Miami Hotel Personality: Ciro Campagnoli of Sense Beach House

When Italian real estate entrepreneur Ciro Campagnoli purchased a fully operative, yet under appreciated boutique hotel on 4th and Ocean to add to his investment portfolio, he never suspected that it would result in a complete lifestyle change. The 37-year-old businessman who was previously based in New York City for four years now calls Miami home, and the word that comes to his mind when describing the 18-room Sense Beach House is “love.”

How did you get started in the hotel industry?

I’m basically a real estate guy for 13 years. I moved to Miami for the real estate downturn. That’s not the fun part. The fun part begins with the hotel. The hotel came about as a real estate opportunity. The price was good. It was working and operative—not financially stable, but it had tons of potential. This place has the location. The location is amazing. We have Miami Beach, we have South Beach, and in South Beach, we have South of Fifth. Our location is unique, period. We’re on Ocean Drive and we are South of Fifth.

How did Sense Beach House come to be?

I bought the hotel and the idea was, I buy the hotel, I’ll keep the place working, I’ll go back to New York, and come back in five years and see if I can sell. After I came here two or three times, and I met Patricia [Trias, the General Manager], I started running around the hotel, and I said, look let’s do something because it has the potential to do more. After one month and a half, I was in a full renovation. After four months, we had a new concept, a new brand, and I had a new life because I’m basically here 24/7.

I hired a manager at my real estate office in New York. I have many more properties than here. This is a tiny part of it, but what happened with this, I literally fell in love with the business. I fell in love with the connection that we have with the guests, what we’re doing, the service we’re providing, the feedback that we’re getting—the full experience. The food, sleeping here, living here. When I started this business, I thought, God, I want to be here.

What is the Sense Beach House concept?

I don’t have a boutique hotel. I have a micro-boutique hotel. If I describe this place and I tell you why you have to stay here, it’s because of the location and the concept. We call it Sense Beach House because it’s a beach house. We’re trying a new concept that’s providing you with your own tiny house on the beach in South Beach. We’re giving you the colors, the seafood, the rooftop, the paddleboarding, the foosball, the concierge who’s not a concierge, but a friend who is there 24/7. We’re not a party hotel. We’re promoting the beach lifestyle.

What’s your favorite aspect of the hotel?

The rooftop. We dressed up the rooftop as a beach. To realize what to do with the rooftop, we walked across the road to the beach and we bought exactly the same colors, same rope, same wood, because we want to establish that connection. We want our guests to have that connection with the beach. This is why the color here is beachy; it’s relaxing. We want to push your experience to the beach. You’re at the restaurant, but you’re on the beach. You’re in your room, but you’re on the beach. You’re on the rooftop, but you’re on the beach.

How do you approach hospitality?

I don’t know anything about what others are doing. I know what I’m doing. We’re making you feel at home and served, but we’re not telling you we’re here to serve you. We’re friends giving you advice, fulfilling what you are missing when you’re at home. The concept here is really simple. I was trying to give a clear idea to the people working with us—because I don’t have people working for me, I have people working with me. The idea was that we don’t call our customers guests. We call them our friends. They don’t call us hoteliers. We’re a family.

What do you like about owning a boutique hotel?

We have two huge advantages. The hotel is very tiny and the chain of command is right here. I don’t have to ask a shareholder. We can decide everything by ourselves right away 24/7. I can decide to change the color of the wall today. This is why I can adapt and renew and reinforce the concept right away every day. Same thing with the restaurant.

Tell us more about the restaurant.

It’s called the Local House. Why? Because we are local. We built a place for the South of Fifth clientele, and we’ve had incredibly strong feedback from the locals. The Local House is the young daughter of the Sense Beach House. The Sense Beach House is the mom. We’re famous for our seafood. It’s a low carb menu. It’s very light, very beachy. Sometimes, we have guests who come to the hotel because of the restaurant. Sunday brunch is popular with a crab Benedict.

What are your favorite things on the menu?

I’m going crazy with the new octopus appetizer that we have. It’s lentils and [crisp] octopus [with heirloom tomatoes]. My favorite drink is Ichi the Killer [made with vodka, Saint Germaine, fresh mint, fresh lime, sugar, and a splash of Albarino wine]. I’m a vodka fan.

You’re also a musician?

Music has been always in my life. I started playing guitar when I was eight. When I was 14, I had my first band. When I was 22, I was doing concerts. I’m a singer/ songwriter, and I recorded my latest stuff two years ago. I bought the piano for the lobby. I have my guitar here. I play two hours per day. Music. It’s a big thing. It’s really, really important. I can’t even think of my life without it.

What do you like to do in Miami when you’re not at Sense Beach House?

I’m golfing at Miami Beach Golf Club. Now, paddleboarding is getting interesting. I used to kitesurf. The mood that I’m in today, it’s more relaxed.