Special report: Faena hotel opens on Miami Beach

15 Dec 2015 by Jenny Southan

The last 12 months has seen a raft of new high-end hotels opening on Miami Beach – from the limited service Aloft South Beach to the ultra-chic 1 Hotel – and there are more to come.

Next year will welcome hotel-within-a-hotel the Nobu at Eden Rock Miami Beach, Swire Hotels' East in downtown's Brickell district, the Four Seasons Hotel at the Surf Club, and the Me Miami.

With most major brands now represented in the city (Marriott's Edition arrived at the end of last year, for example) the city's inventory is impressive, and down on Ocean Drive, the art deco district offers dozens of boutique hotels.

However, there is one hotel opening in particular that caught my attention – the Faena, an independent property from Argentinian developer Alan Faena that has been designed in conjunction with renowned film director Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge, The Great Gatsby) and his wife Catherine Martin, an Academy Award-winning costume and production designer.

Not only this, but the property makes up part of an entirely new neighbourhood project created by Faena – the US$1 billion Faena District Miami Beach.

Faena renovated the boutique hotel Casa Claridge’s at the end of 2014 and unveiled the Faena House condos (designed by Foster and Partners) in autumn 2015.

His grand vision (to come to fruition by the end of next year) also incorporates Rem Koolhaas-designed cultural centre the Faena Forum (April), which will be ideal for hosting corporate events; shopping mall Faena Bazaar; and two residential towers Faena Versailles (Classic and Contemporary).

The Faena Hotel Miami Beach was the Saxony hotel in a former life (you can still see the sign outside of it), and was bought by Faena’s business partner Len Blavatnik (owner of Warner Music) in 2007. A total reinvention of the property began four years later.

“The narrative,” says my guide, “was Alan’s vision throughout, but Baz and Catherine helped in the early stages of the hotel design.”

I arrived at the luxiurious, ocean-facing Faena hotel, positioned on Collins Avenue, just a few days after its official opening on December 1 (the public will be able to stay from December 21).

Rather than a traditional lobby, there is “the Cathedral”, and expansive “flow-through space” (or entry hall) with chunky gold pillars down both sides. The walls sport eight vivid, dream-like murals of wild cats, jungles, flowers and tropical birds by Spanish artist Juan Gatti. Around the edges of the floors are delicate mosaics.

At the far end are double height glass windows facing the pool terrace and a striking skeleton of a woolly mammoth – covered in gold leaf – standing in a glass tank.

It’s an artwork by Damien Hirst called Gone but not Forgotten – there is also statue of a unicorn by Hirst, named Golden Myth, in the hotel’s Modern Asian restaurant, Pao. (Above, the domed ceiling will also be covered in gold leaf.)

When checking in, guests turn left to find a curved reception decorated with hand-painted palm and banana leaves (this is a recurring theme throughout the hotel). Alternatively, they can be checked in via iPad on the way to their room, or in the nearby ground-floor library lounge, which has an honour bar and scarlet velvet sofas.

The Saxony was built in 1948 by architect Roy France, and efforts have been made to keep original listed features such as the renovated two-floor cabaret theatre, where Faena will be producing his own show. There is also a screening room.

It seems appropriate that the hotel is continuing the cinematic glamour of the Saxony, which was one of the first luxury resorts in the city, and attracted the likes of Dean Martin and Elizabeth Taylor back in the day.

Guests will have the choice of 169 hotel rooms and suites (on floors four to 12) with free wifi and colourful art deco-inspired interior design. (The top two levels are penthouse residences.)

Based on “mood boards” created by Baz and Catherine, you will find pineapple-shaped ice buckets, red and turquoise carpeting and upholstery, coral and seashell lamps, and pale blue herringbone tile-work in the bathrooms. Many also have sea views.

All guests will also have butler that is responsible for each floor, and an “experience manager” to help with bookings. In-room iPads can be used to make calls and control the lighting, temperature, TV and other settings.

Level three has a 2,044 sqm spa with a green marble hammam, waterfall showers, a scrub room, a pale marble tepidarium, a sauna, an ice chamber and 11 treatment rooms. There is also a living room specialising in vegan cuisine, and a hair and nail salon.

A fitness centre faces the sea – it is equipped with brand-new Technogym machines and free weights, while accordion doors open on to a terrace. Yoga classes and beach workouts can also be booked, and on the ground level is an outdoor swimming pool.

In the evening I returned for dinner at Los Fuegos restaurant, which serves contemporary South American food by Francis Mallmann. The dining room, which opens into a sumptuous bar, has leopard print banquettes, heavy damask curtains, crimson chairs and a giant copper light installation. It’s not quite tasteful but its opulence and ostentation fit the mood.

The menu was limited to four or five dishes when I visited, but more are set to come, and al fresco barbecues will also be laid on. I was very impressed by the quality and presentation of the food – the crepe filled with dolce de latte and a brulée orange is a must-try.

Jenny Southan

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