International SA Design Star Colin Cowie’s Lust for Life

Colin Cowie, born in Zambia and raised in South Africa, is an international design star who has created events from brunches and lobster roasts to elaborate weddings, corporate launches, the amenities on the NetJet private planes, even a party for Barbie’s 50th birthday. His clients include Jennifer Lopez, Tom Cruise, Oprah Winfrey and several royals. He is based in New York City, and makes frequent appearances on the “Today” show, but bounces around the globe like an energetic ping pong ball. He has been going to Miami for decades. “I love the Latin culture, the people,” he says. “It’s a fun city, the Manhattan of the Caribbean.”

One Park Grove, the huge condo project in Coconut Grove, with apartments selling from $2 million to $11 million when it was planned in 2016, was Cowie’s first time designing amenities for a lifestyle building, supplying the accents that make it special: “Everything down to the color of the buttons on the valets,” he says. “The fragrance. The thread-count of the towels at the pool. The programmable music. What you smell, touch, taste from the time you arrive until you leave.”

He also planned a charming shop in Park Grove’s cream-and-bronze lobby. “So you can buy small bouquets of flowers there,” he says. “Have a snack, a coffee. If you’re on your way to see a resident, or if you’re on your way out to see someone, you’ll have a convenient place to pick up a candle or fragrance.”

That would be especially appropriate if you are headed for a Colin Cowie-inspired dinner party where there are certain to be flowers and candles. “There can never be too many candles,” he says. He believes parties should have a color theme, from invitation to table settings. He favors tasteful pastels and monochromes – although he is likely to call the colors “nude,” “champagne” and “oyster” – or bold combinations like lime green, turquoise and purple. He has other obvious tips: good music, interesting food, little table vignettes, no flowers in the center of the table taller than 12 inches. He even has suggestions for mixing up the guest list, inviting interesting people outside your normal circle and carefully planning your seating chart. He has advice for dinner guests as well: turn up on time, a rarity in Miami; do not bring an additional person as a surprise, unless it’s Oprah, and make an effort to dress up and be entertaining.

For those who are unsure of their own style, he has written several guidebooks that offer recipes, multitudes of ideas and gorgeous photos. Moreover, he can supply Colin Cowie sanctified dishware, glassware, napkins, throws, candle holders, table runners, vases, ornaments and oddities through the Home Shopping Network.

But having a memorable party requires more than that. People may forget the menu or the color of the flowers. “But people will never forget how you make them feel,” he says.

His mantra is one you don’t hear from Martha Stewart. It’s to make people feel welcome and comfortable. To make sure that everyone gets some personal attention, no matter how large the event. To consider guests’ feelings, treat them with kindness and to lead them on a journey for the evening. “My true passion comes from creating experiences,” Cowie says.  Planning a party, he says, is not merely an attempt to wow people, or show off your budget.

A party is, however, always an opportunity to make life more fun, something he finds particularly right for Coconut Grove. He admires the Grove’s vibrant and inspiring history, including not only its early Bahamian settlement, the glamorous period in the 50s when Pan Am made the Grove its home base, the hippies in the 60s, and the louche disco era at the Mutiny Club in the 70s, but also its reputation in the yachting world for having a huge marina with small town charm. “It’s kind of vintage Florida and has such an interesting provenance,” he says. “It’s interesting to let that provenance shine again. It’s going to be very glamorous again.”

As an arbiter of style, Cowie has no match in Miami. “We studied every amenity from every building going up,” he says, “and what we’re doing is going to be distinguished and classy compared to what everyone else is doing.

“I’ve visited a hundred countries in search of the best, so I have a pretty good idea how to program a place like Park Grove.”

As with many things in Miami, however, planning is one thing and completing is another. Two Park Grove has opened, although Cowie had nothing to do with amenities there. One Park Grove, which has spectacular views and is closer to the water, is not expected to be completed until late 2019. – Linda Lee

Published 2016