection of locations in its sights, from Tulum to Namibia, and an innovative in-house design team – Habitas Design Labs – which manages all developments from idea to execution, the Habitas brand is making a name for itself for forward-thinking, responsible tourism. It also cites an overall mission to impact peoples’ lives in a positive way by creating deeper human connections.
“We are disrupting hospitality when it comes to both the business model and the experience,” agrees Oliver. “We focus on building ‘design-forward’, modular, sustainable construction that we can build in short periods and at lower cost per key. We are also disrupting the solitary experience through our unique programming, social architecture and our community. People don’t choose to come to a Habitas location because of how many stars the hotel has, the price point or the amenities, they come for the experience and identify with the values that the brand stands for.”
At Tulum, for instance, there is a three-story lobby which serves as a hub for the guest community to drink, dine and converse, with multiple seating options including long, communal tables made of reclaimed wood and seating areas with colorful pillows and low-bearing tables. At the base is Moro, the ground-floor restaurant overseen by chef Federico Cappi, with a menu that focuses on Spanish cuisine with a strong Moorish influence. Meanwhile, daily activities, designed to bring guests together, include rooftop yoga, music sessions and a concert series.
“The ethos of Habitas Design Labs is also totally unique,” Oliver, says, explaining the interior concept. “When you come into one of our spaces you will not recognize certain colors, materials, architecture as you might with traditional hospitality brands. Our design language is unique to each property; it reflects and represents the local environment and nature and is designed to integrate you in the most real way to connect with your surroundings. We look to build sustainable spaces that are unexpected and playful. The commonality you will see is in the social architecture — the way in which we physically lay out spaces to bring people together.”
Cementing this approach further is the recent opening of the brand’s two private clubs. The New York Clubhouse is carved out of a six-story historic firehouse dating back to 1895, and it is the first ‘urban home’ for Habitas. Open to all Habitas members, the clubhouse is meant to feel like a home away from home with each space offering a familiar yet unexpected oasis to meet a friend, listen to music, share a bite, exercise or simply unwind. The 19th-century building includes a living room with communal wet bar and kitchen, recording studio, break-out lounges and creative spaces for solo work or collaboration, movie room, intimate music lounge, meetings and events floor, wellness area and outdoor courtyard and rooftop.
Unique features include the original 1929 FDNY emergency call box, ornamental windows, artwork by Chinese artist Liu Bolin, and a mix of vintage and contemporary furniture.
Meanwhile, in LA, the Habitas Venice Beach Clubhouse, centrally located on Abbott Kinney, marks the second urban home for Habitas. The renovated 1940s’ beach house, which sits beside a mural by Portuguese street artist Vhils, is open to all Habitas members and offers several spaces for gathering and conversation, encompassing a living room with kitchen, sun room, upstairs loft, parlor, wellness center, front courtyard, and backyard with outdoor rain shower.
“These are a new type of club,” Oliver explains. “We are not trying to compete with Soho House or Neuehouse. Our membership is primarily focused on the people, not on the physical building. Many of our members do not live in LA or NY, for example, but are instead members of Habitas. Our community has formed naturally since 2014, it was only at the beginning of this year that we decided to create a membership program to help old and new community members get together. Membership is not only what happens inside the clubhouses but much more about what happens outside. The clubhouses are a place for us to gather, meet, relax, eat, do some work or work out. We are already looking at new locations around the world and welcome people to join our community list, which is the first step to becoming a member.”
Revealing that the brand has a vision to eventually have a Habitas in every major city and destination around the world, “so that wherever we travel for pleasure or for work, we can meet amazing people, our children can play and grow together and we can form unforgettable friendships and experiences” – the Habitas ambition is sky-high.
Citing the great explorers as his inspiration – from Magellan to Captain Cook, Charles Darwin to Neil Armstrong – Oliver reveals how, for the minute, Habitas has chosen to put down roots in some of the world’s most interesting locations. “Namibia is one of the most incredible unknown destinations in the world and we wanted to challenge the traditional concept of what it meant to go on safari and to engage with the environment and culture. Habitas Aviva in the Bahamas, on the other hand, is the closest island to Miami accessible 20 minutes by a sea plane or in under two hours by boat, it is unique in its nature and sea life. We wanted to create an inclusive island, as most private islands are exclusive.
“Malibu, meanwhile, only has 400 hotel rooms and, as we started in LA, we wanted to create something for our early community, activating a property off one of the world’s most famous surf beaches. Our property in Tulum, of course, is a very unique place where it all began. Tying them all together, each location shares our unique programming, culture, values and open-minded and diverse guests.”
With its sights on opening further properties in diverse places such as the Galapagos, Uganda, Bhutan and Jordan, Oliver concludes by saying that for him, “Travel is a continuous journey. It’s not about a destination or a single place, it’s about ongoing exploration of the far-reaching corners of the world and the discovery of new places, people and cultures. I think that once you embrace this way of traveling there’s no going back.
“Ultimately, we create experiences for our guests and members. We call our hotels, homes. Habitas is an inclusive and diverse group of likeminded people, united by a mindset, and we create inspiring spaces around the world where we can gather. What happens outside of your room is just as important as where you sleep. The memories, the friends and experiences that you take with you is what people keep coming back to Habitas.”
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