Every door inside the former home of the slain fashion icon Gianni Versace was unlocked.
Now on the auction block after its owner filed for bankruptcy earlier this month, the opulent 23,000-square-foot manse now known as Casa Casuarina was an open house this week as a team of lawyers, auctioneers, and high-powered realtors prepared to sell the iconic property at a September 17 auction. On a sweltering July afternoon, dozens of reporters and photographers, sweating and toting cameras up and down its three stories, gawked at the ten rooms and 11 bathrooms. Here's what we found inside:
The starting bid is $25 million. The marble, fresco, and 24-karat gold-covered home will be sold at that price if no one bids higher, said Lamar P. Fisher, president of Fisher Auction Co.
Hopeful buyers will have to put $3 million in escrow and show proof of $40 million to get a seat at the auction. The winning bidder will have to put up enough to make 10 percent of the total sale price. On the spot.
Powerhouse realtors Jill Eber and Jill Hertzberg (who just sold disgraced banker Claudio Osorio's Star Island home for $30 million) brought the house to market for a whopping $125 million in June 2012. Since then, its price has tumbled to $100 million, then $75 million, and finally $25 million for the upcoming auction.
Casa Casuarina is like the Vatican. Every wall, every floor, and every window is so ornate and detailed it's easy not to see an upcoming turn in a hallway or forget which door leads to the shaded, marble-floored courtyard. Versace bought it in 1992 for about $10 million and poured an additional $33 million into it.
Besides the intricate mosaics -- and the reliefs of John D. Rockefeller and Benito Mussolini -- here are the top ten things that made us pause in awe and confusion:
10. 24-Karat-Gold Tiles in the Pool
You hear about the gold-covered and -flaked tiles in the intricate, all-marble pool. You don't quite get it until standing in front of the thing and the luster and twinkle of every small tile changes with every step.
9. The Observatory
Raised a few feet higher than the couch-framed fourth floor deck, the observatory offers a stunning view of the deep blue Atlantic. It's high enough to see down to Ocean Drive's east sidewalk. The ratio easily favors the sweating, frustrated-looking tourist over gorgeous, tanned rollerbladers. Inside, the dome is painted royal blue with little gold stars, mimicking the sky of the children's book Goodnight Moon.
8. Who's Living Here?
Attorneys for owner Peter Loftin say there's an alleged $32.5 million in debt on the property. He bought it in 2000 for $19 million. It became a members-only club and later a boutique hotel where the rooms could be booked for about $2,100 a night. This week, there were small signs that somebody had been living there, at least part time.
7. Party Leftovers?
A marbled set of stairs spiraled down into a musty-smelling service area with a couple dozen bottles of Tabasco bloody mary mix, a few empty walk-in freezers, and a half-used box of whipped cream chargers. A relic of a bygone era? Versace's parties were legendary, known for their confluence of celebrities, bohemians, models, and who knows what else.
6. The Medusa Shower
Attached to the famous Morrocan Room, the coral marble bathroom contains four shower heads pointed toward the center. There are no curtains, no doors, and no drain for the water. Good times.
5. The Morgue
Farther into the mansion's dank basement was a massive stack of furniture put out of commission long ago. Intricate, decorative woodwork was chipped, stained, cracked, split, and collecting dust.
4. Days Gone By
For a short time in 2008, the mansion was taken over by event and restaurant impresario Barton G. Weiss. He seemed the perfect fit thanks to a combination of showmanship, shameless gaudiness, and lust for luxury. A menu from his restaurant, the Villa, was tacked near the entrance to a stainless-steel commercial kitchen. Diver scallops and seared foie gras were $36. The Chilean sea bass was $48. Wagyu tenderloin and Black Angus short rib with foie gras and truffled taro could be had for $96.
3. The Stylist
It's not hard to imagine Versace getting his hair trimmed in this vintage brass and black leather barber chair set in the corner of a men's locker room and bathroom. Picture a stylist quietly clipping at salt-and-pepper curls while Versace reads through a stack of magazines purchased at the News Café earlier that day. None of that, however, was confirmed.
2. The Vogue
Rumor has it that this room, the only one in the house not directly adjacent to the central courtyard, was built specifically for Madonna. There was also a slight obsession with the room's bathtub. It's the only one in the house.
1. Versace's Bed
The intricate parquet floor in the master suite is vaguely reminiscent of the famous floors of Versailles, the palace of King Louis XIV located several miles outside central Paris. Palm trees and lyre-playing nymphs were painted onto sky-blue walls. The bed Versace was said to have slept in is a sprawling double king attached to a massive mahogany and gold flake headboard. The master suite also contains a red all-marble shower, dozens of closets, and a small seating area with a round table and two chairs set in front of a stained-glass window looking out to the ocean.
Keep Miami New Times Free... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Miami with no paywalls.