Whose Style is That? Louis XIV or Donald Trump? An Interior Design Guide to the New President

Whose Style is That? Louis XIV or Donald Trump? An Interior Design Guide to the New President
Kate Wagner is the founder and editor of McMansion Hell, a web site for people who love to hate the ugly houses that became ubiquitous before (and after) the bubble burst. Photo: Sam Horine

If I had a dollar for every time I received a request to take on Donald Trump's interior design, I'd have enough to buy coffee for quite a few weeks - no small feat. 

As the Internet's chosen McMansion taxonomist, I have spent a lot of time with tacky. After spending so much time with tacky that my fingers have started to stick together at the mere thought of a grand estate, here is my thesis: 99% of McMansion decor is inspired by people like Donald Trump. As Fran Lebowitz so elegantly put it, "Donald Trump is a poor person's idea of a rich person." It's a pretty simple system, really: gold = rich. Columns = rich because banks have columns. Chandeliers = rich because they're big and shiny. You catch my drift. 

We as people have been fascinated by the dwellings of celebrities since the dawn of celebrities, who, back in the day, were usually royalty or the Pope. Donald Trump's Manhattan penthouse apartment is a particularly interesting (and recursive) instance where a celebrity decorates based on the taste of previous celebrities. In this case, King Louis XIV and King Louis XV of 17th and 18th century France. Luckily, the world was spared from the continuation of the heavily ornate Rococo style for a couple centuries thanks to the French Revolution. Then the 80s happened, and Donald Trump came with them. A fun guessing game to play is: Is it the French Palace of Versailles or a Donald Trump apartment?  

This is actually Versailles, in case you're stumped. Photo by Kallgan, CC-BY-SA 3.0

The difference between 18th century France and 21st century America is that the insane opulence of the French royalty inspired the country to rise up against tyranny and send them all to the guillotine. Yet, in America, it inspired a large number of people to vote for Donald Trump for president. Crazy, right?

The following photographs of Trump interiors were originally by Sam Horine and have been adapted by yours truly in this post for the purposes of education, satire, and parody, consistent with 17 USC §107. Donald Trump himself was a product of the 80s and their excessive opulence as a cultural response to the political and economic strife of the 1970s. I have supplied this post with supplemental material from my 1980s interior design catalog collection for your viewing pleasure. 

Entering Trump's Living Room

Photo: Sam Horine

So expensive, and yet I am still questioning whether or not the pilasters are actually plastic.

Living Room Shot # 2

Photo: Sam Horine

Louis XIV would totally have dug the glass table. Also yay, political joke! 

Zooming In

Photo: Sam Horine

The Trumps must redo the carpet every year, right after Donald goes and gets his hair reinstalled. (Bad-um-tish)

Spotlight: Chandeliers

A scan from the 1986 International Collection of Interior Design

As we can see, chandeliers in the 80s were basically more of an arms race than the actual arms race that was happening at the end of the Cold War. Trump has done a good job establishing his dominance on the market, making sure that he is tremendous at chandeliers - really the best chandelier guy. 

Detail: Living Room Coffee Table

Photo: Sam Horine

If Elsie De Wolfe is mentioned in that book, she's probably turning in her grave.

Detail: Other Living Room Coffee Table 

Photo: Sam Horine

Stuff rich people have on their mantles: decorative plates, vague statues, and oil paintings.

Spotlight: The Fireplace 

Trump literally takes a Louis XV mantel and goes full "Pimp My Ride" - not even history's most opulent kings are opulent enough! (from the 1986 International Collection of Interior Design)

Dining Area 

Photo: Sam Horine

I was curious about the Rococo furniture in this room and its authenticity, so I made a phone call to my sister, Susannah, who studies antique furniture history, repair, and reproduction at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. She had this to say about it:

It doesn't appear to be of terrible quality. As far as French Baroque reproductions go, these are on the higher end - but I doubt Donald is dishing out artisan pay to have custom ormulu or marquetry. They appear to be painted with a faux gold leaf instead of gilt bronze or any other type of period-correct metal, which only a skilled artisan knows how to work with. As for reproduction Louis furniture goes, some of this is pretty okay, though it's all obviously modern and manufactured rather than crafted - hence why they're all perfectly identical. Handcrafted furniture has small variations between pieces. 

Luckily for all of us, I have period 80s sources for the tackiest, most ridiculous Baroque furniture reproductions. Even Donald isn't this bad.

From the 1986 International Collection of Interior Design


Wait, I stand corrected.

Melania's Office 

Photo: Sam Horine

I'm very disappointed, however, that, despite my intensive search, I couldn't find pictures of the apparently apocryphal Trump golden toilet (or any of his private rooms in general.)

I'm just going to go based on what I've seen and assume that Trump's penthouse bathroom looks something like this:

Either way, Donald Trump is a living McMansion, and continues to personify the saying "money can't buy taste." Hopefully, the White House will be spared the gold leaf. 




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Marj on Feb 24, 2019:

Those fans of 45 on here so upset with the critique of his opulence. Get over yourselves. It is now 2019, we have put up with his tacky, mean spirited, rude, lying, anti American, etc., self for more than two years now. This ridiculous, pathetic effort to imagine himself a king is widely reflected in this apartment. And it IS just an apartment when it comes down to it. To him the White House is a "dump". Praise be he could not infect it with all this phony gold. He is a tacky, small minded person, as is Melania and the adult kids. I feel for Barron, being surrounded by all the fakes in the family. Your decor is a reflection of yourself. 45 probably thinks Queen Elizabeth lives in a dump, too. I doubt her private rooms are so uncomfortable.

Kimberly A. DeVane on Sep 13, 2018:

I agree with the comment referencing the low ceilings. The essence of decorating is enhancing the "eo ipso" thing itself, or in law "res ipsa loquitur," or the thing speaks for itself. Enhance it's inherent style, for it is impossible to fundamentally alter it without destroying it and starting over.

To try and make a long-ceilinged penthouse with incredible windows and views look like the Versailles is an exercise in futility. The reason such over the top style looks elegant in it's original surroundings is because it is organically, even ontologically, of the place and time. You can't make a suburban house look like the Sistine Chapel.

Everyone has different taste, vivre et laisser vivre. But I would think a good decorator or architect might have pointed out that if Louis XIV was your style (Rococo) you might want to exercise or "exorcise" it in an actual mansion, or at least a good replica. A place with high ceilings and real period metals and stones. The beauty of marble, granite, polished rock and precious stones, is not just appearance but the mineral smell, texture and movement of water, light and shadow across and through it. To use it as an exhibition only of conspicuous consumption is a waste.

Decorate the modernist/ contemporary penthouse to highlight it's virtues, i.e. lots of light, incredible views, minimalist/ industrial lines and minimize it's defects, i.e. low ceilings and and an office- like aesthetic.

While less might not always be more, and overly consistent "style" is the hobgoblin of small minds and impersonal decorating resulting in the "hotel effect," claustrophobia is the only consistent motiff I see in this calamity of an apartment. Also, as someone once told me, if all you can afford is costume jewelry, wear less jewelry. Just make sure it's real. Fake gold leaf? Ugh.

denise on Sep 08, 2018:

Mr. Trump also claims that his Renoir is authentic (perhaps showing in Melania's "office" photo here even though people have pointed out that the real one is owned by and hanging in the Met.

wm on Feb 05, 2018:

This decor could best be described as drug lord tacky on steroids. Saddam Hussein would have also felt right at home. What is even more ludicrous is Trump certainly used some posh interior designer and spent a minor sultan's fortune to create this circa 1980s Las Vegas casino aesthetic.

Kelley on Jun 29, 2017:

President Trump's taste is certainly not my taste; however, who the &@$% cares! Excuse the outburst. My taste is very traditional (think fine rugs, leather bound books, orchids, just enough gilt, etc., you get the picture). To some, my taste would be dated. It is all about personal choice and, to some extent, the hone you grew up in. I know the article was written in satire but there are a whole lot of other issues other than Trump's home decor! On a side note, due to Trump and his policies, I am able to purchase a 18th century french walnut console and do a complete kitchen remodel. Business is booming. Go Trump!

Jeanette on May 13, 2017:

I love this post because I have the chandelier from the 1986 Design Catalog dining room in the bathroom of my 1860 midwestern house. I think it's a smaller version. One of the many things about this house that makes me laugh.

Gordon Urqhart on Feb 10, 2017:

BTW, the Renoir (you referred to it as 'literally wasted art') in Melania's office is a fake.

Kai Kraus on Feb 09, 2017:

From a european point of you I sadly have to confess that we are more than afraid of all the things to come. We can't understand the President's assimilation to the so called favela-style, if it is not a true expression of compassion and charity, n'est pas?

A true connoisseur would have grabbed the kingdom of art, as it sleeps peacefully in Bavaria since the drowning of King Ludwig II.

Why only interior design is always confused with intestinal design?

bruno on Feb 01, 2017:

@jen - thanks for the comment, and I'm sorry you were disappointed. But just speaking for myself (not for Kate, who wrote this), I don't really see the 'mean-spirited' argument. It's just satire, and it's about someone who, frankly, because of the extreme measure of his actions and words, leaves himself very open to it.

On a more personal note, I think Donald Trump's middle name could very well be 'mean-spirited', so if that is indeed how this is taken, I'm actually OK with that.

Thanks for being a Curbly reader.
Bruno (Publisher)

Michael on Jan 31, 2017:

Architecture has always been politically pertinent. So I think it's fair that architectural criticism should also embrace its political pertinence. Architecture is a snapshot of belief systems. It is striking that the Neo-Classical dump at the top of Trump Tower would be so kitschy. I think this kind of space says a lot about its owner and designers and also the culture that produced it. Sparkle adds value. Theater above domesticity. Unfriendly competition. Spending as design process. It gets to the core of an ethos. I'm comparing it now to the Kremlin, which is on TV, and was executed with more confidence, so much nicer, some much glitzier, so much more refinement. Trump's buddy is bombing Ukraine as I write this.

Jen Mart on Jan 31, 2017:

Not funny at all and very mean spirited. It wasn't about the "tackiness". There are personal digs at President Trump, like "contains the ashes of America's future". Way to give Trump a chance ! He' been president for how long????? When Obama struggled, everyone said "give him a chance". Would you criticize Obama like this? I can't even look at Curbly and not get hit with this crap.

ruby shoes on Jan 24, 2017:

joan tackett - Calm down girl, are you so completely unaware of satire you can't see it when it stands stands in front of you and and lets go with a huge slap to your head? It's like a joke written as the truth. Can you get a bead on that?
Goodness girl, lower that blood pressure. Your man won the election, he was inaugurated, it's all good now. You with your paper thin skin can stop "spewing venom" at something as hilarious as this piece and the rooms illustrated herein.

Carol on Jan 24, 2017:

No amount of gilding, fake or real, will ever hide that he lives in an apartment and not a palace - even if it's a vast apartment. The ceilings are too low, the windows too modern, and trying to hide what is probably all the structural steel with fake columns just draws attention to them. The decor is disproportionate to the space - it's a low, wide set of rooms with decor meant for somewhere with ceilings about twice that height. The fireplaces just look WRONG.

The decor has NO sense of proportion; first thing you notice is how low the ceilings feel, second thing is how over-polished everything looks; it makes me think of a Trump hotel, not someone's HOME; totally not lived in, and awfully impractical; as you mentioned there's lots of white and ivory furnishings and apparently Trump has a 10 year old. So much of this seems like one big waiting room, too - this seems like the bit off the foyer of a hotel where they have the plush chairs and you can order overpriced teas, not a real living room. Where's the 'family fun box'? Where's more than a book left for decoration? Where's the console for Barron to play on, or any sign that anyone DOES anything there that isn't sit quietly and pray they don't break or stain anything. it doesn't even look like he uses it to host those kind of terribly dull parties where people "mingle" and eat canapé while the ladies compete over whose frock is the fanciest.

I just can't imagine Trump inviting people over to have afternoon tea at those tables - nor Melania.

troutay on Jan 24, 2017:

Dang. I have to check with my doctor to make sure I am not pre-diabetic. I don't think so much "sugar" is good for you

joan tackett on Jan 23, 2017:

You are an idiot who thinks if you spew enough venom readers will be impressed. Sorry to tell you that's not the case. You may not like it. I may not like it. But one thing I guarantee is that if this were Obama's home you would be kowtowing and singing praises. Just more bs.

Richard on Jan 21, 2017:

Golden words he will pour in your ear
But his lies can't disguise what you fear
For a golden girl knows when he's kissed her
It's the kiss of death from

Mister Goldfinger
Pretty girl beware of this heart of gold
This heart is cold

He loves only gold
Only gold
He loves gold
He loves only gold
Only gold
He loves gold

Anthony Newley, John Barry, Leslie Bricusse

Jenny Islander on Jan 21, 2017:

That living room reminds me of the way Dean Koontz carefully describes his characters' houses to give the reader an idea of what they have going on upstairs, so to speak.

He knew that the world was aware of his love for gold, and it pleased him. But none of the little scurrying ants who now and then tried to bite him (how dare they!) or resist being stepped on (how dare they!) seemed to have spotted the real reason for the shine. He settled himself on the white and gold couch and began the ritual.

He looked up. There he was, shining in the mirrors on the ceiling. There was his face--eternally young and strong--shining among the gods who frolicked around his chandeliers. He looked down. There he was, shining in the perfectly clean tempered glass of the table, the perfectly polished marble floor. He glanced to left and right. His face glowed richly in the mirrors behind the wall sconces, faintly in the windows. Shining, shining, his face eternally shining. He filled the world. He was the world.

He stood up and strode forth to--well, whatever he did, it would be something, really the greatest.

Pearl on Jan 21, 2017:

As I'm in the antiques trade, I find the furniture and ornaments fascinating. The buffet in the dining room and Melania's desk appear to be antique European originals, and would be spectacular in any other context, they're the best of the best, proper stately home furniture. I feel sorry for them.
The repros, though... I'd suggest a bonfire, but all the faux gold leaf probably makes it fireproof.

Cécile Fruchon on Jan 20, 2017:

Please excuse my poor english, and the fact that I am a pompeous french history teacher. I just want to ad more explanations.
Louis XIV had political motives to do that: he became king at 5 years old, and had to suffer a very long rebellion. It was probably traumatic for him. He used Versailles to show his power, and impress potential rebels and foreign powers. Every detail was carefully thought through. He also promoted french crafts. And he was also probably a little pompeous and megalomaniac...
Sorry for the boring lecture. I hope I didn't make too many mistakes...

laura on Jan 20, 2017:

Don't worry about the white carpet, little Barron doubtless has his own floor of the building to scamper around in!

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