Inside the secret world of Trump's bling-tastic tower

The ear-to-ear grin across Nigel Farage's face as he posed for the cameras with Donald Trump outside the president-elect's gilt and diamond-encrusted front door this weekend conveyed a multitude of things.

There was undoubtedly a touch of hero worship in Farage's wide eyes, slack jaw and pointing finger. But they also suggested a man who has just been on the ultimate Through the Keyhole tour of the $132 million penthouse that, for now, is the Trump family home.

Even the four elevators serving the 58 storeys of Trump Tower, on the corner of Fifth Avenue and East 56th Street in Midtown Manhattan, are gold-painted. The skyscraper – officially the 64th tallest in New York - houses a shopping mall, 26 floors of offices (including the studio where the next president once hosted the US version of The Apprentice), 39 of luxury flats and a pink marble-lined atrium.

Versailles rebooted

But it is the triplex private quarters at the tower's summit that is the Ferrero Rocher on top of this glittering pile. Inside, it is a Louis XIV's Palace of Versailles for the 21st century.

Every stick of new-old furniture has been given the Midas touch, with gilt on the chairs, tables, columns, chandeliers and the family picture frames that all sit under crystal chandeliers and a frescoed ceiling where nymphs play. Even the Trump family crest on the cushions is embroidered in gold.

In 1983, when Trump moved into the newly-finished tower that has become both his home and his brand, his interior designer was the late Angelo Donghia, then at the height of his powers. Donghia's trademark look – also adopted by clients including Liza Minnelli and Mary Tyler Moore - is sometimes referred to as "haute Miami Vice elegance".

All that glitters

Today, others prefer to give it an alternative label – such as "Louis Le Hotel", according to society interior designer Nicky Haslam, home-maker for Charles Saatchi, Mick Jagger and Ringo Starr. "It is usually something you tend to see in luxury hotels keen to tell you they are luxurious," he says.

Nevertheless, Haslam cautions against those tempted to look down their noses at the Trump style, just as once many scoffed at The Donald's presidential ambitions.

"History is full of people who loved to cover things in gold," he insists. "It is a perfectly valid form of decor. Gold makes the place light. It reflects in the sunshine, but the key is to use it sparingly, just enough to enliven."

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And president-elect Trump has, it seems, always been fond of gold. Even the taps in the aeroplane toilets on his fleet of "Trump Shuttles" in the late '80s were gold. They flew on routes between major East Coast cities before going bust in 1990.

Decor do-nots

But when is enough too much? Would, for example, it be de trop to apply some gold leaf to the bust of Winston Churchill that Farage is encouraging the new president to return to the Oval Office (after Barack Obama replaced it with one of Martin Luther King)?

Peter York, the eminent style guru, believes that there is such a thing as too much. "Going for gold" is one of 10 "do-nots" that York listed in his 2005 book Dictators' Homes, in which he compiled the interior decor mistakes of the likes of Imelda Marcos of the Philippines, Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania, Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, and the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein – all prolific and profligate builders of gilded, now despised palaces. "And it is nearly always painted-on gilt," he notes, in their instances, "never real, old gold leaf, in case that looks shabby or chipped."

Other red lines according to York include too much glass, too much marble, and too many idealised family portraits. But whenever the Trumps have opened the doors of their Trump Tower bolthole to photographers (they have two other homes, next to the golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey, and the Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach), the resulting images have provided incontrovertible evidence that York's style bible has not been required reading within the family. 

Taste of Trump

"His apartment is designed to impress and intimidate, to tell not very sophisticated people that he is very rich," says York. This is in contrast to Bill Gates, whose mansion, "Xanadu 2.0", in the hills near Washington, does appear to go for a very low-key "wood and white" look.

If the inside of Trump Tower is judged by some as alarmingly over the top, then the exterior of the building has won plaudits for its good taste. But during construction, there were many complaints. Some bemoaned Trump's demolition of the Bonwit Teller department store that had stood on the site since the late Twenties – so much so that the property tycoon promised to preserve the Art Deco statues of goddesses on its facade and hand them over to the Metropolitian Museum.

When he claimed they had been accidentally destroyed during the construction, he refused to apologise, saying only that he would fill the new building that bore his name with "real art - not like the junk I destroyed at Bonwit Teller".

How to spend it

So there were plenty lining up keen to decry the plate-glass Trump Tower, with its curious zig-zag design on the front facade to allow more light to enter in. But then they found they couldn't.

"It has not been difficult to presume that Trump Tower would be silly, pretentious and not a little vulgar," wrote Paul Goldberger, the influential architecture critic of the New York Times.

"But if overbearing publicity and overdressed guards do not a good building make, neither do they a good building deny."

He went on to praise the quality of materials used, and the workmanship. Trump, he concluded, "not only [had] a willingness to spend money, but also a knowledge of how to spend it correctly".

And so, as always with Trump, the outward appearance and the substance are not the same. The lifts in his eponymous Tower may scream of an addiction to bling, with all the connotations that conveys, but if you take the trouble to stand well back and take in the whole structure, there is substance and even sobriety.

Which may just bode well not only for the fate of the fabric of the sober, neoclassical White House come January, but for the Western world as a whole.

The Daily Telegraph, London