Hinter: A Sustainable Vision for Hospitality
Mauricio Padilla and Emily Padan have a passion for change—and, be warned, it’s contagious. Their Montreal-based company hinter offers architecturally innovative homes in immersive natural settings around the Canadian province of Quebec, with a mission to provide guests with solitude and a direct connection to nature. That, in itself, is compelling, but their vision is far grander. Hinter aims to go beyond the carbon neutrality that most of the world finds so elusive—with carbon negativity as its goal. It also aims to forge human connections and support local creatives.
When I first spoke to Mauricio in 2020, he and Emily had two cabins in the “hinterland” of Quebec, hintercabin and hinterhouse, both near the slopes of Mont Tremblant, close enough to be convenient for winter sports, but far enough to feel remote. At the time, the pandemic had forced us all into lockdown, Canada’s borders were closed, and we met by Zoom. Travel felt like an illusory concept, but Mauricio still had big dreams for reshaping the hospitality industry.
Two years later, those dreams have only grown—as I discovered, when we met at Café Nocturne, in Montreal’s stylish borough, Le Plateau, this time with his partner Emily. We covered a lot of ground in a short time, from sustainability and future utopias—to poutine.
Your properties are all located in the countryside around Montreal, but we’re here in the city right now. So, for those who don’t know it, what’s great about Montreal?
Mauricio Padilla: "It's big enough to keep discovering places. There's always going to be a new coffee shop, a new bar, a new restaurant, but you can still walk it, so it's a nice hybrid."
Emily Padan: "I recently had my cousin in town, so I just gave him a Montreal rundown weekend. One of the highlights was stopping at Schwartz's. It's a tiny little deli that's been around since 1928, and it's super retro in there. They mostly serve smoked meat, and there's even poutine with smoked meat inside. It's not healthy, but it's delicious. You have to try it."
Mauricio: "Other than that, poutine is only good at two in the morning!"
For those who don't know, poutine is Quebec’s signature dish – French fries and cheese curds, smothered in brown gravy.
Emily: "Gross, when you think about it, but in the moment amazing! We're also known for our bagels. They're not like US bagels at all. The hole is bigger, the bread is less thick and doughy, and they're a little bit chewier. And there's two places that sell them. It's the forever Montreal debate - which one's better? There's Fairmount Bagel, and there's St. Viateur Bagel. They are named after two streets that are parallel to each other in the Mile End, which is just north of here."
Apart from eating, what are the essential Montreal things to do?
Emily: "There's so many. Walking or driving to the lookout on the Mount Royal mountain is amazing."
Mauricio: "The Arsenal in Griffintown for contemporary art and the Phi Centre in Old Port, they always have weird, cool stuff like a VR exhibit or exploring the metaverse. Cirque du Soleil also started here, so every year in Old Port, there's a massive tent and they run a show there for the whole summer. I think that’s a must, if you’re in Montreal."
You've sold the original hintercabin but have added two more homes since we last spoke. hinterhouse and the newer hintercabin x are in the Laurentians. Why is that region so appealing?
Mauricio: "As soon as you leave Montreal to the north, you start getting into the mountains. Over the years, it’s become a very ski-oriented destination, and Mont Tremblant is one of the most famous ski resorts in the northeast. There's also a high concentration of lakes. You have hiking trails, you have national parks, you have rivers, you have cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, snowboarding, you name it."
Emily: "In general, we recommend staying at the homes themselves, really enjoying the space and nature, cooking for yourself, or having a private chef come over. There's a really cute little café/grocery called 83 Nord in Tremblant that sells specialty items like artisanal pastas, to pick up when you're going to the house."
The newest house hinterhideout is located in a new area for you—the Eastern Townships, southeast of Montreal, near Sutton. Can you tell us more about it?
Emily: "There are a lot of vineyards where you can do wine tastings. There's blueberry or apple picking, depending on the season. And of course, skiing, cross-country skiing, hiking, canoeing, all of those things are also popular. In Sutton in the last few years, the little town itself has had this makeover."
Mauricio: "The food scene there, it's amazing. Although there's only one restaurant for each type of food, they're all good. There's a ramen place that's amazingly good."
Emily: "The owners of a great Montreal restaurant, Marconi, moved to the Eastern Townships during the pandemic and opened a little cafe in Sutton called Mollie's. There's also a little bagel shop there, and he makes a smoked meat bagel sandwich which is perfect, it's so Montreal."
Mauricio, when we last spoke, you had big plans for the vacation rental market, building innovative and sustainable architectural homes that are both immersed in nature and supportive of their local communities. How is that going?
Mauricio: "We've actually been looking for land for over a year now because what we want to create now is a community. We're looking for 200 to 300 acres of land to build 40 to 50 houses, houses hidden in the woods. To change the way that developments are done. When we created hinterhouse, we realized quickly that you can control what's inside that house, but whatever is happening around it is out of your control."
But if you own the entire lot...
Mauricio: "Then we can start doing permaculture farms, a library in the middle of the forest and a spa somewhere else, and supporting communities by organizing events. We can start really deploying what's in our heads."
So, this is a vision for your own utopia?
Emily: "Literally! We want to be able to have that community aspect, where you know your neighbor, or even if you're just staying there, maybe there's a yoga platform where different people can come together and do yoga. So, it's like being in solitude, but also being connected."
Mauricio: "We’re highly influenced by minimalist architecture and sustainability, and are trying to reimagine how communities feel when they’re merged with nature. We hope it will set an example for other development projects because that's a massive problem we have. Everywhere in the world, when I see developments, they couldn't care less about the environment. They just look at a lot and think, ‘How do we maximize profit?’"
Will they be available for rent, or to buy?
Mauricio: "Both. The plan is to sell the houses. For people that want to live there, they can live there permanently, but if they want to rent them, it would be through hinter."
I love how many different directions this could take you in.
Mauricio: "It's just so exciting how hospitality is transforming. Decades ago, it was a transactional thing–buying a room, and that was pretty much it. Then there was the rise of boutique hotels, and then we moved into the sharing economy in the last decade, and hospitality became a little more experiential. And now it’s moving to community building and sustainability. When you stay at a place, you can have way more than just that space—you can experience things."
Last time we spoke, you told me about your collaboration with One Tree Planted. How is that going?
Mauricio: "Yes, 10 trees planted per booking. We're looking at 6,000 trees now."
How does that feel?
Mauricio: "It's cool. The more time passes, the bigger the number is, and that's a s*** load of trees! If you think about it, it's so easy. We donate $10 through One Tree Planted for every booking, right? So, it's as simple as buffering your price to include the number that you want to give back. It adds up really quickly. And all of a sudden, you're actually creating models that give more than you take."
How else do you give back?
Emily: "With the products and small businesses we work with, supporting local artisans, using biodegradable products such as The Unscented Company. In general, just supporting small as much as we can, even with the private chefs we use. The artisan who created the kitchen island and all the cabinetry in hinterhouse is a 62-year-old guy who collects snowmobiles. He's adorable."
Mauricio: "There's an interesting collaboration that you can do with artists. You promote their art, they see the homes as showrooms because they are high-traffic areas, and then as part of the guest experience, we talk about their work."
Emily: "You think, ‘Oh, I love that lamp, or I loved these sheets.’ Then you find out how to purchase those items. So, it's great marketing for those companies because they're literally having people touch their products, feel them, taste them in some cases.
"There's so many directions we can go in, and that is exciting. That's inspiring to keep us going and motivated to do more."