Decorating the Oval Office isn’t all that different from decorating your own home. While the shape of the room and nature of the business conducted there make it more complicated and high-profile than your own home office, the space still needs to be functional and the decor should reflect the inhabitant.
President Obama’s Redecorating Project
Beginning with the Kennedy administration, it’s a tradition for the President to redecorate the Oval Office to match his tastes. After swearing in as President in 2009, President Obama took some time before redecorating the Oval Office. He began his term at a tumultuous time and many said redecorating couldn’t be a priority for anyone in the White House.
Like many people who might be thinking of a new look for their homes but are pressed by time and money, President Obama began with small changes during that first year. He replaced the Bush administration’s plates with pottery made by contemporary Native American artists on loan from the National Museum of the American Indian and mechanical devices on loan from the National Museum of American History’s patent collection. According to an article on Today.com, William Allman, the White House curator, said the patent models are a great fit for President Obama, showing his “interest in American history, his interest in technology and his interest in the creative spirit.”
The larger overhaul of the Oval Office took place in August 2010. President George W. Bush’s rug, designed by First Lady Laura Bush, was replaced with a wheat-colored rug featuring inspirational sayings from FDR, MLK, JFK, President Abraham Lincoln and President Theodore Roosevelt woven into the border and, of course, the Presidential Seal. And many of the new furnishings brought in to top that rug give the room a more casual feel compared to other administrations.
All of the pieces were made in America, including the rug (Michigan), custom caramel cotton-rayon sofas (upholstery fabric from Pennsylvania; sofas manufactured in New York) and lamps and contemporary mica coffee table (both form New York). Additionally, President Obama had the two striped chairs in front of the fireplace reupholstered in brown leather, and had the walls redone in gold-striped wallpaper. He added new window treatments in a shade of red later on. President Obama enlisted California decorator Michael Smith’s help on the design of the space. (Note: Tax payer money does not go toward White House decor. It is funded by private donations specifically for this purpose through the White House Historical Association.)
Response to the President’s Furniture Choices
When the new Oval Office design was first released, it received mixed reviews (just look at the comments in this New York Times’ article). Some said it was too brown or too much like an upscale family room rather than the office of the Commander in Chief. Others talked about the comfortable style reflecting the President’s personal style being more welcoming for visitors.
The coffee table has also received a lot of attention -- from the design itself (people tend to love or hate it) to what is on top of it. Obama has chosen a bowl of apples, something that is a tradition in his family. Comments range from approving the healthy choice to scoffing at the idea of someone chompin on an apple while in the presence of the President of the United States.
Of course, many designers were comparing the room design to what Obama’s predecessor had chosen. But the two Presidents have very different personalities and approaches to their work. President George W. Bush would not enter the Oval Office unless he was in suit jacket and tie, but President Obama has been seen in the Oval Office working in shirtsleeves.
The lesson you can learn here and bring back to your own home is that the interior design of a room needs to work for the person using the space. So while you might not understand your teenager’s color choices or your husband’s favorite lamp in his office, you can appreciate that it’s about their style. And as you choose furnishings for your home, remember that is about creating a space that is functional and beautiful for you.