Nixon built an underground bowling alley, Ford added an outdoor swimming pool, while Obama installed basketball hoops on Bush’s tennis court. But the White House preservation committee must be trembling with trepidation at what real-estate tycoon and voracious builder Donald Trump plans to unleash on his new Washington DC home.
Since Thomas Jefferson replaced the outdoor privy with modern flushing loos, and commissioned Benjamin Latrobe to smarten up the humble house with rows of classical colonnades, it has been the done thing for the incoming first family to make their mark on the president’s official residence.
Jackie Kennedy set the tone for the first lady’s role as homemaker to the nation, masterminding a comprehensive renovation of the White House in 1961. She enlisted famed socialite decorator Sister Parish and French designer Stéphane Boudin to fill the house with antique wallpaper panels and swagged drapery, wrought with a stage-set theatricality that climaxed in her blue silk dressing room, replete with a button-tufted chaise longue and leopard skin throw.
From the Kennedys onwards, the White House became a public stage for the first family to construct their identity, and on which an ideal domesticity would be played out. Nancy Reagan enlisted Beverly Hills interior designer Ted Graber to deliver a dose of 1980s Hollywood glamour, filling the dressing room with peachy floral fabrics, swamping her office in a symphony of pistachio and lining the bedroom walls with hand-painted chinoiserie wallpaper.
Laura Bush brought in Ken Blasingame, designer of the Bush’s Texan ranches, to install lavish hand-blocked wallpaper and marble chimneypieces, while the Obamas have been as cool and restrained as you might expect. They replaced Bush’s loud sunburst carpet in the Oval Office with a simple cream affair and filled the house with an unprecedented array of modern and contemporary art, hanging paintings by Josef Albers and Robert Rauschenberg and sculptures by native and African American artists – as well as replacing a Churchill bust with Martin Luther King.
So what treats might Donald and Melania have in store? A peek inside their three-storey, 53-room penthouse home at the top of Trump Tower suggests the dial will be turned back a few centuries – and that, along with ramping up coal extraction, they might have to reopen the gold mines.
Ceilings heave with gilded mouldings, chandeliers groan with torrents of crystal, a weight of opulence supported by forests of fluted marble columns topped with gilded Corinthian capitals. Every surface is embellished and encrusted, from ceiling paintings depicting scenes from Greek mythology to the velvet cushions emblazoned with the Trump coat of arms. A fountain cascades in front of a back-lit wall of onyx, while a bronze Eros and Psyche cavort on the coffee table; Greek vases teeter on the mantlepiece, above a miniature Mercedes, in which his 10-year-old son Barron can roam around this mini Versailles. It makes Liberace look like a minimalist.
It is the gaudy concoction of the late American decorator Angelo Donghia – aka “the Saint Laurent of sofas” – purveyor of gilded fantasies to the stars, from Ralph Lauren to Liza Minnelli. With Donghia gone, Trump might do well to consult Peter York’s book Dictator’s Homes, a manual of oligarch chic.
Or perhaps he will take inspiration from his own Florida palace, Mar-a-Lago, the most extravagant of the jazz age mansions in Palm Beach, which he bought in 1985. With 58 bedrooms, 33 bathrooms and a 15-metre (50ft) dining room with a pietra dura marble table (as well as three handy bomb shelters), it reads like an encyclopedia of interior decor, moving from perpendicular gothic to American federal to a bedroom with hand-painted fairytale scenes. A portrait of Trump in a tennis sweater hangs over the bar, his blond hair billowing beneath a fiery red sky.
DC beware. A fantasyland of terracotta turrets and marble toilets will soon be on its way to make the White House great again, no doubt accompanied by a 20ft-high Trump bolted on the roof.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010