Monday, January 02, 2006

Lifestyle: Homes, Weekend FT, Donald Trump Jnr

HOUSE & HOME: A chip off the old building block
By Julie Earle-Levine
Oct 22, 2005

It is hard to miss Trump Place when driving up Manhattan's West Side Highway, along the Hudson River. The group of buildings looms over the road and the adjacent Hudson River, like its own city, emblazoned with the Trump name in thick, gold block letters. Get closer and you'll find a stream of limousines waiting to pick up wealthy residents; inside the main tower (one of 16 that will eventually be built), there is a dramatic, domed foyer of Italian marble with custom woodwork.

These are exactly the sort of glitzy, gargantuan developments for which Trump is famous.

But I'm at Trump Place today to visit a decidedly low-key apartment - the one owned and occupied by the son, Donald Trump Jr.

Trump Jr is to all intents and purposes his father's real apprentice. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business, he joined the Trump Organization four years ago.

Now, at age 27, he is vice-president of development and acquisitions, responsible for four major US projects and helping to find opportunities in Moscow, Shanghai, Macau and Mexico.
He claims to work 12-hour days, six days a week, so asks me to meet him at home before he heads to the office - located on a floor he shares with his father at the 58-storey Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue.

When I step off the lift, Trump Jr is waiting outside his open door in a beautifully tailored pinstripe suit - and socks. (He has a shoes-off policy at home because "New York can be, well, dirty.")

The apartment is a well-laid out two-bedroom that he shares with his fiancée, the model and actress Vanessa Haydon, and her dog, Faluffa, a fluffy, white Havanese who bounces around before eventually plopping down on a dog bed filled with toys in the kitchen.

Trump leads me into the living room and settles into a chocolate leather lounge. Trump Place is more than a home for him, he explains. It was also his first construction project, and a tough challenge. Sales started just before the September 11 terrorist attacks, then, as almost everywhere else in Manhattan, suddenly stopped.

"I mean, [the buiding] is 49 storeys tall and right on the water, and it was a sceptical market," Trump says. "But in January, we sold 45 apartments." Eleven months later, the building was sold out.

He has lived here for 18 months and particularly likes being close to the highway, which offers an easy escape route to the country. Where Donald Sr thrives on parties and pageants, his son is happiest hiking and fishing. There's a photo of him with an enormous steelhead trout on display in the apartment to prove it.

The living-room coffee table is stacked with business books and magazines, surrounded by more framed pictures - of his father; his mother, Trump's first wife, Ivana; and Haydon. The décor is somewhat sophisticated, but also a mix of styles. In the lounge, for example, Trump has installed a tree-stump coffee table with a glass top because "it brings nature inside". Haydon is not a fan. "That is definitely going to the country house," she says.

So, given that Trump's name is on the building, why isn't he in one of the penthouse apartments? "It was not an option," he laughs. "I had to buy this apartment. My parents were good at spoiling me with travel and a good education but I had to buy my own place." The purchase price was $900,000, he says, "but I got in before the craze", he refuses to speculate about what it is worth now.

I ask what he thinks about recent claims that Manhattan real estate is overvalued and set for a fall. "As far as a bubble, I don't see anything exploding; I don't see doom and gloom," he says. "After the Enrons, the Dennis Kozlowskis and the advent of the hedge fund business, people now realise real estate is solid."

The week after our September interview he was set to close the sale of a $19m apartment. He'd sold another for $23m earlier in the summer. And "these things happened in August and July and June, which are typically the slowest months of the year," he says.

These values will hold, and rise, he argues, because the baby boomer generation has realised the value of owning a second home and their purchases of condos at the beach and pieds à terre in the city will support the overall market. His advice for twentysomethings such as himself - not surprisingly - is to invest in property as soon as possible.

He and Haydon are talking about that weekend house in the country (where that tree-stump table will go) as well as children and a second dog. They're due to wed next month and are watching their waistlines when I visit. But both tell me they love to cook and, judging by the equipment in their kitchen, which is positioned in the main living room, and their dining table set topped with candelabras, I believe them.

As Trump gets ready to be photographed for this piece, he asks how his hair looks. For the record, it's nothing like his father's much-ridiculed combed-over coif: it's dark brown, long for an executive, and smoothed back from a boyish but determined face.

It must be hard to be the son of someone so famous and infamous, successful and self-promotional - to suffer through the constant comparisons and the, often unflattering, assumptions. But, says Trump, "I have dealt with scepticism about me, and I think people are surprised by my experience."

Having visited construction sites since he was able to walk, Trump followed in his father's footsteps by enrolling at Wharton. But instead of starting work immediately after graduation, he took a year off to party in Aspen. "It was fun," he says. "But then I realised I loved real estate." And he felt ready to join the family business. "I know who my father is," he says, "and I know he doesn't accept failure."

Aside from Trump Place, Trump has overseen the transformation of the art deco Delmonico Hotel, at 59th Street and Park Avenue, into 35 storeys of luxury condominiums, now called Trump Park Avenue. He is also helping to look after the 90-storey Trump hotel and condominium development in Chicago, Trump International Hotel and Tower Fort Lauderdale and Trump Las Vegas.

Those who work with father and son say they handle problems differently. Donald Sr can be "explosive", and is known as a brash, fierce negotiator. (He recently sued his business partners for selling a parcel of land and three Trump Place buildings to developers for $1.76bn, a huge price but one which he claims was 40 per cent below another offer.) Donald Jr prefers a softer touch.

His diplomacy is on display during another tour, of a $31.5m duplex penthouse at Trump Park Avenue. When I comment on the chandeliers in the elevators, the gold doorknobs everywhere, and the frescoes covering the entire ceiling (modelled after the ones at Donald Sr's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach), he responds easily. "He thought they would be a nice touch.," Trump says. "When people buy into a Trump building, buyers expect a slice of Trump."

The son may not share his father's taste, but he can still sell it.