News & Opinion


Donald Trump loves gold, Ben Carson loves Jesus—inside the homes of the Republican rivals

The Daily Beast

November 12, 2015

Many may object to his views on Mexicans, the looks of Carly Fiorina, and his sneering at Megyn Kelly—and much more—but at least, when it comes to interior decoration, Donald Trump is no slave to mimsy restraint.

It can be safely assumed that Donald Trump does not spend his weekends at Ikea.

As pictures published by the Daily Mail show, to the surprise of absolutely no one, when it comes to how he furnishes his home the Trump taste is for maximalism.

The penthouse, on the 66th floor of Trump Tower and worth a reputed $100 million, is a riot of gold-everything and glittering chandeliers. Even Liberace might grimace at the excess of it all, and seek refuge in his sunglasses.

But here it is: floor-to-ceiling marble, a statue of an intertwined Eros and Psyche, a Renoir (“La Loge”) next to a writing desk, cushions bearing the Trump coat of arms, classical paintings, gorgeous coffee-table books (one costing $15,000), and even a very luxe toy car—with personalized license plate—owned by Trump and third wife Melania’s young son, Barron. There are lots of family pictures (many crowded on one table), including one of his father, Fred.

There is more gold, more marble, more pillars—the apartment reminded me of Joan Rivers’ New York apartment: its own mini-Versailles, if a little homelier. Trump’s home, like his other candidates’ abodes, is an acutely aesthetic symbol, and manifestation, of his personality.

In Trump’s apartment, the chairs are Louis XIV-inspired, there are gold trays, and gold-rimmed glasses, the ceilings feature yet more extravagant paintings inspired by Greek myth. It will no come as no surprise that the apartment was designed, by Angelo Donghia, in 1983 at the height of gilt-encrusted Dynasty-era excess. What does the apartment tell us about Trump? Everything. It reflects his bombastic personality to a tee. What happens if you spill some Yoplait though? Are there Pringles hidden in an ornate escritoire?

If Trump’s home implicitly celebrates the scale of his material achievements—his wealth literally on display—Dr. Ben Carson’s 48-acre home in Upperco, Baltimore County, Maryland more visibly celebrates his medical achievements, with a display cabinet of certificates and such. In fact, Carson’s home is a spooky, totally self-centered celebration of himself and his life. Trump is often criticized for his vanity, but at least he doesn’t splurge his achievements on paper all over his walls.

Carson’s Presidential Medal of Freedom has pride of place near the front door, along with a picture of Carson with then-President George Bush Jr. and wife Laura.

More certificates of honorary degrees line the wall of Carson’s family room, where he and his wife, Lacena ‘Candy’ Rustin, were photographed in 2008 holding pool cues. With a hammer in her hand as she put up more certificates, Mrs. Carson told Baltimore magazine at the time: “It took me about 12 hours to put all these up. I had to lay them on the floor first to get the proportions just right. I wanted it to be art—not just a bunch of plaques on the walls—and I still have so many to put up that are still in storage.”

Another wall includes a quote from Proverbs (misspelt ‘Poverbs’): “By humility and the fear of the Lord are riches, honor and life.”

Most arresting perhaps is the portrait of Carson in his white doctor’s coat, with a figure intended to be Jesus behind him, also in white, proud hand on Carson’s shoulder.

Another portrait of Carson in his doctor’s coat—this time without Jesus—hangs above a mantelpiece.

Without knowing the provenance of the picture, Carson and Jesus look like a very happily married couple themselves—and Carson did once famously opine that being gay was a choice, which he said the presence of homosexuality in prisons proved. Of course, imagining himself being given Jesus’ direct approval perhaps tells us more than we need to know about Carson’s ego and self-belief, or self-delusion–take your pick.

Although the home is less extravagant than Trump’s, one notices the gold cherubs, and the gold leaf atop the Corinthian columns: who would have thought such avowedly heterosexual men, who talk so soberly about fiscal conservatism, liked to come home to so much bling and camp?

And while you may be proud of your achievements, isn’t it a little weird for Carson to furnish his home as a museum to them?

Carly Fiorina is also big on majestic columns.

In 2011, she and husband Frank bought a six-bedroom, 10-bath Colonial mansion on the Potomac River in Lorton, Virginia for $6.1 million. The home, in a gated community and a 40-minute drive from Washington, is, so The Washingtonian reported, on five acres, the waterfront house has a pool, wet and dry steam rooms, a theater, an exercise room, and a hot tub.”

A National Journal reporter who visited—and was solicitously proffered doughnuts and refreshments by Fiorina and her husband—said it had a huge foyer and its own sweeping staircase (take that, Trump). Pictures of the property show something extremely grand and airy-looking.

Fiorina’s mansion was most recently valued at $6,608,015.

Of far more modest appearance is Marco Rubio’s West Miami, 2,700-square foot, four-bedroom home, which he boasted about being in a working-class neighborhood, even as he tried to sell it for $675,000 in 2013.

The interiors are much more of the scale od the kinds of middle- and working-class voters Rubio wants to attract than the golden extravagances of Trump and Carson. A rogue water bottle—really, never allow this—unforgivably shows up in the kitchen shots. The pictures are strangely more arresting than the more grand homes: the home feels more like a dormitory. You can imagine lives shuttling through it, rather than living in it. The rooms don’t scream ‘loved.’

Indeed, if this was a HGTV show, a team of makeover wizards would surely love to get their hands on Rubio’s drab and depressing kitchen and living room and introduce some pops of color, and maybe a throw or too—although the pool patio looks like Rubio and family like to entertain outside.

But, as The New York Times reported, Rubio’s purchase of the house was itself part of a web of financial struggles which have led to scrutiny as the campaign heats up.

Indeed, in June, Rubio finally sold a “money-pit” of a home he owned in Tallahassee.

This summer, Mike Huckabee also put his Arkansas home on the market, having listed it several times previously.

Zillow reported that the home has five bedrooms, six bathrooms and measured 6,473 square feet. “The updated master bath features a walk-in, multiple-head shower plus two large closets. A park-like yard backs up to a creek and boasts a deck, covered patio and saltwater pool.”

What this looks like in reality is a brown, brown, off-white, more brown, very regular suburban home, which at least has a large kitchen with an island in the middle of it, pots and pans hanging above ready to drop on any unsuspecting sinning homosexual foolish enough to have asked for a cup of tea.

Otherwise, this is a house of upper middle class, unassuming, unimaginative blandness—at least with no certificates or medals on display.

The only hint of visible drama is that the Huckabees seem to be big fans of sweeping staircases—there is one set going up to the first floor and another descends to the pool.

As for Jeb Bush, his and wife Columba’s home in Coral Gables has never been sighted from within, but its grand exterior was used in a Toyota commercial.

The couple bought the four-bedroom, four-bathroom unit new in 2011 for $1.3 million. And now, for his holidays, Bush is getting his own four-bedroom, 3,000 square foot home built at the Bush family’s compound in Kennebunkport, Maine.

The most signs of animated life within a Republican candidate’s home seems to come in images of Chris Christie’s home in Mendham, New Jersey. In the few shots of it, chez Christie looks comfortable and attractively scuffed by family life.

In 2009, when he was running for the Governorship of New Jersey, The New York Times captured Christie there at work while his daughter Bridget did handstands behind him, with an array of proudly held Bruce Springsteen ticket stubs laid out in front of him. As Governor-Elect, the Star-Ledger captured the “bulldozer governor,” as it called him, in early 2010 and his children taking their Christmas tree down.

In 2013, Christie said the family was staying in Mendham to see out his second term: “We’re not moving for the next four years. We are going to stay right in Morris County because it’s home for us.”

For now, anyway. In 2016, the White House will change hands and, should those hands be Republican, the threat of an imminent invasion of tasteless interior décor—mountains of gold and marble, self-portraits with the Almighty, and terrible black sofas that deserve immediate incineration—would surely lead to Jackie Kennedy turning none-too-quietly in her grave.