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Gold, mirrors and marble: These huge-scale, opulent interior design elements have become so effectively branded by Donald Trump that “Saturday Night Live” would have no trouble evoking a chuckle of recognition from over-the-top Trumpian set design, before a comedian’s first line is uttered.
In a recent Politico article titled “Trump’s Dictator Chic,” Peter York puts Trump’s style in gruesome context. York describes looking at photos of an unidentified home in late 2015 whose description today couldn’t be mistaken for anything but that of Donald Trump. But at the time, faced with a veritable checklist of what York calls “dictator chic” design, he thought it bore more similarity to some of the 16 case studies (“strongmen from Mexico’s Porfirio Díaz to Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic,” in York’s words) he researched for his 2006 book, Dictator Style.
Here are 10 features of “dictator chic” York identifies.
1. When it comes to size, York advises dictator designers to “go big.”
2. Use “brand spanking new” materials even when imitating antiques.
3. “Think French,” York says, because “French [design] can always be counted on to say ‘money.’”
4. Don’t skimp on the gold: “’If I’ve only got one life,’ most dictators seem to think, ‘let me live it surrounded by gold.'”
5. Perhaps most relevant to the 45th U.S. president is this weird rule: Use hotels as design inspiration.
6. Glass is good, “the better to reflect one’s abundant opulence.”
7. Not just any marble will do for a dictator: “New, shiny marble, of course, not the worn, old stuff.”
8. When it comes to art, dictators “prefer big and bright 19th-century potboilers, or their modern equivalents, to Old Masters (too dark and grim) and to contemporary or abstract art (too ugly and pointless).”
9. Branding is key: “Dictators also like known-value items—things that people will understand instantly, aka brands. If you’ve got Lamborghinis and Ferraris out front, you want the equivalent inside: Aubusson carpets (new copies, of course), Chinese Ming vases (ditto) and bright Versace-style fabrics.”
10. The most important brand is oneself, of course, so a life-size portrait of the dictator is necessary. As York explains:
“A trick that dictators have pinched from the old aristocratic world is getting themselves painted, life-size or bigger, in grandiose situations, imperial get-ups or heroic endeavors, and hanging these pictorial hagiographies so that they dominate entryways or key rooms.”
Anticipating those who might scoff at dissecting interior design to reach any meaningful conclusions about a homeowner—as if the room were The Great Gatsby left to the divinations of a middle-school English class—York offers this defense: “Domestic interiors reveal how people want to be seen. But they also reveal something about the owners’ inner lives, their cultural reference points and how they relate to other people.”
York examines some of the possible psychology conveyed by interior design choices: “No matter how you looked at it, the main thing this apartment said was, ‘I am tremendously rich and unthinkably powerful.’ This was the visual language of public, not private, space.”
Rule #5 on hotels may be linked, according to York, to “the grandest ones” seen by young “would-be dictators who came from modest backgrounds as rebels or soldiers.”
Read Peter York’s article in Politico.