Beauty and the Beast: Donald Trump as the Interior Decorator in Chief

Given the latest news about these immigrant raids, this post will seem out of touch, tonally off. I apologize in advance, though I wonder if there’s a connection.

Like all of you, I’ve been thinking a lot about Trump. His The Art of the Deal has been sitting with me, in my head, for the last several weeks. The book’s salient theme, the thing that marks Trump most, is not, as many people have noted, that he’s any kind of great capitalist or builder of buildings.

Nor is it that he’s any kind of great dealmaker. When you read about his deals, you feel as if he is as bored as you are, though, God, can he drone on about the details.

But there is one type of moment when you really feel like you’re in the presence of the man himself, when you feel as if the response he is registering is genuine. And that is when he’s decorating.

Trump seems to be sincerely moved by the surface of things. The surfaces are garish and gauche, but you sense some kind of inner stirring in him when he writes about those surfaces, a stirring you otherwise never feel.

This is just one representative passage, where he’s talking the atrium in the Trump Tower:

Der, Ivana, and I looked at hundreds of marble samples. Finally, we came upon something called Breccia Perniche, a rare marble in a color none of us had ever seen before—an exquisite blend of rose, peach, and pink that literally took our breath away… it was a very irregular marble. When we went to the quarry, we discovered that much of the marble contained large white spots and white veins. That was jarring to me and took away from the beauty of the stone. So we ended up going tot he quarry with black tape and marking off the slabs that were the best….

The effect was heightened by the fact that we used so much marble—on the floors and for the walls six full floors up. It created a very luxurious and a very exciting feeling. Invariably, people comment that the atrium—and the color of the marble particularly—is friendly and flattering, but also vibrant and energizing—all things you want people to feel when they shop:…

Of course, the marble was only art of it. The whole atrium space was very dramatic and different. Rather than making the railings out of aluminum, which is cheap and practical, we used polished brass, which was much more expensive but also more elegant, and which blended wonderfully with the color of the marble. Then we used a lot of reflective glass, particularly on the sides of the escalators. That was critical, because it made a fairly small core space look far larger and more dramatic.

Notice the specificity of his observations, his eye for certain details. Notice the irrepressible joy, almost awe, he experiences and expresses. Notice how loving, wistful, aroused he is, by the play of surfaces. It’s hard to believe he’s faking any of this. It seems, to me at least, quite real.

As I said, these are the only types of moments when you feel as if he’s truly present, engaged with what is happening around him.

What’s more, he seems to have brought the same sensibility into the White House. When he’s not fretting about his ratings or ranting about what’s being said about him on Twitter or TV, decorating is the only thing that captures his attention:

To pass the time between meetings, Mr. Trump gives quick tours to visitors, highlighting little tweaks he has made after initially expecting he would have to pay for them himself.

…He will linger on the opulence of the newly hung golden drapes, which he told a recent visitor were once used by Franklin D. Roosevelt but in fact were patterned for Bill Clinton. For a man who sometimes has trouble concentrating on policy memos, Mr. Trump was delighted to page through a book that offered him 17 window covering options.

Again, in building after building that he describes in The Art of the Deal, it’s a similar story: not a mention of plumbing, electricity, basic architectural or engineering design; instead, there are long, loving descriptions of the various window treatments he’s considering.

It’s that Wildean obsession with surface effects, that almost tender regard for the beauty of appearances, that marks the man.

That, and his brutality.


  1. sharon February 10, 2017 at 6:43 pm | #

    Fred Trump would have killed him if he’d ever expressed this side of himself. It may explain a lot. I wonder if the decor in DJT’s homes looked different when Fred was alive and then after Fred died.

  2. phatkhat February 10, 2017 at 6:48 pm | #

    Hitler loved beauty, as well, though more so nature rather than architecture, I think. It seems many dictators have a soft spot for loveliness, ironically.

  3. stevelaudig February 10, 2017 at 6:55 pm | #

    So he will be “potemkining” away? Brings to mind how nice the levees must have looked in mid-August 2005.

  4. mark February 11, 2017 at 4:59 am | #

    If, as you have argued elsewhere, Conservatives alternate between acts of domination and a feeling of being victimised, the cultural offshoot of that psychology is to flip between snobbery and inverted snobbery, between an aesthetic of Versailles and the wearing of sloganed-up baseball caps?

    • Corey Robin February 11, 2017 at 8:48 am | #

      Mark, that makes a lot of sense! Hadn’t thought of it that way.

  5. Tim Clark February 11, 2017 at 12:39 pm | #

    That would explain the turnover of his wives. Whenever the luster tarnishes its off to the quarry to find a new one.

  6. BBethany February 11, 2017 at 3:33 pm | #

    I’ve known people who are completely unafraid to express extreme political views but live in a world of obsessively observed rules and codes when it comes to choices about hair/clothes/decor – choices where non-conformism would lead to mild opprobrium at worst.

    Interesting that Trump was outraged at Sean Spicer for making himself the subject of ridicule by wearing a light-coloured suit with a collar gap, but not, so far, at Flynn for bare-faced lying.

  7. gigiistheone February 13, 2017 at 10:12 am | #

    Very interesting

  8. Vernon Hamilton February 16, 2017 at 6:00 am | #

    Recall also, that when he bought the Northeast shuttle to create Trump Airlines, his principal personal contribution was the pink marble sinks and gold fixtures in the bathrooms and the shag carpeting in the cabin. He had no knowledge or interest in what 15 year old 727’s needed to keep them flying, but he had to make sure the stewardess’s dresses would be very cute and if they were older than 26 they were fired. He exited that business with substantial loss for his investors, but congratulating himself on a job well done.

  9. DonBoy February 17, 2017 at 5:14 pm | #

    You’re assuming he actually wrote any of that, though, as opposed to his ghost writer.

  10. Tom Lowe February 19, 2017 at 4:54 pm | #

    When I read about dictators and their affinity for beauty I am reminded that Reinhard Heydrich, architect of the Holocast, loved to play Beethoven string quartets in the evenings. His parents were both musicians and he was a fine violinist. Unfortunately, being immersed in great art didn’t improve his morals. Very few of our presidents have been known for their great taste. Of the ones that showed good taste, I suspect that for most it was an act.

  11. Raven Onthill February 24, 2017 at 1:27 am | #

    I can’t imagine him submitting himself to the discipline of an architecture or interior architecture program, which are extremely demanding. Nor are those professions, mostly, particularly well paid. Hmmm. A failure of self-discipline? That might almost define the man.

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