What luxury really means in property across the globe

Words by
Zoe Dare Hall

21st November 2018

From the home cinemas and helipads of branded residences to open space and sustainable features, luxury property means different things across the globe

In Houston, it’s all about high tech, but in Telluride, Colorado, it’s about family time spent offline. In Cape Town, being green is key, and in the Mexican resort of Los Cabos, it’s wrapped up in a hotel-branded residence. 

It is what luxury means around the world — a theme that Christie’s International Real Estate (CIRE) has delved into in its Luxury Defined 2018 report. It is one of the property industry’s most overused words, yet it says so much about our aspirations and sense of identity. It’s both deeply personal, yet developers know that if they throw in a few globally-recognised symbols of luxury, buyers will feel part of an elite club. 

Here’s a look at what luxury means across the world. 


Size surely matters when it comes to the perception of luxury — but US$1m will go very different distances around the world. In Monaco, it will buy you just 18m2 (a decent-sized garage, in other words), but the same budget will stretch nearly 10 times further to buy 172m2 in Sao Paolo, according to Knight Frank’s Wealth Index 2018

How our space is configured is crucial too. Large, open-plan lateral layouts — where no precious square metres are lost to staircases and corridors — is far preferable to most wealthy people than up-and-down townhouses. 

In rural areas, the luxury of space affords a sense of remoteness, although preferably within easy reach of urban amenities, says CIRE. In Ireland, that means a Georgian house on a 30-acre estate within 20 minutes of Dublin. In the Cotswolds, it’s the 850-acre Lakes by Yoo estate, says Camilla Dell of Black Brick (black-brick.com) buying agency. “It caters mainly to Londoners who want to escape at the weekends, but don’t want the hassle of looking after a country home with land.”


Luxury at its most obvious is all about bling — as epitomised by the “super villas” of Cannes and St Jean Cap Ferrat on the Cote d’Azur, says Mirka Mikleticova, a sales negotiator for Beauchamp Estates in Cannes. “A helipad and a garage for up to 10 cars is important, so is a swimming pool, top security, a gym, sauna, tennis court, home cinema and wine room,” she adds. 

In cities such as Paris and Barcelona, where parking is at a premium, new developments with underground parking are snapped up. At Francesc Macia 10 in Barcelona, each of the eight vast residences — priced from €8m in “shell and core” condition (knightfrank.com) — comes with six underground parking spaces, plus a designer waiting room for the chauffeurs. 

Being able to see your prized toys from your sofa or swimming pool is another plus — hence the popularity of the Porsche Design Tower in Miami (pdtower.com), where a glass lift will whizz your super-car up to your apartment. Prices start at $5.5m, or there’s the $32.5m penthouse with its own 11-car garage. 

If your baby is a boat, however, you might like the Island Villas — priced from €3m (limassolmarina.com) — at Limassol Marina in Cyprus, which come with a mooring for a 60m yacht at the end of each garden. “Sailing is inextricably part of the luxury package these days, particularly in places such as Ibiza, Mykonos and the Cote d’Azur,” says Knight Frank partner Edward de Mallet Morgan. “If you’re staying in St Tropez, it can be easier to get to Club 55 in summer by boat than by road.”

Branded residences 

From Miami to Marrakech, luxury increasingly means having a five-star hotel brand to serve you sandwiches and iron your shirts. “Today’s buyers want to pick up the phone and access an experience or an adventure that will create a memorable Instagram moment, and they want the return on investment on top,” says Brett Gregory Peake, adviser to Ritz-Carlton Residences Marrakech, where three-bed villas start at $1.33m (rcr-marrakech.com). 

Nowhere does branding quite like Miami, though. As well as the Porsche Design Tower, another development to hit the market is Residences by Armani/Casa, where three-bed oceanfront apartments start at $3.1m (sphereestates.com). “Branded residences come with a name that buyers can trust and a certain level of prestige, quality and service,” says the scheme’s developer Gil Dezer. “This includes putting together ‘star’ teams that include affiliations with internationally-acclaimed brands, architects, interior designers and purveyors of goods and services.” 

Such turn-key, highly-amenitised living is essentially all about ease “The ultimate in luxury is the ability to pre-determine your clients’ requests before they are made,” says Dean Main, managing director of Rhodium, which manages many of central London’s prime developments. 


Whether it’s about historical prestige or having your own vineyard, many wealthy buyers see luxury as the discreet appreciation of the finest things in life. 

“Food is a big part of luxury, whether it’s Sardinia for the best seafood in Italy or St Barts for its Michelin-starred restaurants,” says Knight Frank’s de Mallet Morgan. “The Mediterranean idea of luxury is to have your own olives to press or to pick your own oranges off the trees. It’s a wholesome appreciation of the location, particularly for older buyers thinking of a quiet area for their kids and grandchildren to visit.”

In places such as Venice, luxury is about discretion — often hidden behind grand palazzo doors. “The luxury of Venice is Venice itself,” says Ann Marie Doyle, director of Venice Sotheby’s International Realty. “It’s about provenance, authenticity and the uniqueness of the location. It’s a privilege to own a home here, whether in a historically important palazzo or a contemporary apartment in a palazzo setting.” One current example is a two-bed loft apartment, with magnificent high ceilings and direct boat access in the converted Palazzo Molin for €1.825m (venicesothebysrealty.com). 

Being green

Given a water shortage that nearly saw the city run dry earlier this year, buyers in Cape Town prize their eco- and energy-efficient measures. “Affluent buyers are on the lookout for homes with sustainable green features as it not only makes their living experience hassle-free in dealing with the current climate, but adds value to their home,” says Mike Greeff of Greeff Properties, a CIRE affiliate, which is marketing highly energy-efficient properties on the gated, rural Applegarth Estate in Hout Bay, where plots start at R2.25m (greef.co.za). 

Self-efficiency is gaining traction on remote private islands such as Mustique, too.“Properties that use the breeze so they don’t need to churn out air conditioning and that generate energy with lots of PV panels are becoming more popular,” says de Mallet Morgan, who is marketing Taliesin, a contemporary six-bedroom house on Mustique on sale for $27.5m (knightfrank.co.uk) that uses minimum air conditioning, maximum solar energy and has huge storage tanks to water the garden.

Which all goes to show, luxurious living is not always about the obvious.