There isn’t another hotel group right now with more cojones than Grupo Habita. Since the Mexican boutique chain’s inception in 2000, the four-man team that forms its brain trust—Carlos Couturier and brothers Moisés, Rafael, and Jaime Micha—has cultivated what Spanish speakers reverently call onda (loosely translated to essence) at their openings across Mexico (in addition to one in New York) by staying true to an intrinsic but unusual principle: Go where nobody thinks to go. On its face, that seems like a counterintuitive decree to live by for a hospitality company putting tens of millions of dollars on the line—until you see the results.
The 14 hotels in Habita’s portfolio all carry the same strand of DNA: they’re smart and detail- focused, possess an artistic spirit, and function as cultural arbiters. Yet each one maintains a tactile, distinctively local vibe by bringing its surroundings inside. Casa Fayette, a new hotel that utilizes the bones of an old colonial manse in Guadalajara’s design district—its 37 rooms sit in an adjacent new-build structure—is the latest example of Habita picking an out-of-mind destination as its next home. (Shown here is an exclusive first look at the property.) The country’s second-largest metropolis hasn’t entered the leisure travel lexicon yet, but its nascent art scene is begging to be discovered. Less an interloper hell-bent on gentrification than a new arrival that just wants to fit in, Fayette subtly blends into its leafy neighborhood lined with galleries and nondescript restaurants.
“We only create one hotel a year in order to understand the community, its vision and tastes,” says Carlos Couturier, a citrus farmer and the public face of Habita. “Our goal is always to be local. We don’t build hotels; we curate them. The goal is to deliver a human experience, not an architectural or design one.”
Habita feels like an indie rock band on the verge of mainstream stardom. A few of the group’s cult hits: Hotel Habita, the slinky, opaque debut EP that opened in Mexico City’s Polanco district when the city was still too high on the sketchy meter to attract the culture cognoscenti; Deseo Hotel and Lounge, the seductive whitewashed retreat that anointed Playa del Carmen the next Yucatan playground in 2001, back when it was nothing more than a jumping-off point for snorkelers heading to Cozumel; the French Neoclassical Condesa DF, the first design property to plant its flag in Mexico City’s rough-around-the-edges arts quarter in 2005; Hotel Americano, which cropped up in 2011, on Manhattan’s far west side, a dead zone of industrial blocks and early- closing galleries; and Hotel Boca Chica, a mid- century bolthole that brought 1950s glamour back to tourist and springbreak hellscape, Acapulco, in 2009. Habita has a knack for get- ting to a place before it happens, or maybe it happens because wherever Habita goes, a fashionable coterie soon follows.
“They have their own following, and it’s a crowd you want to please,” says Britt Moran, a North Carolina–bred partner of Dimore Studio, the Milanese design firm tapped to do Fayette’sinteriors. “It’s the cool, artistic crowd who is in the right places and is kind of jet-setting from party to party.”
It’s a rare commission for Dimore—the ongoing redesign of the venerable Grand Hotel et de Milan is the firm’s only other hotel—but Moran says working with Grupo Habita was an easy decision, even fate: a serendipitous encounter on a far-flung Greek island led to the collaboration. “We had our side with Italians and their side with Mexicans—two strong-headed people,” jokes Moran. “But Habita is really easy to get along with, and they’ve done so many hotels. They were able to teach us how to look at areas or deal with certain spaces.”