In every great partnership, there’s an ideas man – a visionary – someone who sees a mound of dirt, a dilapidated old building, a slightly shifty neighbourhood and sees past its current state to what it could become. Someone whose imagination can envision the potential of an idea that is still just a seedling. For Mexican hotel collective Grupo Habita, that visionary is Carlos Couturier. A blue-eyed, sharp-suited entrepreneur, Carlos, alongside partners Moises and Rafael Micha, has revolutionised the concept of boutique hotels, inspiring designers and hoteliers across the globe.
In the world of boutique hotels, appearances can often be deceiving. What might, at first glance, seem to be an unassuming structure nestled on an unremarkable side street, upon closer inspection can reveal itself as quite the antithesis – a haven of carefully considered design that instantly makes its guests feel like they could live there forever.
Similarly, Carlos Couturier’s dapper appearance and matching high-flying lifestyle might give off the air of a slick, perhaps ruthless, businessman. In fact, he is a man of impeccable manners – a gentle and generous soul whose love for hotels grew not from a lifetime spent staying in them, but rather from a childhood spent growing up in the small town of San Rafael, Mexico, where hospitality meant a delicious meal enjoyed with friends and family.
A former citrus farmer (a passion he still maintains to this day), Carlos, alongside his partners Moises and Rafael, has crafted a niche for himself amongst the world’s most respected hoteliers. But while ‘hotelier’ might be his occupation by definition, Carlos will be quick to tell you that he is in the business of creating experiences – a fleeting few days of exploration, respite and inspiration that will linger in a traveller’s mind long after they have checked out. The trio envisions each of the Grupo Habita hotels almost as a film, each with its own unique set design, enrapturing soundtrack, and breathtaking cinematography. Of course, then there’s also you as the protagonist, and where your narrative leads you is entirely at your whim.
But there are no sequels in this formula. Each of the 10 Grupo Habita properties exudes its own unique personality, conceived as an anomalous entity using individual designers and architects who have been hand-selected to complement the hotel’s location, surrounding natural environment, design aesthetic and encompassing ambience.
There’s the cheeky Boca Chica, in Las Playas, Acapulco, where sun-kissed guests laze luxuriously on sun lounges, in the breezy surrounds of 1950s-style seaside chic decor. Then there’s La Purificadora, nestled in the charming colonial city of Puebla – a short drive from Mexico City. In a previous life, this 26-room hotel was a 19th-century water purification factory, a theme that is still present in its current incarnation as a boutique hotel, maintaining many of the building’s original elements including stone aqueducts. And one of three Grupo Habita properties in Mexico City itself, Condesa DF is an urban sanctuary ensconced in one of the city’s hippest barrios, housed in a French Neoclassical-style building.
Any traveller who has had the pleasure of spending a night in a Grupo Habita hotel will wax lyrical about the experience, from the calming intuitive design of each individual space, to the surprising but unique little details that make the experience all the more special. But most of all it is the lack of pretentiousness – despite an innate sense of cool – that make these hotels unique. And that relaxed and welcoming vibe undoubtedly comes from its three owners, whose enthusiasm and passion is irresistibly infectious.
What was your childhood dream?
My dream was to be happy and to make others happy.
Were your parents an influence on your career?
Totally. And my grandparents too. They taught me to love nature, to enjoy life and to treat people nicely.
How did hotels become your passion?
Hospitality is in my blood. I come from a small town in the Gulf of Mexico. My grandparents came from France. Our farmhouse was, in fact, an open house. Friends would come for lunch uninvited and they would be served tasty organic food (organic was not as trendy at the time). Sometimes there would be 40 of us at the table. My grandmother always kept her smile!
What first inspired you to form Grupo Habita?
Courage. No one thought we could build a design hotel in Mexico City at the time (it was in 1994). It took us six years to complete our dream.
You have said that you create experiences rather than simply build hotels. What do you believe composes a great experience?
Truth. Honesty. Being faithful to your roots, surroundings, soul.
What is your most memorable hotel experience?
Never being asked for my credit card at Hotel Costes in Paris. I love that sense of trust.
Each of your hotels is particularly unique. How do you select the designers for each of your projects?
By complete instinct. I need to have good communication and understanding with them. We need to connect. Developing a hotel is a complicated process and you need to make it a positive one.
How do you imagine the boutique hotels of the future?
They will be quiet and technology-free. An island of isolation. Blissful. You place great emphasis on the interaction of locals with your hotels.
What do you think the key is to achieving this?
Interaction is key. It’s about providing the community around you with things they relate to such as culture, happenings and souvenirs.
Can you tell us a little about the new hotel in New York you are building?
The hotel is called Hotel Americano and is expected to open in May 2011 in Chelsea. It has 56 smart rooms, an amazing rooftop terrace with a pool and … many more surprises!
Where would you like to build your next boutique hotel?
Los Angeles and Rio de Janeiro.
What is success to you?
To be loved and respected by those close to me.
What has been the greatest challenge you’ve had to overcome, personally or professionally, to get to where you are today?
The death of my dear ones. I miss them every day.
What has been your greatest achievement, personally or professionally?
What inspires you?
Nature in general. Human nature in particular.
Who inspires you?
Creative minds. Musicians, artists, explorers, astronauts!
Where do you find peace in life?
In my citrus farm, by the sea, with my two labradors and fresh coconut milk.
What are your words of wisdom?
Don’t waste time. Get dressed and catch your dream today.