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Presidential Suite: Redecorating the White House

March 26, 2013 3 min read

Every president since John Adams has occupied the White House. It’s a building with as long and colorful a history as the country itself. Today’s mansion contains 132 rooms and 35 bathrooms, although the President and his family live generously in only 27 of the rooms. Many Presidents have modified the White House in some way, whether by addition, modernization, restoration, or personalization. Who pays for this work? The taxpayers, usually: each new President is given a budget of $100,000 to redecorate. The White House Historical Association, a privately funded foundation, often adds to the largess. In 2009, however, newly elected Barack Obama used only personal funds to redecorate.

A Brief History of the White House

In 1791, George Washington selected the site for the White House, and the cornerstone was laid the following year. Completed in 1800, the White House was set ablaze by the British during the War of 1812. James Monroe moved into the reconstructed building in 1817. Monroe directed the addition of the South Portico in 1824, and Andrew Jackson oversaw the addition of the North Portico in 1829. In 1902, Theodore Roosevelt had the now-famous West Wing constructed, but it was his predecessor William Taft who created the Oval Office. On Christmas Eve 1929, a fire destroyed the West Wing. When it was rebuilt, air-conditioning was added. Franklin Roosevelt expanded the West Wing and relocated the Oval Office to the southeast corner in 1934. Harry Truman began a project in which everything but the outer walls were renovated. 

First Lady Influences

First Ladies have personalized the White House in their own way since Dolley Madison, who decorated the Presidential quarters with bright yellow draperies and upholstery. Lou Henry Hoover brought in mementos from her home and travels, including rugs, Oriental art, and many, many books. Jacqueline Kennedy redecorated almost all of the White House, making it as much a museum as a residence. She even led a tour of the newly renovated building on television in 1961. Because of her work, a curatorial staff was formed to preserve and decorate the White House in collaboration with incoming Presidents and First Ladies.

Oval Office Rugs

The most visual and iconic room in the White House is the Oval Office. The President and the First Lady go to great lengths to personalize the room. Here is a brief synopsis: William Howard Taft (1909): Green rug, dark green drapes with eagle valances, and olive green walls Franklin Roosevelt (1933): Blue-green rug, dark green drapes with eagle valances, and gray-green walls Clinton Oval Office Harry Truman (1945): Blue-green rug and drapes with gray-green walls Jack Kennedy (1961): FDR’s blue-green rug and drapes with off white walls (changed to a red rug with pale curtains at the time of his death) Lyndon Johnson (1963): Kennedy's red rug and pale curtains; then FDR's blue-green rug Richard Nixon (1969): Navy blue rug with gold drapes Gerald Ford (1974): Pale gold rug with blue florettes and pumpkin drapes with gold curtains Ronald Reagan (1981): No change; then (second term) pale gold rug with sunbeam design George H.W. Bush (1989): Light blue rug with light blue drapes Bill Clinton (1993): Navy blue rug with gold drapes George W. Bush (2001): Pale gold rug with different sunbeam design and antique gold drapes Barack Obama (2009): Light beige rug with quotations on border, muted red-orange drapes, and tan and light beige vertical striped walls.

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