Charismatic, slightly mysterious, and more than a little Gatsby-like, Argentine developer Alan Faena is a man everybody in the art and design worlds knows of, but whom far fewer—particularly outside his home country—truly know much about. He’s the instantly recognizable guy who dresses in all white and with sartorial flourishes that range from gaucho-inspired ensembles to theatrical capes and kimonos trimmed in gold. And hats, always hats.
He’s also the mastermind behind high-profile residential-hotel-cultural developments in Buenos Aires and Miami Beach—realized in collaboration with star architects and designers and backed by his billionaire business partner Len Blavatnik. Miami’s $1.2 billion Faena District, spanning six blocks along a previously sleepy stretch of Mid-Beach, is anchored by the Faena Hotel, with flamboyantly chic interiors by Hollywood husband-and-wife duo Baz Luhrmann and Catherine Martin, a restaurant by Argentine grilling guru Francis Mallmann, and a cabaret. There’s also a lower-tier hotel called Casa Faena and an eye-catching condo building by Foster + Partners, as well as the Faena Forum cultural center and the Faena Bazaar retail complex, both designed by architect Rem Koolhaas’s firm OMA. It all adds up to what Faena has referred to as “a total artwork.”
That self-assured, individualistic spirit comes through in his various homes—in Buenos Aires, Miami Beach, the Uruguayan beach town of José Ignacio, and, most recently, New York City, where Faena is spending more time these days. His two-bedroom apartment there, in a building by Foster + Partners in the heart of Chelsea, near the High Line, offers glorious, unimpeded views out over the Hudson River.
“What I like about Foster and his team is that they create a traditional architecture I love,” says Faena. “I don’t like those buildings that can be very nice for pictures and renderings, but then you have to live with this kind of modern form that’s not very comfortable.”
People familiar with Faena’s Miami home will no doubt be surprised by this apartment. Gone are the over-the-top colors and the riot of animal prints, the dense displays of art, crystals, and other objects. In these airy, modestly scaled spaces you find almost exclusively shades of white and warm golden accents. If, as Faena has said, his homes are temples, Miami is his Baroque cathedral and New York is his Zen monastic retreat. Faena began renovating the apartment not long after he separated from his wife, curator Ximena Caminos, with whom he has a nine-year-old son, Noa.
Not that the apartment lacks glamour. It was conceived as an homage to 1970s New York style, with Halston as a specific reference point. Working with Manhattan designer Melissa Bowers, Faena installed silk-velvet-upholstered window seats throughout—perfect for stylish perching (“Alan is like a cat,” Bowers says)—laid down cozy wall-to-wall carpeting in the master bedroom and added mirrors to ceilings and walls.
The goal was to amplify the light and views. “You have the sunset that’s spectacular on the water, and everything becomes gold and magenta with the reflections in the mirror,” says Faena. “I allow this space to become part of nature. It’s why we didn’t want to bring any art into the living room, so that nothing would take away that feeling, that purity of the amazing sunset.”
Anchoring the living room is a sprawling, circular, very ’70s Milo Baughman sofa covered in a sumptuous velvet. It wraps around a biomorphic marble table, where a massive cluster of Bolivian crystals serves as an arresting centerpiece (Faena appreciates “their energy”); the effect is like a classic conversation pit. “Alan enjoys entertaining, and he loves to sit in big groups,” says Bowers, who worked for Faena on the Miami development and is very familiar with how he likes to live. “Everything is soft and low—it’s his aesthetic,” she says.
In the master bedroom, they chose a carpeted platform bed, backed by a wall of mirrors, taking inspiration from the one slept in by Faye Dunaway’s fashion photographer character in the 1978 movie Eyes of Laura Mars. A vintage Danish chandelier in brass and amber glass hangs overhead, while most of another wall is occupied by a 1930s Japanese screen painted with a life-sized tiger standing in snow against a gleaming gold background.
The second, more plainly furnished bedroom is for Noa, and it has also served as a space where Faena sings and writes Spanish-language love songs, a ritual he took up after his split from Caminos. Lately, however, he says his focus has been on work. And when he’s in New York, that means sitting in the small library off the living room.
Faena takes meetings around a François Bauchet felt-in-resin coffee table, beneath paintings by Argentine artists Pablo Siquier and Graciela Hasper and a portrait of Faena (in his signature all-white look) by Julian Schnabel. His major preoccupations in recent months have included Miami’s Faena Bazaar and, last December, the debut of the annual Faena Festival, a multi-venue program of installations and performances that represents “an alchemy of creative collaboration to elevate people,” he says.
Never one to shy away from grand pronouncements or seductive self-mythologizing, Faena has also recently published a memoir, Alchemy & Creative Collaboration: Architecture, Design, Art (Rizzoli), in which he paints a portrait of himself as an unabashed original. Describing his work in Miami, he writes that he wasn’t just thinking big but “inventing a new kingdom or universe.” And he’s looking to take his magic touch elsewhere, promising announcements soon about new Faena developments in yet-to-be-disclosed locations. “I don’t see myself opening just a hotel, selling beds,” he says. “I will go only to places where we can continue making this magic, these creative collaborations. Every time Faena works in a city, we change it. We make it a better place.”