Propelled by natural beauty, cultural diversity and imagination, Florida has built an entire industry dedicated to luxury living.
The Seagate Hotel & Spa
© Scott Wiseman
Florida is more than a single place or prevailing attitude. While its history is multicultural, this vestige of the Deep South has attracted enough newcomers to swell into the nation’s third-most populous state and an economic powerhouse. Snowbirds from up north arrived, so did Cuban and Haitian refugees looking to rebuild their lives. Ultimately, people from around the world joined native Floridians in contributing a unique energy that makes the Sunshine State a world-class destination.
The combination of sunshine and sandy beaches is irresistible to the hospitality industry, so it is hardly surprising that luxury brands like Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons maintain a heavy presence in Florida. “Four Seasons has a history of entering into markets and setting the standard for luxury lifestyle experiences,” says J. Allen Smith, President & CEO of Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts. To date, his company has invested in Miami, Surfside, Orlando, Palm Beach, and Fort Lauderdale, while Ritz-Carlton has more than a dozen properties in the state.
When it opened in 1954 — long before nearby South Beach became trendy — the Fontainebleau was Miami Beach’s premier hotel. Reimagined for a new generation, it now features restaurants from celebrity chefs and a vibe reminiscent of Las Vegas. Equally iconic but more buttoned-down is The Breakers, a stately oceanfront property in Palm Beach where high society has convened for a century.
The Seagate Hotel & Spa presents a stylish package of amenities in Delray Beach, including a contemporary tropical aesthetic that incorporates five eye-popping custom aquariums. “Affluent, in-the-know travelers looking for an intimate, personal setting are increasingly venturing beyond the Greater Miami area,” explains William J. Sander, III, executive vice president, director of operations and general manager of the Seagate.
On the Gulf Coast, an Edition Hotel (a modern luxury brand from Marriott International in collaboration with Ian Schrager) is being integrated into Water Street Tampa, a $3 billion, 50-acre mega-project. On the top 15 floors of the 26-story tower will be 46 Edition-branded residences, among the most luxurious of the 3,500 housing units planned for Water Street.
Orlando has shaken its reputation as a company town, but two of its best hospitality properties are at Walt Disney World. The Victorian-themed Grand Floridian Resort & Spa is luxuriously nostalgic, while the Mediterranean-esque Four Seasons Resort Orlando offers a sense of privacy, championship golf and a chic rooftop steakhouse.
The Seagate Hotel & Spa
© DominicMiguel Photo
Real Estate Snapshot: Tampa Bay Area
Trend: The market is no longer so reserved, but still a bargain by Miami standards.
Clientele: Real estate developers, old money Floridians, newcomers looking for an alternative to South Florida.
Signature Property: Offered at $15.9 million is a historic oceanfront estate in Clearwater, with 23,900 extravagantly appointed square feet.
In addition to luxurious overnight accommodations, Florida leads the nation in branded residences with all the amenities of a five-star hotel. Now that Fort Lauderdale, once the capital of spring break, has grown up, the 22-story Four Seasons Hotel & Private Residences is rising over the oceanfront. More than $100 million in sales have already occurred for residences scheduled for completion in 2020. A four-bedroom, 4,200-square-foot unit is currently priced at $7.7 million.
Fortune International Group, whose development projects include the glitzy Jade Signature in Sunny Isles Beach and Auberge Beach Residences & Spa in Fort Lauderdale, responds to worldwide demand for the South Florida luxury lifestyle. President & CEO Edgardo Defortuna reports, “Developers look to differentiate themselves by bringing in international architects to create unique amenities and products.” He believes the scarcity of sites in Greater Miami and the extension of the Brightline high-speed rail project will encourage investment in other regions of Florida.
Even for a weekend, luxury is taken seriously at Aqualina Resort & Spa in Sunny Isles Beach, but there is also an opportunity to move permanently into the Mansions at Aqualina or forthcoming Estates at Aqualina. Almost ready for occupancy is the Mansions’ $38 million Palazzo del Cielo (“Palace in the Sky”) penthouse that includes complimentary use of a Rolls-Royce or Lamborghini.
Fortune International Group’s Defortuna reports that branding of residential towers, pioneered by hospitality companies, is now attracting other iconic names — Porsche and Aston Martin from the automotive industry, Armani and Fendi from the fashion world — to convey exclusivity.
Real Estate Snapshot: Greater Miami
Signature: Jaw-dropping oceanfront estates; penthouses in towers designed by “starchitects.”
Clientele: Hedge fund managers, pro athletes, international entrepreneurs.
Highest-Priced Property: 14,000 square feet of Neo-Classical opulence on 2.38 lushly landscaped acres in Coral Gables, offered at $55 million.
Jade Signature in Sunny Isles Beach
Photo by DBOX
With annual events like Miami Fashion Week and Miami Swim Week, designers and fashionistas are focusing their attention on Florida, where Latin influences are fused with European themes to arrive at cutting-edge fashion design. Local boutiques, from Key West to Pensacola, reflect that creative energy.
Alexis Barbara Isaias, who co-founded the trendy Alexis fashion label with mother Ana Barbara in Miami, reports the city’s fashion cred has evolved. “Miami was stereotyped as a sexy beachwear city, not a place to debut a fall collection,” says Barbara Isaias, but insists the Miami Design District, Art Basel and new fashion education programs are changing perceptions. “There’s a lot to inspire designers” says the young entrepreneur of her hometown, citing the climate, bold colors and vibrant cultures, and believes the industry will eventually spread throughout Florida.
There are luxury shopping destinations scattered throughout Greater Miami, including Aventura Mall and Bal Harbour Shops. Art, fashion and interior design intersect at the Miami Design District, where iconic labels Bulgari, Givenchy and Tom Ford compete for attention with art galleries and high-end home furnishing showrooms.
Worth Avenue in Palm Beach has been called the “Rodeo Drive of the East,” sharing many exclusive designer boutiques with Beverly Hills’ famous shopping street. Escada, Chanel, Jimmy Choo, and Louis Vuitton are just a handful of the rarified fashion labels found on this lovely sun-drenched lane.
Despite the emergence of smartwatches, demand for ultra-luxury handcrafted timepieces is sizzling. With prices rivaling Italian sports cars, no brand is hotter than celebrity-favored Richard Mille, famous for its avant-garde aesthetics. A Richard Mille boutique is found at Miami’s Brickell City Centre, which also hosts a branch of Westime, a Beverly Hills retailer whose 50-plus brands of Swiss watches include Audemars Piguet, Greubel Forsey and Hublot. Company President Greg Simonian, who clearly appreciates the sophistication of his new clientele, states, “I’m continually reminded of how many clients we already know in South Florida because they travel the world and have shopped at Westime in California.”
A watch is not the only thing you can wear on your wrist that is worth more than a typical Florida condo. Creating extravagant bracelets is Lugano Diamonds, which arrived on Worth Avenue last year, breaking into the Palm Beach market after establishing boutiques in Newport Beach and Aspen. In Naples, Gucci, Louis Vuitton and De Beers occupy storefronts at Waterside Shops.
Tiffany & Co., Burberry and Hugo Boss are among the 200 stores at Tampa’s International Plaza & Bay Street, anchored by Neiman Marcus. And in Orlando, names like Prada, Versace and Ferragamo elevate the suburban shopping experience at The Mall at Millenia.
Miami’s Brickell City Centre
Real Estate Snapshot: Naples
Trend: Increasingly opulent oceanfront homes competing with more prestigious Atlantic Coast markets.
Clientele: Retired entrepreneurs and Fortune 500 execs, Miami expats.
Highest-Priced Property: 16,000 square feet of European-style elegance with beachfront exposure, offered at $49.5 million.
For the Sport of It
Florida is home to numerous major league teams, high-profile PGA events and some of the nation’s top collegiate programs, but spectators are not the only ones having fun. None of Florida’s 21 million residents live more than 90 minutes from the ocean — not to mention the state’s 30,000 lakes and network of waterways — so watersports are a part of everyone’s life.
Sailing in Florida can take many forms, from sport fishing off the coast of Destin or Panama City to boarding opulent yachts whose amenities rival luxury hotels. For those dreaming of jetting across Biscayne Bay like Sonny Crockett, Florida is the best place to acquire a high-performance speedboat.
South Florida is one of the centers of the yachting world, offering a short voyage to hundreds of Caribbean islands ripe for exploration. Brokers are currently experiencing an explosion of demand for larger, faster and more flamboyant vessels with prices equivalent to oceanfront estates. For those interested in a short-term relationship, a glamorous 230-foot Benetti superyacht — complete with eight staterooms, gym, Jacuzzi, and crew of 27 to pamper the guests — can be chartered for about $500,000 per week.
With more courses and more touring PGA professionals residing there than any other state, golf is practically a religion in Florida. “Florida remains a world-class destination for golfers, thanks to the year-round sunshine and mild weather, as well as the variety of golf courses offered throughout the state,” says Jeremy Wiernasz, general manager and director of golf operations at the multi-course PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie.
Offering 160-plus golf courses, Palm Beach County proclaims itself “Florida’s Golf Capital,” undeterred by Naples’ bold assertion that it is the “Golf Capital of the World.” Nobody disputes the game is an economic force statewide, generating about $9 billion annually to Florida’s economy, even more than theme parks. Florida Gulf Coast University Professor of Economics Christopher Westley reports, “The development of a corporate culture — with capital and labor moving here from higher tax and regulation states — has resulted in greater demand for golf.”
Further reflecting the synergy between golf and real estate in Florida, several homes lining the fairways at the Nicklaus-designed Bear’s Club in Jupiter are on the market for nearly $10 million. Identified as among the most exclusive courses in the world by Forbes is Key Largo’s Ocean Reef Club, where members enjoy a private airstrip, 175-slip marina and two impeccably manicured championship-caliber courses. Adjoining homes can command in excess of $15 million.
The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, Naples
Photo courtesy of Ritz Carlton Naples
Frequently ranked by golf journalists as the best course in the state, Juno Beach’s Seminole Golf Club is so elite it reportedly turned down golf legend Jack Nicklaus for membership. Sandwiched between Ocean Drive and the Atlantic surf, the estates surrounding the course are predictably palatial.
For equestrian sports, Florida is unrivaled. There are thoroughbred racing venues in the Tampa Bay Area and Greater Miami (some with casinos). Many of America’s most legendary horses, including Triple Crown winners Affirmed and American Pharoah, have connections to Ocala, a northern Florida city nicknamed “Horse Capital of the World.” Its hunter/jumper events draw competitors from around the globe, and multimillion-dollar ranches reflect the economic clout of the community’s biggest industry.
The Village of Wellington, outside Palm Beach, hosts the Winter Equestrian Festival, where 8,000 horses compete for more than $9 million in prize money. As one of America’s premier equestrian communities, Wellington home prices regularly gallop past $12 million in price while some ranches command $30 million.
The “Sport of Kings” also has a presence in Wellington, where the 250-acre International Polo Club Palm Beach hosts the prestigious U.S. Open Polo Championship. The accompanying social scene involves the consumption of Champagne and caviar at fêtes that sometimes make the matches feel like an afterthought.
Real Estate Snapshot: Palm Beach
Signature: Gated Mediterranean-inspired estates with ocean frontage.
Clientele: Old money, both native Floridians and New York elites settling in for the winter.
Highest-Priced Property: Over 28,000 square feet of classical elegance on the ocean, priced at a staggering $109.5 million.
Once dismissed as a sleepy state reserved for leisurely rounds of golf or perpetual sunbathing, Florida has assembled a world-class portfolio of cultural institutions. Sarasota is known for sugar-white beaches, but The Ringling, an art museum and Venetian-style palazzo built by one of the founders of Ringling Brothers Circus, puts the city on the arts trail. St. Petersburg, long burdened with the reputation as an overgrown retirement community, has developed a robust cultural scene headlined by the Salvador Dalí Museum.
The largest performing arts venue in Florida is the Straz Center in Tampa, but Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Center hosts the New World Symphony, Florida Grand Opera and touring musicals. In 2002, Swiss-based Art Basel added Miami Beach to its exclusive calendar of events and the trendsetting festival has helped the city burnish its status on the world’s art stage.
Other cultural attractions in the state’s largest city include the Pérez Art Museum Miami and the spectacular Vizcaya Museum & Gardens on Biscayne Bay. Executive Director/CEO Joel Hoffman maintains his institution inspires people to embrace the natural beauty and cultural vitality of its host city. “Today, Miami represents a global perspective with limitless creative and artistic viewpoints and experiences,” he says.
The Miami skyline, with buildings from celebrity architects Norman Foster, Frank Gehry, Herzog & de Meuron, and Zaha Hadid, reflects the city’s dominance in the visual/interactive art of architecture. It is also a testament to a competitive luxury real estate market in which high-rise developers showcase world-class design to sell condos at a premium.
Miami is not the only Florida city where architecture contributes to the local heritage. Sarasota, nationally recognized for its Mid-Century Modern design, is the equivalent of a drive-thru museum, while both the natural environment and ethnic diversity foster a culture of creativity in Jacksonville. St. Augustine, the oldest city in the nation, showcases Spanish, French and English architecture.
Art collectors appreciate the Sunshine State’s generous clusters of galleries, such as Duval Street in Key West, Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale, downtown Jacksonville, and Gallery Row in Naples. Tallahassee’s Railroad Square is home to more than 50 studios and galleries, while resident artists in St. Augustine are inspired by the city’s 450-year history.
For equestrian sports, Florida is unrivaled.
Real Estate Snapshot: St. Augustine
Signature: Traditional villas that complement the city’s unique heritage.
Clientele: Affluent history buffs with little interest in showing off; old-time Augustinians.
Highest-Priced Property: Offered at $6.5 million is a nearly 8,000-square-foot villa on the Matanzas River.
Flavors of Florida
“Another day, another country,” was how the late Anthony Bourdain described Miami on CNN’s Parts Unknown. “You can eat your way across the Caribbean and through all of Latin America, and then over to Africa if you’d like. It’s all there,” he said. Contemporary Floridian cuisine, in which classic technique is applied to eclectic ingredients, takes full advantage of that diversity while showcasing resources nurtured by the state’s farmers, ranchers and fishermen. And while you can score a satisfying Cuban sandwich for a few bucks, there are some bona fide luxury experiences awaiting diners in the Sunshine State.
At Victoria & Albert’s, the restaurant at Disney World’s Grand Floridian that put the Magic Kingdom on the culinary map, a tasting menu at the exclusive kitchen-adjacent chef’s table begins at $250 per person. Celebrity chef José Andrés brought molecular gastronomy and some wildly creative mashups (e.g. jamón ibérico and caviar “tacos”) to The Bazaar in South Beach, but his latest Miami restaurant, Bazaar Mar, offers a $225 tasting menu called “A Study of the Sea.”
Many award-winning wine lists do not offer a single bottle of revered Château Pétrus, widely considered the best of Bordeaux. But the extraordinary list at Tampa’s Bern’s Steak House — thick as a telephone book and backed-up by a cellar overflowing with a half-million bottles — offers more than a dozen vintages of Pétrus, several exceeding $5,000 per bottle.
The steaks at Bern’s are justifiably renowned, but for beef with a more exotic pedigree consider Prime 112 in Miami Beach, where an eight-ounce Japanese A5 Kobe filet is priced at $280. With just eight seats, Miami’s Naoe presents an exclusive, highly personalized sushi experience, but before even ordering a glass of sake, the meter starts running at $220 per person.
Real Estate Snapshot: Orlando
Signature: Sprawling Mediterranean-style homes, often lakeside, that are long on amenities, short on pretenses.
Clientele: Corporate execs and entrepreneurs, plus some Mouseketeers at heart.
Hot Property: Under construction in Four Seasons Private Residences at Disney World is an 8,500-square-foot Mid-Century Modern-inspired home, priced at $7.945 million.
This story originally appeared in the Winter 2019 edition of Unique Homes Magazine.