The Wall Street Journal

Inside a Power Broker’s Homes

Nancy Keates, Apr 21, 2016

Michael Shvo is living the lifestyle he sells.

The luxury real-estate developer owns a home in the Time Warner Center in Manhattan and another in New York’s Hamptons, where he keeps his red Ferrari. A third home is in the works on a private island Mr. Shvo owns in the Bahamas. His wife is a former model, and celebrity chef Daniel Boulud, his close friend, sometimes cooks spur-of-the moment brunches for Mr. Shvo’s intimate gatherings, where Shvo-labeled wine is often served.

“Everything has to work together. The pursuit of perfection is something I believe in wholeheartedly. I don’t preach it. I live the same way I develop,” the 43-year-old developer says.

Years before the housing bubble burst, Mr. Shvo (pronounced Sha-voe) was a young, aggressive real-estate broker in New York who made a name for himself using flashy publicity stunts to sell condos. He enlisted celebrity designers and held promotional events with musicians like John Legend—tactics seen as excessive at the time. After rising fast at New York firm Douglas Elliman, he left to start his own real-estate marketing firm in 2004.

Then in 2007, the day before he turned 36, he “retired,” disappearing from the spotlight he had created. He says he saw the real-estate crash coming and decided to sell almost everything he owned. He rebranded himself as a contemporary-art collector, traveling to auctions and shows around the world. In 2010, at a dinner on a trip to Turkey, he met former actress and model Seren Ceylan; they were married in a ceremony at New York’s City Hall with just the two of them and a witness. “It was the best wedding ever,” says Mrs. Shvo, 33. The couple now has an almost 3-month-old daughter named Emma.

An old Getty gas station in the city’s Chelsea neighborhood brought Mr. Shvo back into the business in 2013. He saw the listing for the large corner lot and bought it for $23.5 million. There he staged a public art exhibit called “Sheep Station.” Under the awning covering inoperable gas pumps, real sod was laid for 25 epoxy stone and bronze sheep created by the late artist François-Xavier Lalanne.

That former Getty station is now the construction site of a six-unit, 47,000-square-foot luxury condo building developed with Moshe Shuster’s Victor Group and designed by architect Peter Marino, a former crew member at Andy Warhol’s Factory. It’s one of roughly $4 billion in buildings Mr. Shvo says he is currently involved in developing. His company, Shvo, has 25 employees and trademarked the slogan “Let’s Shvo.”

In April 2015, he and Russian billionaire Vladislav Doronin bought 21 floors of the 290,000-square-foot Crown Building on 57th Street and Fifth Avenue for $500 million and are turning it into luxury residences and a hotel. Other projects include a 30-story residential tower in SoHo designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Renzo Piano and a 91-story, 275-unit building at 125 Greenwich Street in lower Manhattan, both with New York development company Bizzi & Partners. This project is the subject of a lawsuit filed in March by the Carlton Group, a private-equity bank, that claims Mr. Shvo and the development company owe $4 million in commissions, the latest in a bevy of lawsuits filed against Mr. Shvo over the years. Mr. Shvo and Bizzi & Co. declined to comment on the Carlton Group litigation.

For his family, he is combining two apartments that, when joined, will measure 4,100 square feet and take up half of the 68th floor of the south tower of the Time Warner Center in Columbus Circle. The first is a sexy, dark, three-bedroom he bought in 2007 for $6.5 million and spent a year and a half renovating. Considered the “adult wing,” the unit was designed to be lived in at night, since that is mostly when the Shvos are there. The foyer walls have black lacquer, and the large living room rug is made of beaver fur. One bathroom has black marble on the walls and ceiling; another is dominated by an all-black mirror and an Andy Warhol painting of Mickey Mouse.

Warhol pieces dominate the walls, including one of his iconic Flowers paintings. There are also numerous François-Xavier and Claude Lalanne sculptures, including sheep, as well as tables and benches adorned with crocodiles and gorillas. Then there are the more graphic pieces: numerous arty photos of nude porn stars and a large open-mouth painting by Tom Wesselmann. Over the headboard in the master bedroom, an Adam McEwen piece reads “F— You Very Much,” but with letters instead of dashes.

He bought a two-bedroom next door earlier this year for $7.5 million and is renovating it as “Emma’s wing” in homage to his daughter. When finished, it will have a pink-and-white color scheme and an office for his wife. Both units feature sweeping views of Central Park, the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty.

To find the right bathtub for his condo, Mr. Shvo says he sat in every model made by Italian company Moma Design. When he wasn’t happy with the apartment’s lighting plan, he bought six books on lighting design and came up with his own plan.

A similar compulsiveness guided the purchase of his Hamptons house in 2007. He hired a real-estate broker to find him a contemporary design on a private lot located south of the main highway. When the dozens of homes the broker showed him didn’t cut it, Mr. Shvo went online every day until he found a house himself. He then went there, walked the property and offered the $3.75 million asking price. “I know what I want and I know why I want it,” he says. He spent $2 million renovating it.

Hidden behind large hedges on almost 2 acres, the house is light and open, with a glass-box geometric design. In the backyard is a swimming pool as well as sculptures, the most prominent of which is a large François-Xavier Lalanne gorilla. Inside, white painted floors, white furniture and white carpets, many cowhide, are punctuated by brightly colored contemporary paintings and sculptures. The kitchen features minimalist-modern Boffi cabinetry from Italy.

Born in Israel in 1972, the son of two organic-chemistry professors at Tel Aviv University, Mr. Shvo first came to the U.S. in 1978, when his parents moved to New Haven, Conn., for a teaching stint at Yale University and later at Stanford University. Weekend trips to Manhattan, seeing all the “amazing buildings” and a performance of “Peter Pan” on Broadway, left a strong impression on the then 6-year-old boy. Family trips to Disney World also shaped his dreams. “It was always in the back of my mind that I’d be back,” he says.

Mr. Shvo wasn’t a dedicated student. He dropped out of Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv after a few months and started a stock brokerage firm. In 1995, having lost most of his money in the markets, he decided to move to New York. He got into real estate when a broker showing him apartments told him he’d be good at the job and introduced him to a friend. At Douglas Elliman he moved from rentals to sales and teamed up with mega broker Dolly Lenz.

Paul Purcell, president of Douglas Elliman when Mr. Shvo was there, says he was smart and focused and worked hard. But he says Mr. Shvo was “his own worst enemy,” alienating other brokers with hyper-competitive and what some called unethical practices. Mr. Shvo declined to comment on the characterization.

Mr. Boulud, the chef, describes his friend’s style as casual and sophisticated at the same time. He calls Mr. Shvo a “disrupter” who sometimes ruffles the feathers of those who cling to tradition. “When he’s passionate about something he goes all the way,” he says. Mrs. Shvo says her husband’s brain “just doesn’t stop. He needs to know everything.”

On a chilly April day, the thermostat at the Hamptons house is turned high “for Emma.” Mr. Shvo, dressed in a black T-shirt, goes through three bottles of water (though not his own branded Shvo water—that is in the office). He bounces Emma on his knees, affectionately calling her “Mini-Me” because, he explains, like him, “she is very specific. She knows what she wants.”

Corrections & Amplifications:
The former Getty station now under construction will have six apartments. An earlier version of this article said it would have 16 units. Also, Mr. Shvo and Russian billionaire Vladislav Doronin bought 21 floors, not 20, of the Crown Building. (4/21/16)