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Setting new lifestyle standards, the latest retreat is a luxury suite, as hotel homes offer the luxury of easy living.

What do Marilyn Monroe, Mamie Eisenhower and Gabrielle Chanel have in common? Answer: they all took up residence in some of the world's most revered hotels. Whilst ownership may not have been an option for the early 20th century lifestyle visionaries then, hotel developers are creating lavish apartments with the option of buying or renting.

Homes have been inspired by the sybaritic style of hip hotels since the early 90's, but the latest fascination for long-term layovers extends far beyond toweling robes and fancy fittings. As we see a return to an age of wanderlust, hotel homes have become the latest luxury investment. Why be restrained to the mundane obligations of a permanent base, when you can have multiple homes? For the young upwardly mobile contemporaries of the "me" generation, the freedom of condo hotels is the feeling of non-comittment, allowing flexibility to travel, combined with the luxury of a fleet of hotel and maintenance staff at your beck-and-call 24 hours a day (some hotels and resorts also offer additional personal butlers to boot), as well as child and petcare services and a huge array of luxury amenities, right on your doorstep.

However, hotel homes shouldn't be ruled out as fanciful frittery for young hedonists; baby boomers with a healthy acumen in business are not only discovering a liberating new way of life post parenthood, with attractive condo hotel and resort programmes, they are also discovering the investment potential of owning a luxury property, but without the hassle of rental property ownership.

The cache of living in a landmark such New York's St. Regis, Cipriani's 55 Wall Street or the penthouse suite of the Four Seasons, is also an obvious lure. For New York's ultra-wealthy society set, the conversion of the legendary Plaza Hotel into luxury condominiums is big news. In a canny move by Elad Properties, the newly restored behemoth, which is due for occupancy in Spring, will offer owners exclusive use of the $1.5-$9 million condos for a total of 120 days per year at any time. However, a significant benefit of The Plaza's permanent residence and condo hotel ownership programme, is that while you escape New York's harsh winter and grueling summer, your home will become a luxury hotel suite managed by the hotel, generating a return on your investment, without the headache of property management, and the contractual obligations of housekeeping staff while you set off to your seasonal retreat; with normal service resumed when you step through the door (even personal belongings which are stashed away are meticulously placed to await your arrival). For even greater flexibility, London's Eleven Cadogan Gardens, offers a five-year loyalty scheme for its jetset clientele, who are always on the hop.
The new breed of home ownership is a boon for those seeking holiday homes. Luxury villas and resort condominiums offer the freedom to vacation without the restrictions of the traditional timeshare resorts that were hindered by unflexible booking schedules. Heavenly havens such as Amanresorts' Amanya, a secluded retreat on Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos Islands, offer villas ranging from $8-$15 million, available to buy or rent, complete with two full-time live-in staff, each set on its own two-acre plot. The facilities of the company's nearby Amanyara resort are close to hand, and holiday rentals are taken care of during the remainder of the year. For a truly chilled out way of life, world-renowned wellness resort Canyon Ranch Living offers ocean front living and a 60,000 square foot spa and fitness center, offering a tranquil oasis within the bustle of Miami Beach. After the success of Private Villas' Moroccan boutique resort Jnane Tamsna, lifestyle design guru Meryanne Loum-Martin is currently working on what is hotly tipped to be the chicest new address in Marrakech, Jnane Atlas.
Condo hotel programs come as welcome news to hoteliers who struggled to fill rooms post 9/11. "The sale of hotel residences helps developers to cover the cost of building a luxury hotel or residential tower. The Mandarin Oriental benefits from fees from the sales of the apartments, as well as additional fees from owners for services, as a lot of them use the additional facilities" explains Jill Kluge of Mandarin Oriental Group. The extra revenue also allows for larger, more luxurious suites, upping the ante on five-star standards; even raising the bar to six and seven stars.

Of course, while the allure of hotel living would be hard for any urbanite to resist, others may prefer the benefits of hospitality, but without the indignity of sharing public areas with the masses, which is why hotel magnates Ian Schrager and André Balazs have turned the concept around. Schrager's 40 Bond and Balazs 40 Mercer are the latest addresses to die for, not only for their starchitect designed structures by Herzog & DeMeuron and Jean Nouvel respectively, but for their five-star service and amenities, including concierge and room service, personal shopping, pet care and babysitting facilities, "I wanted to blur the distinction between residential and hotel living by taking the best from each to create a new genre of urban living" says Ian Schrager. Time to check in for a lifestyle upgrade.

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