The petite, design-forward Life House, Lower Highlands is not your standard issue urban boutique hotel property, nor is it more like an upscale Airbnb. Ducking into the contemporary building from the residential streets of the Lower Highlands is to encounter an ornate oasis that evokes a place in time, a secret hive paying homage to history. A place that cultivates meaning, drawing in travelers who seek authentic experiences and curious neighbors craving human connection. They come seeking a feeling of fellowship with others and the open-minded growth that it brings.
They come to get a taste of history, to relish in the splendor of its details. And at Life House, that’s where the magic lies. The asset-light, tech-heavy hospitality company operates with the ethos that modern, discerning travelers want an authentic local experience, so they’ve created a collection of locally rooted, high-end hotels that create just that. Along with the Denver property, which opened just as the pandemic sent the world into lockdown, Life House’s rapidly expanding portfolio includes “contextually designed” properties in Miami’s Little Havana and South Beach’s South of Fifth. In the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts and in Nantucket off the state’s shore. Fresh properties in Palm Springs, Bushwick, and Bali are coming soon.
The brand is a media darling, garnering praise and racking up accolades galore—Architectural Digest’s Great Design Awards, Travel + Leisure’s The Best New Hotels in the World, and Fast Company’s Most Innovative Travel Companies of 2022 among them.
What’s the secret to the brand’s success? It’s all in the details.
Behind the Facade
Behind the sleek metal and concrete shell of the contemporary exterior, a pioneer’s Victorian homestead reveals itself in the opulent living room—a moody maximalist’s dream. A collection of whimsical vintage objects adorn the walls and surfaces amid dried wildflower arrangements. Everywhere you look is a carefully considered vignette of objets d’art. Comprising the landscape are carefully considered details that together tell a thoughtful, cohesive narrative that’s far from superficial. There are layers to it; the story’s got substance. It’s got context. It awakens all the senses. It gives meaning to travel.
Perhaps the most impressive detail of all: the Life House team did it all themselves. Oren Cohen, the property’s general manager and steadfast brand steward, tells me that the entire ambitious creative vision, from interior design to branding to digital content creation, is all managed by Life House’s in-house studio. Keeping it in the family helps the group streamline the design process and allows them to tell a more thoughtful allegory.
Because at the heart of every hotel bearing the Life House brand name is a fictional tale developed to allow the hotel to respond to its environment by paying homage to its neighborhood’s past while adding a new bit of energy to help form the future of its community. That story takes on a new form at every Life House outpost. In Little Havana, the tale is set in a high-born expeditionist’s lush tropical estate replete with textiles, furnishings, and art collected during travels to far-flung places. In the Berkshires, a reimagined 1970s lodge becomes the backdrop for a writer seeking inspiration on morning hikes, afternoons in the library lounge, and nights of revelry with fellow creatives.
Here in Denver, Life House, Lower Highland parable is set in a Western pioneer’s Victorian homestead as the era of the industrial revolution was coming to an end. Designed through a lens of a unique protagonist with local roots, the property reveals the architectural, cultural, and historical nuances of its LoHi neighborhood for travelers in search of new perspectives. The history of this place is all about curiosity, and it’s a history that continues to evolve.
Cohen knows the neighborhood well. In fact, he used to live in the building right next door to the hotel, and before he joined the team here, he owned and operated a restaurant just down the street. He still lives in LoHi today, so he’s got a personal stake in ensuring the boutique hotel property adds to the fabric of the community in beneficial ways.
“We ask ourselves what it is, who it is, that can support our property, and it’s the community,” says Cohen during our conversation about the nuances behind the Life House ethos. “And we want to earn that support, put in the work to make sure that we have a hospitable place that our neighbors want to come support. And when they do come, we welcome them with hospitality. We make them feel welcome, show them a good time, help them celebrate a birthday, a promotion, a special occasion. We help them honor their milestones. And then they tell their neighbors about the experience they had with us here at the hotel or at Wildflower, and then those neighbors come and support us. And they bring their families. These are the people who are breathing life into the property, and we want to be worthy of that support by showing them a level of authentic, welcoming hospitality that we felt was lacking in the modern industry.”
The community is responding to that welcoming hospitality and neighborhood-centric approach with favor and support, not just for the restaurant and cocktail bar Wildflower, incredibly popular though it may be, but the hotel itself. Now in its third year of operation, the hotel has seen a shift in who its guests are. More and more often, Cohen says, they have a direct connection to the neighborhood—parents who come to visit their young adult children who just moved into an apartment down the block, someone who’s considering moving to Denver and wants to get to know this part of town, a young couple with kids coming to visit their sister who lives nearby. Those types of groups gravitate toward the rooms with spacious luxury full-size bunks beds with velvet privacy curtains, walnut and bronze details, and stairs instead of ladders to evoke the the type of luxurious travel experience introduced by 19th-century Pullman sleeper train cars, which helped spur industrialisation and growth in Denver by giving wealthy industrialists and their families a way to reach the new frontier.
The guestrooms also host a number of business travelers and digital nomads who are seeking a more authentic experience than the hotels near the city’s center can provide. They come to Life House because to travel means to explore beneath the surface of a destination, to get to know its people and places to discover the personality of a place. They come to Life House to get a feel for Denver’s essence.
Give Meaning to Travel
At Life House properties, travelers can peer through the looking glass and into a location’s soul. From the LoHi exterior, it’s easy to mistake the hotel for one of the neighborhood’s residential buildings, and its hotel identity isn’t much more apparent when you step inside. You won’t find a check-in desk in the lobby; you won’t find a typically horl lobby at all. Hospitality here is hand’s-off in the best possible way. Guests check themselves in using the free-standing kiosk in the Living Room or Life House app. Then it’s just a few taps on a screen to code the room keys—a seamless, intuitive process facilitated by proprietary tech designed by Life House’s hospitality management arm, which offers a white-label software- driven management platform that’s redefining the hotel operational model with great success. But that’s another story for another day. Today, we’re focusing on the boutique hotel properties in the portfolio flying the Life House brand flag.
You don’t book a stay at Life House for the opulence of five-star service or over-the-top amenities. At these properties, the magic of the curated experience lies in the details, from the music in the air to the scentscape in the rooms to the touches of luxury that elevate the in-room amenities as subtle and not-so-subtle reminders that to stay at Life House is an all-encompassing experience. Throughout the building, you’ll encounter other such touches of winking whimsy that elevate the property beyond a mere place to stay. But should you be inclined to book a stay, you’re in for a traveler’s treat. With just 16 rooms, Life House’s vibe is elegance with an edge, with touches of luxury that remind you that when you’re here, you’re welcome to make yourself feel at home.