Houston’s New Fortress of Luxury: The City’s Most Secure High-Rise Caters to a Wealthy Tycoon’s Every NeedBY Chris Baldwin // 03.04.16
The concierge desk at the Belfiore anchors a rather dramatic setting.
Belfiore brings a real sense of arrival. This is no crammed-in high-rise.
Giorgio Borlenghi believes Belfiore is the best building he's ever done. (Photo by Jenny Antill.)
If you're going to sell condos for millions, you'd better have an incredible card room.
Belfiore's lobby includes little pockets that create a feeling of escape.
Giorgio Borlenghi takes a rare pause in Belfiore's lobby. Photo by Jenny Antill
The elegance of Belfiore can be seen in the details. (Photo by Jenny Antill.)
Getting past the gate is not easy. The guard in the booth does not ask for your birth certificate and three references, but he comes close. Even though no one has moved into the gleaming tower looming at the end of a long drive, there are walkie-talkie calls ahead to make sure you’re expected.
It’s anything but the typical rent-a-cop wave.
This represents your first impression of Belfiore, a new 26-story high-rise that’s further down Post Oak, and across San Felipe, from the merry madness of The Whole Foods and Peska Seafood complex. Belfiore is the latest building from charismatic developer Giorgio Borlenghi, the smooth Italian maestro of Houston luxury, and it’s his plushest and most opulent tower yet.
But before one gets to the sparkling chandelier with the dangling crystals that needed to be put in by hand, one by one, they must get through security. This is no small part of Belfiore’s allure.
This may be the most secure high-rise in all of Houston.
For the wealthy crowd that follows Borlenghi, often from building to building, this is no small consideration. The security also helps build a sense of arrival. The property’s long drive ends at a valet station, where a small army of handsome, smiling valets park and fetch your car, all the while refusing to take any money that’s offered. “Sorry, we’re not allowed to accept any tips,” one says, almost making it seem as if it’s your loss.
Once out of your car, you are whisked into a world designed by the nephew of The Queen. Belfiore boasts a David Linley lobby. Viscount Linley, a respected interior designer and furniture maker, happens to be the nephew of Queen Elizabeth. He’s left Houston with one of the more interesting high-rise building lobbies anywhere.
Still, the art installation behind the concierge front desk that Borlenghi imagined and commissioned himself, tends to draw the most eyes and comments. It is from Carolina Sardi, an Argentinean sculptor who’s worked out of Miami since the 1990s, and its long turquoise droplets bring something of an unexpected Latin American vibe to Belfiore.
A striking painting from Cuban artist Gustavo Acosta adds to the feeling. And, of course, there’s that distinctive Linley furniture, including two chairs in a front alcove that demand care from would-be loungers.
“It’s contemporary, but at the same time formal,” Borlenghi says of the distinctive lobby. “Most of our owners are very formal.”
Belfiore is not a building for the party crowd. Standing 26 stories tall with only two residences per floor, it provides something of a private retreat within the benefits of a small, wealthy community. The units carry a $2.6 million average purchase price. Everything is geared toward that type of exclusive customer. Residents at Belfiore are accustomed to being pampered, but Borlenghi still believes he can wow them.
“It’s seven-star hotel service in a residence,” is how Mary Grace Gray, Borlenghi’s right-hand woman on a number of major projects, puts it.
That means a 24-7 concierge and a 24-7 valet. Many of the residents will never even see the building’s underground parking garage (Borlenghi likes to put parking underneath for aesthetic reasons) because they never elect to park their car themselves.
Borlenghi knows a thing or two about luxury hotel service. He developed and opened both Hotel Granducas. The Houston hotel set a new service standard for the city in many ways, and the new Austin Granduca has become one of the hottest properties in Texas’ hottest city.
The smallest units at his new showcase building measure in at 4,600 square feet. A River Oaks tycoon may be “downsizing” to move into Belfiore, but it’s downsizing in a very large sense.
“We’re selling a lifestyle more than a building,” Borlenghi says. “Our clients still need their space.”
With that in mind, Belfiore boasts 11-foot ceilings, wide balconies that are large enough to hold a dining room table, and mammoth closets. Everything a rich power player could need has been thought of, including a separate “service entrance” to each apartment so your employees can get in and out discretely. There is even a smaller bedroom tucked in near the service entrance in case one wants live-in help.
This high-rise also takes in mind what wealthy people often don’t want: Someone else telling them how their villa in the sky should look. Most of Belfiore’s units are being taken “to the white.” That means an owner gets their condo completely bare, with white walls only, which allows for personal decorating and customization. When you have this much money, you have your own interior decorator on call — and often very strong views on what makes a space great.
“Our owners want to make their residences unique to them,” Borlenghi says. “They have great artwork to display or a sculptor’s work they want to build a room around.”
Belfiore doesn’t do cookie cutter. Owners even have free rein to design their elevator enclave entranceway. “It’s about having one seamless residence with a real sense of arrival,” Borlenghi says. “Taking the care to design your residence in one aesthetic and then having your entranceway completely clash with that doesn’t do.”
Of course not. What’s worse than having clashing entranceways and sitting rooms?
Yes, it’s not the type of thing that most people think about. But that’s what helps set Giorgi Borlenghi apart. The dapper gentleman from Milan knows what his über wealthy clients crave.
The proof comes out in the sales numbers. Forty five of the 46 condominiums at Belfiore are already sold. When the first residents start moving in, later this month, the work toward making this a successful high-rise will largely be done.
This luxury palace already has its kings and queens. For a building like Belfoire, the oil crisis does not loom so monstrous.
“Our owners have largely already made their fortunes,” Borlenghi says.
Now, they get to enjoy life, floating up in the sky in a happy cocoon of elegant luxury. If something comes up? Just call the concierge. They’re always waiting by the phone.