On a trip to Miami, Gianni Versace fell in love with a rundown apartment building that he would transform into an over-the-top mansion. He called it Casa Casuarina, the original name from when the building had been constructed in 1930 (the name may refer to a tree on the property or to W. Somerset Maugham's novel Under the Casuarina Tree). Versace spent three years and millions of dollars to create a home he loved, and one where he often hosted friends and family. Though he would be killed on the steps of this home on July 15, 1997, the space he created still offers insights into Versace and his life.
Versace quickly saw possibilities in what would become his Miami property
When Versace first saw the structure that would become the Versace Mansion, aka Casa Casuarina, it was a rundown apartment complex known as the Amsterdam Palace. Despite its state of disrepair, Versace immediately recognized potential — and was immediately determined to own it. As his sister, Donatella, related to The New York Times, "We took a walk in South Beach, and Gianni just stopped in front of the building and said, 'I want this house.'"
Versace was able to acquire the building in 1992 for $2.95 million. It had been built in 1930, so a historic designation limited the changes he could make. However, its construction had been inspired by Alcazar de Colon, a 16th-century palatial residence in Santo Domingo that had been built by Christopher Columbus' son, so it had a solid architectural foundation.
In 1993 Versace purchased the Hotel Revere, located next door, for $3.7 million. It had also seen better days, but as it had been built in 1950, didn't have the same historic designation as his other purchase. Versace was able to tear the Revere down to make space for a pool, garden, and south wing of his house.
The mansion showcased Versace's glamorous aesthetic
Versace's fashion line had given him a reputation for luxury, even decadence. By the time he was finished with renovations, his Miami home did the same thing. The pool's mosaics were constructed from more than a million tiles and 24-karat gold pieces; these mosaics were made in Italy, disassembled, shipped to Miami, and finally put in place. The dining room also had its own glittering pebble mosaic grotto.
Versace had mirrors from a Venetian palazzo placed in the drawing room. Statues around his pool were from a French chateau. Murals were commissioned for walls and ceilings, stained glass was placed in windows, a marble floor was added, and a $10,000 marble toilet with a seat covered in 24-karat gold was installed.
Versace spent $32 million and three years on renovations to transform 24 apartments into a home with 10 luxurious suites, 11 bathrooms, a library, and more. His changes respected the house's historic status, as when he kept busts in the courtyard that had been there when the house was first constructed; he even received an award for historic preservation. Yet the end result reflected his style and vision. In 2001 Donatella told The New York Times, "Each room is a different dream, a different one of Gianni's dreams."
His fashion label was reflected throughout Versace's Miami home
It was the success of the Versace fashion house that enabled Versace to create his unique Miami mansion, and links to his label were included all over the property. Versace's new pool drew design inspiration from a scarf in his "Marine Vanuras" collection. Much of the furniture inside was upholstered in Versace designs; a sitting room for his brother had furniture covered in Versace velvet.
Versace appreciated Greek and Roman mythology, as demonstrated in his label's logo of a snake-adorned Medusa head. He placed this logo throughout his property: in the poolside mosaic garden, on gates and railings, and on shower drains.
Versace's mansion was luxurious, but it was also a home
The Miami mansion was luxurious and filled with works of art such as Picassos, but it wasn't a museum-like space. Instead, he made it a comfortable place to live with his partner, Antonio D'Amico. Versace's bedroom was one of the rooms with a double-king bed (requiring custom sheets). It also had seven closets (a designer naturally requires closet space) and an extremely large shower. One of the home's secret passages made it easy to get from the bedroom to a communal area.
The millions Versace spent on renovations were meant to create a home he wanted to live in and not to increase resale value. This was demonstrated when the house went on the market after his 1997 murder. In 2000, the buyer only paid $19 million. The mansion was again put up for sale in 2012, this time at a price of $125 million. However, it ended up being sold at auction in 2013 for just $41.5 million (at the time, Donald and Eric Trump were unsuccessful bidders for the property).
The 2013 buyer was a hotel group that set up a boutique hotel called The Villa Casa Casuarina. The hotel still has many of the unique touches Versace added, from mosaics and frescoes to double-king beds.
The designer warmly welcomed visitors and found inspiration in the property
Versace designated specific rooms for visiting family members, with space intended for his brother Santo, sister Donatella and niece Allegra. He also welcomed friends like Cher, who preferred the Wedgwood Suite, and Elton John, who liked the Safari Suite. Madonna's favorite room had a bathtub but no shower. Several of Versace's famous acquaintances followed his example and ended up purchasing their own Miami homes.
In one interview, Versace shared his appreciation for Miami, noting, "I wake up and I work. I’m very serene here." Miami influences, such as pastels and palm tree prints, showed up in his collections. His house was also an inspiration for Versace Home designs.
Versace not only enjoyed life in his mansion, but he also drew energy from its surroundings. It was one of the only private residences on Ocean Drive, so he could quickly walk to a favorite cafe. Unfortunately, this was where he was returning from on July 15, 1997, when he was shot and killed on the steps of his beloved home.