Monday, August 6, 2012

Versace's Casa Casuarina

Casa Casuarina, Versace's House,
1116 Ocean Drive, Miami Beach, Florida.
Photo:  John Tackett for The Devoted Classicist.
A house that The Devoted Classicist has coveted for 20 years is on the market for sale.  Sadly, it is out of my price range at $125,000,000.  (Yes, 125 million US dollars).  Originally known as Casa Casaurina, most people today call the Miami Beach mansion 'Versace's House'.
The Courtyard, view to the west, during the ownership of Versace.
Photo:  Massimo Listri/Corbis.
The history of the house is very interesting, if a bit sketchy.  Starting with the name, Casa Casuarina, the source of inspiration is unverified.  Some guess that it was named after a casuarina tree on the site, one of many planted by pioneer John Collins;  that is doubtful, however, because the house was built full-site with a Cuban style courtyard but no garden.  More likely, the name came from the 1926 collection of short stories by W. Somerset Maugham, THE CASUARINA TREE.
The Courtyard, view to the entrance from Ocean Boulevard.
Photo:  PH Design.
The house was built in 1930 for Standard Oil heir Alden Freeman.  Apparently he was fascinated by Christopher Columbus and was known to dress in costume as the explorer from time to time.  The house is said to be inspired by the 1510 palace of Columbus' son, Alcazar de Colon Santo-Domingo, now the Dominican Republic.  Although part of the palace no longer exists, there are no obivous similarities.  A brick said to be from the palace and brought back by Freemen is set into the facade, however.  The design of the house is more like the typical characteristics of the Mediterranean Style popular at the time.

The oceanfront house was designed by Arthur Laidler-Jones of Henry La Pointe & Arthur Laidler-Jones Architects, according to most sources although it may have been a joint effort between the two.  It was unusal because it was built with twenty three suites, usually occupied by friends rather than rented as apartments, and the twenty fourth being the owner's quarters, occupying the third floor.  There was thought to be some influence on the design by Freeman's newly adopted son, Charles Boulton, a 33 year old married landscape architect;  his six year old daughter Jane Margaret turned the first spade of dirt in the June, 1930, ground breaking ceremony.

After Freeman's death in 1937, Boulton sold the building to Jacques "Jac" Amsterdam who converted it into 30 rental apartments known as "The Amsterdam Palace".  Like most of Ocean Drive, it had eventually become a bit down-trodden, but it was beloved by the artistic community and apartments were usually passed among friends rather than going onto the open market.  Gianni Versace bought it in 1992 for $2.9 million, and bought the adjacent 1950s Revere Hotel for $3.7 million in 1993.  Controversial at the time, demolition was allowed for the hotel after a 6 month deliberation.  The corner lot was used for a garden with a spectacular swimming pool and a new two-story wing plus a garage.  Reportedly spending $32 million on the renovation and new construction, Versace received an award from the Miami Beach Architectural Historic District for his contributions, with Hawrylewicz & Robertson, no longer in business as a partnership, the architects of record.
The Versace Family in the Atlantic Ocean across from Casa Casuarina.
Left to right, Allegra Beck (Gianni's niece), Paul Beck (Gianni's now former brother-in-law),
Daniel Beck (Gianni's nephew), Donatella (Gianni's sister), Gianni Versace,
and Antonio D'Amico (Gianni's boyfiend).
On July 16, 1997, Gianni Versace, 50, was murdered on the steps of the house.  Versace's niece Allegra Beck (now known as Versace) inherited an estate worth an estimated $700 million on her 18th birthday in 2004;  among the resources of her inheritance were the Lake Como villa and the Manhattan townhouse as well as Casa Casuarina, all which have since been sold.  (Antonio D'Amico's right to live in any of the houses, as stipulated in Gianni Versace's will, was overturned since the real estate was corporate-owned and his pension of 26,000 Euros per month for life was substantially reduced according to various news sources).
Donatella Versace's children, Allegra and Daniel.
Photo:  DO NOT DISTURB.
Allegra's brother Daniel inherited the art;  most of the art and antique collection has been sold as well.
Peter Loftin with an unidentified companion.
Photo:  Photomundi.
Peter Loftin, a telecommunications billionaire, bought Casa Casuarina in September, 2000, for approximately $19 million.  He declined to purchase the furnishings, however, which were included in a 2001 auction that realized $10.8 million, not including the buyer's premium.  Instead he hired a Miami design firm to decorate the house in what this writer would best describe as the Florida Conquistador Style, a decor that will be spared the Devoted Readers.  Instead, the interiors as they appeared during the time of Gianni Versace are presented here.  While it is acknowledged that Versace's style is way over the top for many, this writer appreciates the general aesthetic of the neoclassical approach to Gianni Versace's personal style.
The Dining Room, Casa Casuarina.
Photo:  Corbis.

The staircase of Casa Casuarina.
Photo:  Corbis.
The skylight and occulus at Casa Casuarina.
Photo:  Corbis.
Noted Italian designer Renzo Mongiardino had been a guiding force in the Milan and Lake Como homes of Versace but there is no evidence of his contributions to this house except for the influence of his mulit-layered neoclassical decorating style.  The rich, theatrical schemes are still evident except that almost all the fabrics are of Versace's own design.  In many cases, the fabrics were especially designed for Casa Casuarina, and later adapted for use in the Versace Home Furnishings Collection.
The statue of Marcus Aurelius.
Photo:  Corbis.
The terracotta figure of Marcus Aurelius on horseback after the Antique, placed on a mahogany omolu-mounted pedestal, realized $52,500 in the auction.  The origianl model, which stands in the Piazza Campidoglio in Rome, is regarded as one of the most important statues to survive unburied from antiquity.
Gianni Versace's Bedroom, Casa Casuarina.
Photo:  DO NOT DISTURB..
Gianni Versace's Bedroom, Casa Cauarina.
Photo:  DO NOT DISTURB.
These two views of Gianni Versace's Bedroom show the entrance from the corridor with the Marcus Aurelius sculpture at one end, and the adjacent sitting room known as the Salon at the other end. The walls of the Master Bedroom were painted with fantastic tropical scenes from baseboard to cornice to give visual height to the relatively low ceiling.  The bed, a mahogany ormolu-mounted lit d'alcove from the first quarter of the 19th century features some mounts of a later date.  The bed cover is in the 'Maxi Classic Baroque' fabric designed by Versace and was included in the sale price of $20,300.  A pair of rosewood bookcases at each end of the bed had later ormolu mounts to match and the pair brought $29,500.
Versace's Dressing Room at Casa Casuarina.
Photo:  Massimo Listri/Corbis.
Versace created a Dressing Room of unstained mahogany with ebonzied accents to showcase part of his art collection.
The Master Bathroom, Casa Casuarina.
Photo:  DO NOT DISTURB.
In the Master Bathroom, the Italian marble basin on stand, shown here used as a holder for towels, was included in the auction at an estimate of $15,000 to $20,000, but did not sell.

The Salon, Casa Casuarina.
Photo:  DO NOT DISTURB.
The Salon is unusual as it is one of the few rooms with a high ceiling.  The transitional Louis XV/XVI giltwood console from the third quarter of the 18th century sold for $82,000.  The 'Knole' style upholstered furniture designed by Versace was covered in his "Wild Paisley" cotton velvet;  along with two matching chairs and two ottomans, the lot was estimated at $7,000 to $9,000 but sold for $66,875.
The Media Room, Casa Casuarina.
Photo:  Sotheby's.
The modern upholstered suite in the Media Room consisting of a sofa, two club chairs, and two ottomans designed by Versace and covered in his cotton duchesse fabrics, 'Sunset Paisley', 'Jade Paisley' and 'Purple Paisley' brought $35,250.  The modern low table with an inset top of classical style mosaic and pietra dura brought $22,600.  A pair of Louis XVI style giltwood consoles with three scrolled supports ending in hoofed feet sold for $26, 625.  The lamp on the right in the image above was made from a Paris porcelain urn with a parchment shade coverd with a Versace-designed fabric;  it sold for $8,100.  The painting 'The Soldier's Return', French School, 19th century, estimated at $30,000 to $50,000, did not sell.
A bedroom at Casa Casuarina.
Photo:  DO NOT DISTURB.
This bedroom at Casa Casuarina with a beautifully painted ceiling is believed to have been assigned to Gianni's sister Donatella.
The pyramid box.
Photo:  Sotheby's.
One of this writer's favorite items in the house was this unusual pyramid box of mahogany with ormolu mounts, dating from the early 19th century.  Purchased from Galerie Fremontier, the Paris antiquaires who specialize in Haute Curiosite, it sold for $21,450.

A bedroom at Casa Casuarina.
Photo:  Corbis.

This neoclassical bedroom features pilasters in what appears to be finishes to resemble porphory, lapis lazuli, and malachite with gilded ionic capitals.  Due to the center doors, there are two beds, made in the Empire style with covers in Versace's 'Portrait Gallery' fabric;  estimated at $70,000 to $90,000, the beds sold for $104,250 (hammer price with the buyer's premium).  The biblioteque on stand which had been bought at Dalva Brothers, New York City, sold for $41,000.
A bedroom at Casa Casuarina.
Photo:  Massimo Listri/Corbis.
The set of four neoclassical style gilt and patinated metal table lamps designed by Gianni Versace feature hand decorated black parchment shades;  they sold for $18,000.
A bedroom at Casa Casuarina.
Photo:  Massimo Listri/Corbis.

In another bedroom, the walls and ceiling are painted with classical but romantic views, and the floor is marble laid in classic patterns. The white painted Directoire style bed with a cover in Versace's 'Baroque Savage' fabric sold for $5,700.
Guest Sitting Room.
Photo:  Sotheby's.
In the Guest Sitting Room, Gianni Versace designed the suite of upholstered furniture with the sofa and chairs covered in his quilted cotton velvet 'Wild Miami' with the loose cushions in his 'Lion King' fabric.  Estimated at $6,000 to $8,000, the three piece lot of a sofa and two chairs sold for $72,800.
The Corridor to the Swimming Pool, Casa Casuarina.
Photo:  Sotheby's.
The corridor to the Swimming Pool is decorated with marble mosaics covering the vaulted ceiling and furnished with modern reproductions of classic black figure pottery kraters and jars.

The Swimming Pool, Casa Casuarina.
Photo:  DO NOT DISTURB.
The spectacular Swimming Pool is located in the new garden created by the demolition of the Revere Hotel.  The existing house and the new wing form two sides of the garden with this wall backing up to 11th Street on the south and another wall to the east to shield the traffic of Ocean Drive.  The pool is completely covered in mosaic tiles.
English tourists at Casa Casuarina,
July, 2007.
Photo:  Corbis.
Most recently, the property has been used as a party venue and hotel called The Villa by Barton G., operated by restauranteur Barton G. Weiss.  Room rates started at $3,995 per day in high season.

More information can be found at the real estate website of The Jills.  And more about the domestic style of Gianni Versace can be seen in his 1995 book DO NOT DISTURB.





20 comments:

  1. Florida Conquistador Style - the perfect name for much of what one saw in AD over the years. I always liked the Versace style be it clothing or interiors - florid, certainly, and definitely one needed the personality to live up to it, but, most importantly for me, Versace's work had none of that Anglo patrician good taste so prevalent at the time. Latter-Day Roman Empire in all its Italian glory.

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    1. Blue, although I personally prefer the Mongiardino version of this style, I do admire Versace for 'making it his own', and why not? What better way to showcase his own talent?

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  2. Great posting John! Imagine inheriting 700 million! One of my clients in Naples had her daughters wedding at this house. The grand parents lived on Pine Tree Drive. As for me, I do own one Versace silk tie, and bought a pair of his jeans when I was in the Versace boutique in Venice. I would have thought you would "covet" a house on Palm Beach more than this locale!
    Dean

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    1. Dean, although there are some absolutely wonderful houses in Palm Beach, including a few that are indeed covetable, I think I prefer the year-around vitality of Miami Beach. Of course, the old estates on the ocean were replaced by hotels such as the Fontainebleau, but few realize that there are still fabulous (or potentially fabulous again) estates on Pine Tree Drive and the surrounding area, along with the other islands that comprise the city of Miami Beach. Somewhat off the radar of the tabloid media, it is again a playground of the International Jet Set, as evidenced in the listed price of this house.

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  3. What a wonderful post, John, thank you! The sheer effort and imagination that went into his house - and his collections - are admirable of themselves. Not really my aesthetic, but my applause is just as loud.

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    1. Thanks, Frances. It is always good to see a consistent theme carried through a whole house a still have some variation, isn't it?

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  4. Although the architecture of the house, along with the remarkable design of its pool, remind one of Hearst's San Simeon (in a good way), the interiors are, in my view, beyond garish and cartoonish. I went to the preview of the sale of its contents at Sotheby's, and was amazed at how vulgar the upholstered pieces were, in particular. Ah well, there's no explaining taste, as the old lady said when she kissed the cow... One can admire the bravura of it all, but it is difficult to fully appreciate the florrid, over la top realization of it. As my dear sister says, "Hell is having to spend one's life living in the 'Heaven' of one's taste as a five year old," which is what this strikes me as being...

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    1. Reggie, I have had a 15 year discussion with an associate who contends that Gianni Versace's fabrics are a modern classic, a fresh take on neoclassicism. And he thinks that his use of his own fabric here was a brilliant marketing move and very appropriate for South Beach. Seeing the prices realized for the all-upholstered seating proves a point, I suppose. But I stand by my preference for the Mongiardino types of fabric instead. To each his own. Thank you for commenting.

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  5. Interesting discussion. Having been bored silly by the latest trend of anything as long as it's white or gray, I'm always cheering for the people who choose to live their lives and decorate their homes with passion. Genius is always off-putting to people who need control in their lives. I appreciate their need for calm, order and nothing to over the top. I, however, will always prefer Mongiardino , Duquette or Castaing.

    p.s. I think kissing a cow is much better than trying to put lipstick on a pig!

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    1. H.B.D., many people don't realize that the bright, white South Florida sunlight washes out color, so the decorative schemes can be more intense. Individuality should be embraced more in interior design, but that wouldn't sell magazines which now seem to be geared more to achievable schemes for do-it-yourselfers. I agree with you; Castaing, Duquette, and Mongiardino are great sources of inspiration. Thanks for commenting.

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  6. Great post, of a place that has always intrigued me.

    Still kinda miss Gianni. Were he still around, perhaps we wouldn't have to see so much of his sister. Or perhaps he would never have let her get that way. I guess we'll never know...

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    1. I see your point, Thombeau! Thank you for commenting.

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  7. I lived in Miami while all this was going on, pre Versace, post Versace etc. Whether you like the house or not, the location, while attractive from afar, is a nightmare. Very small lots, right in the middle of all that riffraff that visits Ocean Drive. No way would I pay $129 million. Forgetting the interior design, the house has marvelous architecture and details but the location...no!

    As you say, there are better places like the Sunset Islands and Star Island where Al Capone lived.

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    1. Yes, Julietta, but it would be a good location to revive the old Southern tradition of receiving visitors "At Home", would it not? Very well; you have convinced me.

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  8. It's all rather as if Vizcaya and Hearst castle mated and gave birth to a crack baby, isn't it?

    I loved it and was speechless when it was first done, and my feelings have not changed

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    1. D.E.D., you've hit on it exactly! Thankfully, Versace resisted covering over the courtyard as was later done at Vizcaya. But clearly the house would have benefited from a big, central, high-ceiling room. And surely both pools at Hearst Castle were an inspiration to the opulent display here. But I really appreciate that Versace had this vision for a oceanfront villa that he thoroughly carried through to achieve.

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  9. What an extravagant home! Very Versace! When I see this home, I am always reminded of his tragic death. The house is too opulent for me, but I LOVE the courtyard. Though it is in the Cuban style, it reminds me of a Moroccan riad. So private and beautifully enclosed.
    Cheers,
    Loi

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    1. Although Versace's death plays a significant part in the history of the house, I prefer not to focus on that sad incident and the whole story which we'll probably never know. And of course, tourists had their picture taken on those steps before the murder. But that probably ruled out any consideration of keeping the house as a tribute to Gianni Versace. It worked for Graceland, generating revenue never before even imagined.

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    2. If this was in Italy, particularly Milan, probably would be an important house museum as it represents the total Versace experience: from the china to the furniture to the textiles.

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    3. I agree, Loi. It was a missed opportunity for excellent public relations for the Versace label. I can understand, in this case with so much uncertainty for longtime success for the brand, wanting to 'cash out' however. Thank you for commenting.

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