The Villa Casa Casuarina Miami

The Villa Casa Casuarina – the former Versace Mansion turned hotel in Miami

Set in an opulent mansion in the heart of the Miami’s Art Deco District the glamorous Villa Casa Casuarina is a stone’s throw away from gay-popular South Beach. The Villa was originally built in 1930 by the architect, author, and philanthropist, Alden Freeman. In 1992 the famous Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace purchased the Villa. Today it operates as a luxury boutique hotel, restaurant and event venue. Mr Hudson speaks to Joseph Day, General Manager, about the history of the property, Gianni Versace’s legacy, and some of his favourite places in Miami.

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Tell us about yourself

I’ve been General Manager at The Villa Casa Casuarina for almost a year now but have been in Miami for more than 20 years; much of it at The Forge, a Miami Beach landmark dining destination, where I served as Director of Operations until the restaurant closed for renovations. I’ve got over 30 years in the hospitality industry – I relocated to Miami from DC, where I got my start after finishing my degree in upstate New York.

The hotel has a fascinating history - can you share it with us?

One of South Beach’s most renowned locations, the former Versace Mansion was built in 1930 by architect, author and philanthropist, Alden Freeman, the heir to the Standard Oil fortune. He modelled the Villa on a mansion built in Santo Domingo in 1510 by Christopher Columbus’ son. In 1992, while on vacation with his family in Miami Beach, Versace took a walk down Ocean Drive and was immediately attracted to the house by the “Kneeling Aphrodite” statue and fell in love with the unique Spanish architecture of the property. It was a dilapidated apartment building when he first saw it and purchased it as his residence, lavishly remodelling and expanding it.

The Villa Casa Casuarina Miami

“While on vacation with his family in Miami Beach, Versace took a walk down Ocean Drive and was immediately attracted to the house by the “Kneeling Aphrodite” statue”

How does Gianni Versace’s legacy live on in the property?  

Since Versace’s death, the Villa went through different owners before being purchased by the Nakash family, who take their stewardship of the property very seriously. Today, the Villa is a luxury boutique hotel, encompassing ten lavish suites; the signature restaurant Gianni’s, Onyx Bar, Sushi by Bou (an exclusive experience in Versace’s former bedroom) and several unique event spaces. The three-story villa has been completely preserved with furnishings and appointments as Versace styled them. The restaurant and bar overlook a 54-foot long pool lined with 24-karat gold, showcasing Versace’s notorious Medusa logo comprised of more than one million Italian mosaic tiles. Additional amenities include the open-air courtyard, a rooftop oasis, an observatory, and more. There is a resident artist whose job is to maintain the Villa’s tile mosaic work and frescos, so they remain as they were when Versace lived there. The restaurant, one of South Beach’s most popular dining destinations, is helmed by Italian chef Valter Mancini and is named Gianni’s in Versace’s honour.

What does the Villa Casa Casuarina brand stand for?

The Villa Casa Casuarina stands for luxury, exclusivity and privacy. Guests know that they are staying at a unique property amid a busy, touristed location. Because it only has ten rooms, guests know that they will enjoy a personalised bespoke experience.

The Villa Casa Casuarina Miami

The Villa Casa Casuarina Miami

What makes Villa Casa Casuarina special?  

The Villa is a 90-year-old historical residence transformed into a luxury hotel; its original Mediterranean architecture augmented by Versace’s design improvements. It’s charming and iconic – the second most Instagrammed location in the United States. It’s not often you can stay in the home of a fashion icon.

“It’s charming and iconic – the second most Instagrammed location in the United States”

How do you keep up with changing customer expectations?  

At its heart a classic property, we have modernised the Villa to suit our customers’ tastes. Since we’re such a small exclusive property our public amenities are a bit limited, however, as part of a group of Miami Beach boutique hotels, guests can pop next door to the Hotel Victor and visit K’Alma Spa – our gorgeous new Peruvian Crystal healing wellness centre; our fitness centre and business centre. And of course, we can bring anything to them as well, from a massage therapist to fitness equipment.

What makes a great hotel?  

A great hotel is all about the people who work there. Luxury appointments, design and architecture, are all great, but a staff that takes care of guests is the most critical part of any hotel group.

The Villa Casa Casuarina Miami

How has hospitality evolved over the last decade or so?  

Guests are more informed about their options and do most of their research online. To keep up with trends, we are continually doing research, attending trade shows, dining in other local restaurants to provide our guests with up to the minute information and access.

How important is design these days as part of the hotel experience?  

Design is very much a part of the Villa Casa Casuarina experience; obviously, we’re a unique property and most if not all of the guests that stay with us are interested in design – after all, it was the home of an iconic fashion designer. But it depends on the client – some are more interested in technology or modern amenities; or prefer a more corporate property.

“I like to go to the 63rd street beach – it’s a real locals beach, quiet and relaxing and located a bit north of the hubbub of South Beach”

The Villa Casa Casuarina Miami

What makes Miami such a great destination?  

Miami has evolved so much in the time that I’ve been here; it’s hardly the same city. Our location here on Ocean Drive, one of the most famed thoroughfares in the world is right on the ocean. We’re a year-round destination now, but it’s busier in the winter when it is 72 degrees and sunny and snowing in other parts of the country.

Despite our fun in the sun reputation, you can get in an uber and be at a world-class museum in 10 minutes. We have amazing restaurants – featuring homegrown talent with chefs like Michael Schwartz and Michelle Bernstein, as well as restaurants from world-renowned chefs like Michael Mina, Scott Conant and Daniel Boulud, great architecture (including the New World Symphony and Perez Art Museum) and big-league shopping at Bal Harbour Shops and in the Design District. And of course, we’re famous for nightlife, popping bottles and all that, which makes Miami an international celebrity magnet.

What are some of your favourite places in Miami that people need to know about?  

I love dining at places like Café Roval and Novikov and enjoy the fabulous Sunday brunch at Jaya at the Setai. I like to go to the 63rd street beach – it’s a real locals beach, quiet and relaxing and located a bit north of the hubbub of South Beach.

The Villa Casa Casuarina Miami

Why is Villa Casa Casuarina so popular with the gay community? 

Because it’s the essence of Versace and high fashion to this day. His sense of style still permeates the property, and his legend brings many of our guests here – we’ve hosted several gay weddings and other special occasions as well – people are passionate about their connection to Versace.

Any recommendations for our readers?  

For the past 12 years, we’ve celebrated Miami Beach Pride steps from the Villa on Ocean Drive. Hundreds of thousands of people attend every April, and it’s a massively fun event. 12th Street Beach is the epicentre for those who want to sunbathe. But mostly, the best part about Miami Beach is that LGBTQ travellers have been welcome here for so long and are extremely valued. As a town that counts tourism as its most important source of revenue, we are in the business of being inclusive and making everyone feel welcome.

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