It boasts a swimming pool lined in 24-karat gold mosaic tiles and décor inspired by Greek and Roman mythology. The Villa Casa Casuarina, the former home of Gianni Versace, is now a luxurious boutique hotel where Florida’s most discerning travellers check in.
Palm fronds sway around the top floor’s gilded balconies and as you pace up the fossilised swirls of the original coral stone steps, the golden face of Medusa, Versace’s distinguished logo, peers at you from the iron gates.
In front of the towering studded doors – which would look right at home in a Spanish Alzacar - a ‘Kneeling Aphrodite’ marks the entrance. It’s this very sculpture of the Greek goddess of love that lured Italian designer Gianni Versace to buy what is now known as Villa Casa Casuarina. And today, it’s just one of the many nods to Greek mythology that you’ll find across this luxurious hotel that was once his home.
Photo: The Villa Casa Casuarina Exterior, Lucy McGuire
This 10-suite property has been a sought-after place to stay in Miami ever since it was acquired by the Victor Hotels group. Versace’s fashion followers have been stopping at 1116 Ocean Drive to take photographs of its opulent façade ever since he was tragically killed in 1997.
Twenty years on, this interest has perhaps been renewed, following the release of The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story. Especially as film crew spent a month here, creating this true-life crime series. But the impressive level of security lures in the most distinguished travellers too. Amongst the throngs of South Beach, The Villa Casa Casuarina manages to maintain the feeling of a private haven which only the most privileged can be a part of.
‘Staying at The Villa Casa Casuarina is akin to staying as a house guest in a beautiful seaside mansion,’ says Chauncey Copeland, the Villa's general manager. ‘Though The Villa Casa Casuarina is on the ever-busy Ocean Drive, once our guests come through the entrance into the courtyard, they are transported into a one-of-a-kind atmosphere, complete with an oasis-like feel and the detail and touches provided by Gianni Versace’s design’.
The promise of privacy is of course, only half the story. Versace was known for his rather flamboyant tastes. And although his sister, Donatella, sold many of the mansion’s contents at auction following his death, a large part of the interior design has been carefully preserved. From the thousands of 24 karat gold tiles that fill the swimming pool, to the ornate frescoes and Baroque flourishes, there isn’t a corner of The Villa Casa Casuarina that doesn’t evoke a sense of luxury and exuberance.
Photo: The Villa Casa Casuarina Courtyard
The mansion’s unique character however, doesn’t all come down to the creative flair of the Italian designer. Take a tour of Miami’s Art Deco district, or stay at the hotel itself, and you’ll discover that the building has quite a layered history.
The house was originally built in 1930 by architect Alden Freeman, the son of the treasurer of The Standard Oil Trust. He was so inspired by the Alcazar De Colon in the Dominican Republic – the home built by Diego Columbus (son of Christopher Columbus) – he decided to replicate it here in Miami Beach.
Not only does the mansion carry a striking resemblance to the oldest Viceregal residence in America, there’s even a brick here, dating back to 1510, which came from the original property.
As for the name Casa Casuarina, legend has it that Freeman had to cut down a Casuarina tree that was growing on the plot when he constructed the house. The current hotel has of course, retained this title, in honour of the tropical pine.
By the time Versace discovered the mansion in 1992, it had been reinvented as an apartment complex known as Amsterdam Palace and had fallen into a state of disrepair. However, one look at the Aphrodite statue at the front of the property and he was determined to transform it into his dream home, spending a total of $32m on renovations.
Photos: The Villa Casa Casuarina Deck Upper Terrace
Depending on which of the original ten guestrooms you choose to stay in, you’ll find everything from murals of Ottoman sultans and exotic birds to beds topped with rich fabrics and elegant swans.
‘The mansion’s interior radiates a Mediterranean ambiance boasting rich jewel tones, gilded wood and magnificent mosaics,’ says Mr Copeland. ‘Guest suites come with oversized Italian marble bathrooms and gold-plated fixtures, with expansive closet space. The opulence and detail throughout each suite makes for a sumptuous experience.’
Photos: The Villa Casa Casuarina Azure Suite Superior and Signature Suite Bathroom The Villa
Photo: The Villa Casa Casuarina Aviary Suite Superior
Alongside these elements, guests will discover that Versace’s passion for Roman and Greek mythology, has also been preserved.
The medallion – a symbol of the shield of Perseus – is displayed beside the courtyard staircase. Meanwhile, the symbol of Medusa, which became the logo for Versace’s world-famous fashion empire, makes a prominent appearance and various grape vine murals symbolising Bacchus, the Roman god of agriculture and wine, can be found across the hotel.
Photo: The Villa Casa Casuarina The Medalion Suite
One of the strongest talking points of Villa Casa Casuarina however, is the exquisitely ornate swimming pool which stretches for 54 feet inside the courtyard. As you swim under the warm Miami sun, the rays hit the thousands upon thousands of golden tiles which form a figure of Poseidon, the God of the Sea.
Photos: The Villa Casa Casuarina Khayden Versace Mansion Pool
Whether you share Versace’s passion for extravagance, or you are curious to explore the legacy of one of the world’s biggest fashion icons, the most discerning travellers are dazzled by a stay at Villa Casa Casuarina. Is it any wonder this prestigious address is the third most photographed home in America?