Each time a new President moves into the White House, they get the chance to redecorate. And each have added their own stamp onto the mansion… Barack Obama added a basketball court, Richard Nixon added a bowling alley and Gerald Ford built an outdoor swimming pool. Of course, there are limits and the state rooms can’t easily be altered, but the living quarters in the 132 room mansion are located on the top 2 floors and it is here that the First family have significant leeway. Now that Donald and Melania Trump have the keys, how might they choose to personalise the space?
If their home in New York is anything to go by, it will be opulent:
Recently, Melania’s make up artist Nicole Bryl gave away a small glimpse of what to expect: “There will absolutely be a room designated for hair, makeup, and wardrobe”. And who wouldn’t want a dedicated ‘glam room’?! But if the new First couple need more inspiration, they should look to history and glimpse at the interior design archives of previous Presidents.
Here is a tour of the White House as you’ve not seen it before. Come through the front door and enter into the family’s personal dining room and master bedroom as they’ve changed over the last 100 years.
During her husband William's time as President, Nellie Taft decorated the interiors of the White House with influences from their travels together. In particular the 3 years they lived in the Philippines: oriental and Japanese furniture, screens, floor mats and tapestries, as well as teakwood chairs, palm trees and Eastern fabrics with gold dragons on rich backgrounds.
1940s and 1950s
These decades saw much change within the interiors of the White House. In the 1940s it became clear that the building was in serious need of renovation. And by the time Truman was elected in 1948 it was in a dangerously dilapidated state. The entire interior of the main body of the house was rebuilt.
After her husband became President, Jackie Kennedy sought to restore the interiors of the White House to their former glory. She felt that the White House was an important symbol to the world and that internally it needed to showcase the best of America civilisation. Previously, furnishings and other items from the White House were taken by ex presidents and their families after their tenures, leading to a lack of original historical pieces. She initiated a Congressional bill to prevent this from happening in the future, she wrote to donors to try and track down pieces of interest, she modernised the private family apartments and established a committee to oversee and fund the restoration. Her work has left a lasting legacy.
1970s and 1980s
In the early 1970s, Gerald and Betty Ford were unexpected occupants of the White House due to the resignation of Richard Nixon. Prior to this they were more concerned about their own family lives and then within two weeks of assuming her position, Betty was told they had to organise a state dinner for the King of Jordan. It wasn't until the start of the 1980s that the interiors of the White House were completely re-modelled by Nancy Reagan. She loved the colour scarlet and used it a lot throughout the mansion, commissioning the official White House china in the same shade.
When Bill Clinton was President, the interior redecorations, costing $396,000 from private donations, were extensive: 73 pieces of furniture and furnishings were re-covered, 23 pieces conserved, 74 items retrieved from storage, two floors repaired and re-covered. Twenty-eight windows got new curtains; 19 worn carpets were replaced; 11 chandeliers were conserved. The Clintons chose strong colours in some of the State rooms and went for a Victorian look and feel. The private areas below show a lighter and toned down choice of decor.
One of the first acts Michelle Obama did when she entered the White House was not to the interiors, but to the outside of the mansion. She planted a kitchen garden which produces fresh, seasonal food for the First family and their guests and is open to schools and visits. Her decorative touches inside however, are a real triumph and reflect not only the Obamas tastes, but also their values and interests.
Do you have a favourite era? I still love Nellie & William Taft's elegant and timeless designs... Donald Trump has reportedly said that he doesn't want to change the decor too much - not surprising after Barack & Michelle Obama's tasteful make over - but time will tell. Watch this space!