Decorating with Bernie: Interior Design Tips from a Swindler


The Associated Press has published a very specific report on the status of Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff’s two estates, one in Manhattan and the other in Palm Beach, Florida. Barring Yan Pei-Ming‘s 7-foot watercolor portrait of Mr. Madoff, which scared visitors away from the David Zwirner booth at the Armory Fair this spring, what in the world would old Bernie approve to decorate his lair? Actual reporting, plus our recommendations, after the jump.

In a 2008 federal declaration of assets, the Madoff properties were valued at $7 million for New York apartment, $11 million for the Florida home, and an additional $2.2 million for the family’s boat. You may not have that kind of cash laying around (well, neither did he) but here a few key pieces to advertise your financial expertise and God complex.

Chinese sculptures of howling dogs sit on shelves flanking the doorway. More Chinese antiques, including ornate cabinets, porcelain vases and towering wooden screens adorn living and dining rooms as big as some one-bedroom apartments in New York City.”

Chinese art and antiques are readily available at most antique shops and online. Screens and porcelain are dandy, but this architectural remnant really floats our boat (yacht). Pearl River Mart is peddling low rent versions of blue-and-white porcelain for about $95 a pop.

“Like all visitors, the agents came to the apartment in an elevator that opens directly through a door with a mezuzah, a small ornamental box containing a prayer scroll that is commonly affixed to entrances of Jewish homes.”

Antique Austrian silver Mezuzah case, circa 1930. Finely engraved filigree with a historical pedigree, classy.

“The kitchen has marble and stainless steel countertops and Baccarat crystal glasses in the cabinets.”

Bernie’s Baccarat crystal, about to be sold by Uncle Sam. Since the glasses cost a whopping $195 each retail, buy a single goblet off eBay and offer it to the one houseguest you’d most like to impress.

“Inside a guest closet in the Manhattan apartment is an old black-and-white photo of Madoff posing next to a giant swordfish caught in the Bahamas.”

These babies are hard to come by, but may we point our lucky Bay Area readers to this recent SF Craigslist post advertising a stuffed Marlin fish for the “firm” price of $1,800.

“There’s also the desk where authorities said they found 100 checks worth $173 million that Madoff was ready to send out to close relatives and friends after he realized he would be caught.”

This is one area of home decor you shouldn’t be afraid to splurge on, whether through an antiques dealer, eBay, or your mom. After all, if you’re planning to write $173 million in checks you should back it up with something baronial — Georgian or Chippendale, preferably.

“The 8,700-square-foot house, built in 1973, has Mexican tile throughout, five bedrooms and seven bathrooms.”

8,700 square feet allows for a plethora of Mexican tile patterns. We hit the motherlode here and here; a few suggestions above.

“It has a huge all-white kitchen filled with antiques, including century-old golf clubs, an 1895 set of Shakespeare’s complete works, antique fly rods and 10 paintings or sculptures of bulls.”

Antique fishing rods in Madoff’s Florida estate, tagged for auction by the US government. We found these on eBay for $124.99, but the true fly fishing enthusiast can wander down Vintage Cane Lane at

Madoff certainly liked bulls, that’s for sure. (As in market? Astrological sign? Sign of aggression?) These engravings from the mid-19th century are nice and subtle, perfect for, say, a kitchen.

“Madoff’s yacht, named Bull, a 55-foot 1969 Rybovich… lacks many of the ostentatious touches found on more modern ships; for example, there’s only one TV — not a flat screen — and all the beds are bunk-style.”

One of the Madoff yacht bedrooms, transmitting the message “You can trust me; we’re all equal here!” Pottery Barn Kids has the market almost cornered on bunk beds, especially of the nautical variety. The camp bunk system even approximates the sleeping layout of the Madoff boat.