November 1st, 2008
by James Servin
He's a one-man powerhouse. A property developer who has transformed swathes of run-down Miami. Craig Robins shows James Servin around the home he uses for relaxing and socialising with Robert Downey Jr. Photographs Mike Butler
In the sunlight-filled living room of his waterfront home within Aqua, a gated community on north Miami Beach in Florida, Craig Robins is seated on a whimsical composition made up of stuffed animals sewn together - an oversized chair by Brazilian designers Fernando and Humberto Campana. He sips an espresso, places the cup down on the maple table in front of him and rests an elbow on top of a lion's head, a fitting gesture for the king of the Miami property jungle.
'When I started out, conventional wisdom was that there was nothing you could do with the decrepit Art Deco structures in Miami,' says Robins, one of the city's most successful property developers, and that the best thing would be to tear them down. I realised that doing something special with a neighbourhood increases the value of the whole city.' A youthful 45-year-old who projects urban cool, Robins made a name for himself in the Nineties by restoring properties along South Beach into a strip now famed for its stylish bars and vibrant nightlife, which added cachet to the city, attracting celebrity residents like Matt Damon and Jennifer Lopez.
Impressive as that was, he didn't stop there and went on to oversee the revitalisation of the Design District, where he turned abandoned factories into an artists' community and upmarket shopping area. He also founded the Design Miami festival and introduced the Art Basel Miami Beach fair in 2001. On a more personal as well as business level, in 1992 Robins's property company, Dacra Development, paid $I2m for a plot of land on nearby Allison Island - once the site of the hospital where he was born. Working with 10 prominent architects, including Alison Spear and Alexander Gorlin, he built Aqua, a private residential community - and included a house for himself. The candy pastels of the 46 low-rise private homes reference the historic Deco look, but the buildings are modern and varied, a sophisticated alternative to the cookie-cutter condos proliferating in Miami.
In addition to the house he owns in Aqua, Robins owns a duplex on New York's Fifth Avenue and another 8,000sq ft residence on nearby Sunset Island, which is his family home. This is a Forties' Mediterranean-Deco style, two-storey four-bed, where Robins raises his three children - two boys and a girl, aged 8, 10 and 16 - for the part of the week when they are not with their mother, Spanish TV actress Ivelin Giro. Robins's ex-wife who lives a block away.
For his own home in Aqua, Robins chose a prime plot ofland facing Indian Creek and commissioned architect Alan Schulman to build a four-storey house. Here Robins entertains friends such as Pharrell Williams and Busta Rhymes, whom he met through his ex-business partner Chris Blackwell -founder of Island Records - and displays a modern art collection that includes an abstract watcrcolour by American post-minimalist Richard Tuttle in the kitchen.
'It's a joyous house,' Robins says. 'It's quiet and peaceful, on a private island that to me is like an oasis.' It's a costly one, though, with residences ranging in price from $2m to $10m. (He won't say how much he paid for his home but reveals that the house next door recently sold for $6.5m.)
Robins insisted that comfortable fabrics and furniture coverings, elegant wallpapers and wood furniture should be used throughout to imbue the place with warmth. A stairway lined with first-edition Goya prints winds from the second-floor living room, dining room, den and kitchen, up to the master bedroom and bath, and finally to 4 a hedge-lined rooftop. You imagine raucous parties with guests spilling out on either side, but Robins respects his neighbours: "I love music, but I don't blast it," he says.
Indeed, when Robins entertains he prefers intimate gatherings to huge parties. 'I don't do cocktail parties. I like to socialise around a meal,' he says. Last Christmas, Robert Downey Jr was a house guest - the Chinese-coin necklace he is wearing is a gift from the actor.
While Robins plans to recreate larger versions of the Aqua model in cities throughout the world - Dubai, for example -he says he's proud of what he's accomplished in Miami, and in particular with the look and feel of his home, I like the interior as it's very simple,' says Robins. 'It's orientated towards exhibiting art and design.'
He turns, looks out of his living room window at the Miami skyline he helped in no small way to create, and smiles.