They say every man is an island. Farhad Vladi says every man can own an island.
Vladi, as he is known in international real estate circles, is the world's top private island broker.
His company, Vladi Private Islands, has sold an estimated 2,000 islands around the globe since the native of Hamburg Germany founded his niche business 40 years ago.
Today he looks for pieces of paradise all over the map for modern-day Robinson Crusoes seeking tranquil hideaways equipped with lavish amenities and, in some cases, airstrips and castles.
Vladi co-owns Singer Castle's Dark Island in Chippewa Bay N.Y. He purchased the island with two European business partners in 2002 for $1.8 million US. The Thousand Islands tourism attraction offers visitors guided day tours and overnight stays in the castle's Royal Suite starting at $725 US.
Vladi Private Islands, which also has an office in Halifax, Nova Scotia, has the largest portfolio of private islands for sale in the world from the palm tree-dotted sandy beaches of Bora Bora to rustic retreats off the shores of Canada's Atlantic coast.
The company's website, www.vladi.ca, lists properties from $75,000 Cdn for Jenkins Island near Halifax and up to $110 million US for a 222-acre tropical island in the Bahamas called Cave Cay that features an airstrip, 35 dock slips and 70,000 square feet of living space. Vladi Private Islands has 12,000 islands in the archives and typically over 100 islands on the books.
I caught up with Vladi last November in Singer Castle's palatial dining room in Chippewa Bay N.Y. to discuss his favourite subject: Islands. The silver-haired jet-setter with a suave European accent was spending a few days at the castle with his wife and two young children. Halloween decorations including tiny ghosts hung in shrubs by the main door to the castle's entrance. I was greeted by a talking toy skull on a fireplace mantle in the Great Hall, a sandstone foyer where suits of armour, swords and antique Singer sewing machines are on display.
Vladi told me Dark Island caught his eye in 1988 during his first visit to the Thousand Islands but it wasn't for sale. "It intrigued me," he said. "It's a beautiful island."
The 28-room castle was built in 1904 as a hunting and fishing lodge by Singer Sewing Machine Company president Frederick Bourne of New York City. The business baron left an estate of $43-million when he died in 1919. Bourne's daughter, Marjorie, sold Dark Island to the LaSalle Military Academy of Long Island for less than $100 in 1961. It was sold to Harold and Eloise Martin of Montreal in 1965 for use by the Harold Martin Evangelistic Society. They called the castle Jorstadt and invited visitors to attend Sunday services in summer.
Vladi and his business partners made Martin an offer on Dark Island in 2002 and purchased the 6.2 acre property. They invested heavily in renovations, upgrading the water treatment system and repairing the red-tiled roof that can be seen from shorelines in Canada and the U.S.
"Why did I buy the castle? Because I thought it was a challenge," said Vladi. "I've dealt with many islands. To find an island with a castle is very unique. It was a gamble," he said. "We took a risk."
Today Dark Island attracts 30,000 tourists each year, joining Boldt Castle on Heart Island as one the region's major tourism magnets.
The New York Times dubbed Singer Castle 'The Castle of Mysteries' in 1905. There is much speculation about why Bourne built a castle with hidden passageways, secret tunnels and a dungeon. Some say it was a spoof by the architect of a castle near Oxford England described in a book Woodstock by Sir Walter Scott. "I don't know what's true and what's not," said Vladi. "That is up to the visitor."
The son of a Russian industrialist, Vladi fell in love with the idea of islands as a child growing up in Germany after reading Daniel Defoe’s famous castaway novel, Robinson Crusoe. He was in his 20's studying economics when he read a story in a Hamburg newspaper about someone who bought an island for $5,000. Vladi spotted an opportunity to parlay his passion for islands into a business.
He sold his first island, Cousine Island in Seychelles in 1971 and started combing the world for islands he could sell. "I was very lucky the first clients were really affluent business people," he said. "It led me to believe there's a real market for islands. Otherwise you would think it was just hippies so to speak wanting to get away from it all."
Vladi, 66, became a Canadian citizen in 1978 after opening the Halifax office to have a presence on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. “In the early days, my clients wanted islands in the Indian and Pacific Ocean, or the Caribbean. Now there is a much wider choice.”
Today Vladi Private Islands has 12,000 islands in the archives and typically over 100 islands on the books. New technology like solar panels and satellites have transformed island living in the last few years making even the most remote spot accessible.
The company also rents islands, including a tropical getaway called Musha Cay in the Bahamas, owned by magician David Copperfield. It boasts 11 private islands, 40 beaches and five luxury villas. It can be yours - for $37,500 US a day.
Vladi owns Forsyth Island, a 2,100-acre island in New Zealand's Marlborough Sound and Sleepy Cove Island near Halifax. He does not have a favourite island though he admits an affinity for Forsyth Island and Dark Island. "In the Thousand Islands, you notice almost every rock that sticks out of the River has a house on it," he said. "It's very much appreciated."
Royalty in island realty, Vladi could be on a tropical island somewhere but he likes to visit Dark Island and take up residence in its famous castle once in awhile. "I feel at home here," he said.
By Kim Lunman, firstname.lastname@example.org
Kim Lunman is the owner and publisher of Island Life Magazine (http://www.islandlifemag.ca) based in Brockville, Ontario. Kim's Island Life magazine, was distributed in May in local newspapers in eastern Ontario and northern New York. A special Islander Edition is on sale in local book stores in both the United States and Canada. As always, we continue to look forward to her monthly contributions.
This story first appeared in the 2011 issue of Island Life Magazine.