Cosy winter atmosphere at the Zhero in Ischgl
BY KATHARINA KULL & LARA VIRIOT
(Published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue 4 2018)
A striking and angular building becomes visible from afar. Grey rock and vertical wooden beams dominate the clear, modern architecture of one of the most renowned design hotels in the Tyrolean Alps, the Zhero Hotel in Ischgl/Kappl. The hotel opened in late 2012 and quickly became a popular hotspot in the Alps. The authentic mixture of traditional alpine hospitality and sophisticated, innovative design is popular with the guests. Some of the world’s best ski, snowboard, hiking and climbing areas can also be conveniently accessed from the hotel. This year’s winter season has just started, and we spoke to Jens Liebhauser, CEO of the Zhero Hotels, in Ischgl about mountain design and what makes this location so special.
Mr Liebhauser, what does ‘Zhero’ mean? How did you come up with the name?
At the time I was working together with the ‘Unbranded’ agency in order to come up with a name. After the usual search procedure, three options ended up on the shortlist, and so we ultimately ended up with “Zhero”. I particularly like the fact that you can play around with the term, such as ‘Zhero emission’, for which there is already a new project, but I can’t go into further detail on that just yet.
You manage several hotels worldwide. Which was your first, and how did it all begin?
The first hotel was in Mallorca, Spain. That was in 2006 and it was my first project. The building consisted of an old hotel directly next door to a new and luxurious design hotel. Once I saw that it was for sale I bought and renovated it while focusing on the pool area. Sunbeds were set up to provide the right atmosphere, and everything else was kept simple and white. I purchased some suitable contemporary art which mostly consisted of fine-art photography for the interior spaces. The Hotel Delano South Beach in Miami, Florida, was what always inspired me.
What is Zhero’s philosophy?
We always wanted to be one step ahead of the times. We want to thrill our guests with innovations and implement things at Zhero which we came to know and love during our travels around the world. We have a trendsetter thought process, and so we were already serving what has now become the classic avocado toast with poached eggs years ago for our breakfast and low-carb and vegetarian options for dinner. And this was long before it became popular here in the mountains. We want to provide a unique experience for our guests, one which will leave a long-lasting impression.
The Zhero building stands out immediately in Ischgl. Who was the architect of the building, and who was responsible for its interior design?
Zhero’s motto is ‘mountain chic in authentic design’. The hotel was constructed by Ewre, my own real estate development firm. I am also responsible for the interior design. I poured my blood, sweat and tears into the planning process and monitored and independently managed the project from the start. All the materials were researched and selected by me from the local surroundings, including wood from burnt-out old barns, which now forms our ceiling. Stones were gathered from the Trisanna River located in front of the hotel before being crafted into an open chimney using traditional craftsmanship. My classic background is in interior decorating: by working with various star architects such as Matteo Thun from Milan and Sanchez Cantalecho, I was able to gauge what was viable. My trips to many different hotels helped me to become more confident and dare to approach new concepts again and again. I have to build in the present what people will like in five years. I usually have a concept in mind which I then implement together with my team. We now have our own furniture range called “Liebhauser Home”. Our guests are able to purchase everything they see during their stay with us for their own homes through the online store. This includes everything from the beds, chairs, lamps, candles, side and coffee tables, as well as our very own room scent created especially for Zhero. The Hotel Costes in Paris served as the inspiration for our signature room scent and also inspired me in general.
What is unique about the sport and spa areas? What did you focus on in particular?
Our “The Art of Beauty – La Prairie Spa” extends across 750 square metres. We deliberately chose not to allow in any daylight in order to create a unique atmosphere for maximum privacy with the installed light elements. The spa area was designed to be cosy and invite guests to relax. A fireplace is located behind glass, the water in the pool is lovely and warm and the saunas are heated up for our guests from the early morning onwards, so that a comprehensive pampering programme is provided at all times.
Ischgl was nominated as the best skiing region in the Alps and in all of Europe. What makes the area so unique?
Ischgl provides a total guarantee of snow, it’s a so-called snow pocket. We always have snow due to its elevated position. The season goes on for a long time, starting as early as the end of November and lasting until early May. You can thoroughly enjoy skiing for around 160 days. There are no other comparable ski resorts without glaciers. From a statistical point of view, Ischgl has the longest durations of stay and the highest visitorship, which also demonstrates the ski resort’s popularity.
What are your own personal favourite hotels and why?
The Hotel Costes in Paris is one of my favourite hotels in the world. There is also the Velaa Resort in the Maldives. I was there just recently. The island’s villas are spaciously appointed, and the service is unparalleled. The hotel comes at a price, but it is definitely worth it. But in my opinion, each city has its own classic hotel: Milan has the Bulgari Hotel, London has Claridge’s or the Chiltern Firehouse, and Barcelona has its Soho House, for example.
What is your daily life like at the hotel?
I never set an alarm, because my eight hours of sleep are important to me. I check my emails and other notifications after I get up, as I do a lot of work on my phone. I keep all my ideas in my head and I am very creative, I work without a laptop, I’m very vibrant, full of joie de vivre and jovial. I live according to the motto “actions speak louder than words”.
Will there be any more ‘Zheros’?
There will certainly be one in America in the next few years. There will also soon be a Zhero hotel expansion with an ice rink on the roof. There are also plans for a Zhero alpine pasture, an outdoor pool, an outdoor jacuzzi and a panorama spa. The hotel will also be equipped with a squash court, an indoor cinema, a small club and a spa exclusively for adults. The expansion will provide additional space and comfort for our customers with a total of 35 rooms and suites.
With everything that you have achieved, what do you still dream of?
I hope that the projects that I built in the past continue to last in the long term. Success only sets in when you don’t lose your enthusiasm following failures. You constantly have to learn and remain inquisitive and disciplined. But bad experiences are also learning curves from which you can gather experience. I just want to stay healthy, make my girlfriend and family happy and do some good with the money I have made.
Jens Liebhauser is the founder of East West Real Estate and the Zhero Hotel Group as well as the designer of his own “Liebhauser Home” furniture collection. The passionate extreme athlete has a vision of making beautiful things that last. His innovative way of thinking and his talent for exceptional design serve as motivation for him and the teams of his 24 companies.
Picture credit © Zhero