Peter York: No shagpile, no bad gilding – expensive but reassuringly dull

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The Independent Online

So what were you expecting from Bernie Madoff? The full-on Dictators' Home's Mobutu look of over-scaled rooms and bad gilding? Did you imagine his Ponzi plotting had a backdrop something like Aaron Spelling's LA repro château? Or the OTT McMansion setting for the shag-pile shootout in Scarface?

But Bernie Madoff was miles cleverer than that; all the first interviews with friends/investors/dupes emphasised how low-key and un-bling Bernie and Ruth were, how they kept to the reassuringly dull round of golf-club dinners and local Jewish charity do's rather than the bling New York and LA arts and entertainment circuit. They left that to the agents with their smart contacts.

Ruth and Bernie kept it low-profile and distinctly "knocked back", as these rooms from their Florida house shows. They're pleasant comfortable middle-aged, educated middle-class "tasteful", just borderline dull. And ruthlessly weeded; less is more.

And though it's Florida, the style, the furnishing vocabulary looks distinctly East Coast. White walls, woodsy exposed barn ceilings, white linen sofa covers, even plain white-painted boarded walls in one room. And then there's the furniture, solid, reassuring chunky mid-19th century stuff, with no shiny ormolu, and no flashy inlay, the essence of keep-it-simple. The furniture of educated professionals and academics.

There are early Provençal terracotta tiles (the Fired Earth 1985 look) and kilim rugs on the floor. There's folk art and function in the things they collect. A fine old telescope on its mahogany stand. An old American flag and, below it, an old rocking horse – the kind that made Stanley Johnson's Primrose Hill home a North London landmark for years. And three old fishing rods on the wall as decoration.

It's more Maine than Miami, and with the money ruthlessly reined back. They could be, say, a neurologist married to a novelist.

Peter York is the author of Dictators' Homes, published by Atlantic Books