How a room of your own can really shape you

Watching: A bust of the civil rights activist Rosa Parks arrived in Joe Biden’s office yesterday.

Does your room help form your character? Joe Biden removed a bust of Winston Churchill from his office yesterday and replaced it with Rosa Parks, Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King.

A row is brewing over Biden's removal of a bust of Churchill from the Oval Office, five years after Obama provoked a storm by having the British leader's image relegated outside to a landing.

Biden has transformed the Oval Office.

In place of Winston Churchill stand the figures of civil rights leaders, a huge portrait of Franklin D Roosevelt, and a single moon rock.

Some say Biden believes the new inhabitants of his office will help him be a better president.

Meanwhile, far away on a clifftop, protected from the crashing waves below, stands a magnificent palace.

Inside, everything is covered in gold.

No expense has been spared in this millionaire’s playground. Guests can drink in the cocktail room, worship in the church, hold ice hockey tournaments in a bunker and relax on ornate Italian furniture at the spa.

First, they will have to get there. Set in a 190,000 square foot estate, this is more a fortress than a home.

It has its own harbour, border-checkpoints and a no-fly zone.

This is the £1 bn Black Sea home of President Vladimir Putin.

In Wiltshire, author Vikram Seth’s music room is filled with photographs, a Tintin-inspired ship and a scroll of Chinese calligraphy.

Does a room help form your character?

Space control

Yes. The more time we spend in a room, the more the items come to change us. FDR is remembered as the man who led America through the darkest days of the 20th Century. By putting his portrait centre stage, Biden hopes it will inspire him to face the coronavirus crisis with the same strength of character.

No. The items someone chooses are merely a reflection of who they already are. Building a lavish mansion did not make Putin an extravagant person, he built the palace because he was one. Interior design is a vehicle for creativity, not a pillar of personality.

You Decide

  1. Which do you prefer – Putin’s over-the-top mansion or Biden’s toned down Oval Office?


  1. Imagine you are in charge of redecorating the Oval Office for Joe Biden. Draw a picture of what your redesigned office would look like, with labels explaining your choices.

Some People Say...

“A room hung with pictures is a room hung with thoughts.”

Joshua Reynolds (1723 - 1792), English painter

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
It is generally agreed that people have spent more time at home in the last year than at any other point in living memory. One September 2020 survey found that British adults spend an extra eight hours at home per day than before the pandemic. And as people spend more time at home, they are also spending more time looking into the homes of others. When a Twitter account was set up in April to rate the bookcases in people’s videoconference backgrounds, it soon gained more than 100,000 followers.
What do we not know?
One main area of debate surrounds whether you can really judge somebody’s personality just by looking at the objects they have in their room. Some say that no amount of style choices can help you judge a person’s character. But others, like University of Texas psychology professor Sam Gosling, say the many weeks, months or years of accumulated information in a person’s bedroom can be a “more reliable indicator of what someone is like” than even an hour of conversation.

Word Watch

Vladimir Putin
Putin was a mid-level KGB agent before he became the Russian President. He now has an estimated wealth of £160 bn.

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