WHEN THE TEAM at Life House, a full-service hotel management company, is creating a concept for a new property, the first thing they do is sketch out a character who embodies something essential about their vision. These “people” guide Life House, a technology startup and lifestyle brand mashup that has four eponymous hotels, with six more set to open within the next year.
“We think of ourselves like screenwriters. We try to develop a person. And then we educate our team on this protagonist and our team goes and designs through that person’s lens,” said Rami Zeidan, the 34-year-old founder of Life House. The centering question for every hotel, Zeidan says, is: “If I were this person, what would my hotel look like?” Adding: “If you spend enough time empathizing with this character, the decisions are easy to make and everything comes quite naturally.”
At first blush, I must admit that this sounds like a gimmick dreamed up by Zeidan, a made-in-a-bottle millennial who wears plaid suits (not ironically), thick glasses, and says he eats spinach by the handful because he is one of those people who eats to live. “It’s a pretty efficient way to get nutrients,” he tells me one sunny afternoon in Madison Square Park.
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But having visited two Life House properties, both in Nantucket, I’ve seen how the character concept actually plays out. It’s effective at creating a vibe — the hard-to-pinpoint feeling that makes people want to return to a place again and again because it just makes them feel a certain way. In this case, Life House is the purveyor of a certain brand of coolness. Put another way: I might be the only person in the two-year history of Life House, Nantucket, to check into the property wearing a BabyBjörn with a baby in said carrier. Everyone at Life House is cooler than you are and that’s part of the appeal.
At Life House, Nantucket, which opened in 2020 in a restored historic building owned by Boston-based Blue Flag developers, the character is a “nonchalant innkeeper.” At the time of this writing, the real-life innkeeper of Life House, Nantucket, embodied the energy of the fictional character. Though male-identified, he chose to wear the female uniform instead of the male one. I do appreciate that this is a far cry from the Nantucket stereotype of a white guy in a polo shirt, loafers, and Nantucket reds with a whale belt. “We [Life House] don’t take ourselves too seriously. The decor is not nautical,” says Zeidan. (Not all Life House properties, incidentally, have an actual human incarnation of the character that inspired them.)
Whether due to the nonchalant innkeeper or not, the end result for Life House on Nantucket is that it has significantly upped the hip factor on an island known more as the pretty capital of the world. (My credibility in making this observation: I have been visiting the island every summer for the last 25 years.) On the upscale, patrician, and largely white island, Life House’s two properties — the second, Faraway, opened this summer — have attracted a type of clientele that I haven’t really seen on the island. When I asked MarcAnthony Crimi, the hotel’s general manager, about the younger, more diverse, slightly less trust-fund-toting crowd one evening in September at Faraway’s restaurant, Sister Ship, he said they’ve been attracting their clientele by starting room rates at around $600. Even rooms with shared bathrooms — an unusual feature for hotel rooms, but a product of the original structure’s design and part of the strategy of making the price point accessible — were sold out most of the summer.
At Life House, Little Havana, in Miami, the property is oriented around the character of a high-born expeditionist who has traveled throughout Latin America. “Little Havana has become a Cuban brand,” Zeidan observes. But Life House sees the story of the area as more nuanced. “We tried to define this [person] as someone who has actually gone and seen other cultures and brought that back,” Zeidan says. That sense of worldliness comes through in, among other things, the hotel’s art celebrating Afro-Cubanism and its new restaurant Terras, which serves elevated Latin American street food. Think bacalaitos (salted cod with caper remoulade) and alcapurrias with green plantain, mushroom, and cilantro yogurt.
Life House’s Denver property in the Lower Highlands neighborhood is centered around a fictional woman named Marigold de la Rosa, who represents the area’s Italian and Mexican roots. (Her mother is a horticulturist from Dahlia, Mexico, and her father is a beekeeper from Catellucio, Italy.) The food and drinks at Wildflower restaurant take inspiration from both cultures. Zeidan says de la Rosa, and by extension the hotel, grapple with the question: “How do you do Italian and Mexican?” One answer is a menu with items like Risotto di Puglia and Croquetas de Patata.
As much as the company is defined by the spaces it creates, Life House doesn’t actually own any of its properties — one thing that took me a while into my conversation with Zeidan to fully grasp. The company is asset-light, first and foremost a technology company, or what Zeidan calls “a hotel in a box.”
Here’s what that means: Life House sells its proprietary software, which can be used at non-Life House-branded properties — in fact 45 independent hotels are currently using it. The software automates many tedious, time-consuming back-office functions, such as human resources, revenue management, and even housekeeping. In the hospitality space, it’s about helping free up time once used to fill out the inordinate amount of paperwork associated with the day-to-day management of a hotel. “A lot of hotels struggle with software because they aren’t software companies,” says Zeidan, who formerly worked at Starwood Capital on acquisitions, hotel management, and asset management.
This software is a byproduct of Zeidan’s obsession with efficiency. (Remember the big bowl of raw spinach?) Zeidan is in a practical pursuit of doing things “better,” and also told me about how he “optimizes” relaxing; putting his phone away is part of that optimization.
The next stop for Life House is, apparently, hospitality industry domination. Last year they closed a $30 million round of funding from investors such as Ashton Kutcher and Comcast Ventures. In April, Kayak, the comparison travel website, launched a partnership to have Life House manage a property for them — Kayak Miami Beach — which Kayak’s CEO said will become a “design lab to develop software for independent and boutique properties.” (Zeidan claims that hotels using their software have improved profitability by 200% and guest review scores have increased on average 20% within six months.)
Life House isn’t focused on certain markets — it’s more where the right opportunity presents itself. Sometimes that’s in Chattanooga and sometimes it’s Seminyak in Bali, where the first international Life House is slated to open. It might be easy to write off Zeidan as a flash-in-the-pan wunderkind with just another lifestyle concept, but his track record — Life House’s meteoric rise and unique, perhaps even singular, technology offering in the hospitality space — is the stuff investors line up to write checks for.
There is also a bigger ethos and brand philosophy that propels Zeidan and motivates his New York City–based team of nearly 50 employees. “I started the company during the Trump era. I’m the son of Lebanese immigrants,” Zeidan shares. “I really think travel is one way to solve this problem of lack of exposure to new cultures and perspectives.”
Header image by Matt Kinsday
Hannah Seligson Writer
Hannah Seligson is a regular contributor to publications such as the New York Times, Town & Country, and the Daily Beast. She lives in New York City with her husband and two children.
Victoria Rosselli Illustrator
Victoria Rosselli is a multidisciplinary creative and consultant based in Brooklyn, New York, operating in media. She specializes in art direction and design for brand, film and editorial.