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This story first appeared in the April 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
“I feel very classy right now … like a big railing covered with brass or a pillar that looks like it’s made of marble,” was Donald Trump’s non sequitur response to a question about Common Core educational standards during the Miami GOP debate in March. But his words could have applied to a description of his 30,000-square-foot penthouse occupying Trump Tower’s 66th through 68th floors. There, amid gilt furniture, diamond-and-gold-plated double doors and, yes, pillars made of marble, Trump, 69, lives with his wife, Melania, 45, and 10-year-old son, Baron, under Versailles-inspired painted ceilings. And though most political experts are placing bets against the probability, should Trump’s designs on 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. come to fruition, the decor may see its first solid-gold makeover since James Monroe gilded large parts of White House. “Gold leaf was used in profusion by Monroe after the British burned the house,” says William Seale, author of The President’s House: A History and editor of the White House History journal.
If the Republican frontrunner is elected to office, expect to see gilt galore. “A president can go into any room and make any changes he or she sees fit, without qualification,” says Seale. “If you don’t like the Red Room red, then you can redo the entire room in chintz with no red. But the truth is, most presidents are so busy, they don’t have time to fool with the decor. Right now, the White House is essentially the same as when Richard Nixon lived there.”
Kelly Van Patter, however, experienced a side of Trump that was never too busy for decorating decisions, no matter how small. The Los Angeles-based production designer and interior decorator worked on sets for The Apprentice seasons four and five. “I was in the elevator in Trump Tower with him and he said, ‘You’re going to design a bar for me downstairs.’ I thought he was joking,” she recalls about the space that would become the Trump Bar: “He was involved in everything. One time he selected a brass rail for the bar and I said, ‘Please, we aren’t putting that in. It will look like the O.K. Corral.’ He said, ‘We’re going with it.’ He didn’t care.”
Melania, who studied architecture and design at the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia (but left to model before graduating), also appears to have a penchant for all that glitters. “For season five, I created the Apprentice set and the residents’ homes in the style of the Trumps’ penthouse,” says Van Patter. “Melania called me after the install and said, ‘We love the gold antiques and cherubs and want to order more from wherever you got them.’ I call it Trump-a-coco.”
1) A painted ceiling depicting a triumphant mythological scene (Trump Tower contains one of Apollo crossing the sky in his chariot) could greet White House visitors. 2) Numerous marble pillars populate the Trump Tower residence and could be deployed in a bid to accentuate the grandeur of the Oval Office. 3) Louis XIV furniture, including this ornate, gilt desk that’s a replica of one in the Trump Tower penthouse, is a hallmark of the Trump aesthetic. 4) Oversize statues, sconces and chandeliers populate the three-story Trump apartment. “Make sure that everything is seriously overscale,” wrote York in Dictator Style. 5) Embroidered pillows echo the Trump family crest displayed on the Oval Office carpet, which ordinarily features the Seal of the President.
Technically, the penthouse owes less to the Rococo school and is more “influenced by the French Baroque Louis XIV architectural style through a prism of the 1980s,” says David Desmond, an L.A.-based decorator known for French-period interiors in large-scale residences of 30,000 square feet. As for an Oval Office where a Trump do-over might replace the room’s Resolute Desk, commissioned by Queen Victoria (where a young John F. Kennedy Jr. famously hid) with a carved Louis XIV-style table, Desmond says such decisions speak volumes. “Louis XIV’s decoration of Versailles is an expression of the king’s right to rule, the opposite of the president’s role in American democracy. Trump’s decor evokes third-world dictatorship. It reminds me of Robert Mugabe’s palace in Zimbabwe.” Peter York, author of Dictator Style: Lifestyles of the World’s Most Colorful Despots, which deconstructs elements of despotic decor, adds: “Indeed, Trump’s own penthouse conforms completely to my recipe for a dictatorial place.”
There is one check-and-balance that offsets a White House occupier’s total control, says Seale: “Extreme changes would have to face public opinion.” Photographer Douglas Friedland, who recently shot pictures of Melania in the penthouse, says that regardless of taste, the impact upon entry into the apartment is “jaw dropping.” One element stands out among Trump’s brand of me decor: his very own coat of arms, for which he fought Scottish heraldic laws and in 2012 won the right to create. Trump, whose mother was born in Lewis, Scotland, lost no time in having the design, depicting a lion to represent his heritage and an eagle for America, emblazoned on black-and-gold throw pillows. It’s not hard to imagine the crest replacing the presidential seal in a Trumped-up Oval Office.
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