Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Fit for a President

"I love to bring people into the oval office...and say, this is where I office."
George W. Bush, 43rd President of the United States
With all the pomp and circumstance of an upcoming presidential innauguration on the brain, and the beginning media chatter about an Oval Office redecoration I thought it would be interesting to look back at the history of the Oval Office. I had intended this post to be about the oval office carpets, but the history of the office and its furnishings were just too interesting to ignore. Consider this a history lesson disguised as a design post.
When a new family enters the White House a redecorating effort begins immediately. Transition books are prepared by the chief usher and list available furnishings from the more than 40,000 pieces in the White House collection. Funds for other improvements and additions to the White House come from several sources.

The historic State Floor, with its iconic Blue, Green and Red Rooms, as well as the spaces off the lower Ground Floor Corridor, are public rooms overseen by the Committee for the Preservation of the White House. Additionally Congress has appropriated $1.6 million a year for the repair and restoration of the White House.
The top two floors are the private living quarters. $100,000 of the Congressional appropriation is allocated to maintain the family quarters every four years. Presidents and their families have often paid for things themselves. In addition, the White House Historical Association, a nonprofit educational institution, provides money for preservation. Income comes from two sources, they are a $34 million White House Endowment Trust, which is used to refurbish White House public rooms and conserve collections, and a $6 million White House Acquisition Trust, which is used to acquire fine and decorative arts for the permanent collection.
Until the 1970s, presidents changed little of the decor in the nation's most powerful office.

A shot from above of the oval office during a meeting. It gives a great persepective of the office, and of the carpet. This carpet was designed in part by Laura Bush and was made by Edward Fields of New York at a cost of $61,000 and paid for by private donations.

In 2005 the hardwood floors in the whitehouse were replaced with these alternating American White Oak and Walnut boards. The design mimics a previous wood floor in the office.

The rug featured during the Clinton presidency was made by Scott Group in Grand Rapids, Mich., and given by an anonymous donor. The value of the rug was $38,000. I've had the pleasure of commissioning custom rugs from Scott Group and have visited their work shop (factory does not do it justice). They do most things by hand and have a dedicated staff of artisans who've worked for them for many years.

This pale blue rug with a presidential seal in the middle was made by Hokanson of Houston; the $28,550 cost was paid for by private donations. I think that while the pale blue is certainly calming, a valuable design feature for the office of the leader of the free world, it really lacks the richness and detail of many of the other carpets. It looks a bit too much like cheap wall to wall.

President George H. W. Bush used the same walnut partner's desk he had used when he was vice president.

Here's a picture of President Reagan behind the Resolute Desk on the phone. You can see his terra-cotta colored carpet, with presidential seal and starburst design, a more muted version of the current Bush carpet. The rug was manufactured by Starck Carpet of New York at a cost of $49,625 and paid for by an anonymous donor.

A view of the Oval Office during Jimmy Carter's term in office. He used the Resloute Desk and his office featured a pale yellow rug with the presidential seal and blue and white rosettes.

Gerald Ford kept the Nixon decor.

President Nixon preferred a bold blue and gold color pallette (see the Gerald Ford photo in Technocolor!). The rug, again featuring the Presidential seal and an outside border of stars was otherwise unadorned
A view of LBJ's office including the bank of televisions to watch all the major networks.

Here is a photo of the redecorated LBJ office featuring a pale blue carpet similar to one used during the Truman and Eisenhower administrations. The furniture, besides the rocker, has a very 1960s feel.

A picture of the Johnson Oval Office taken in 1964, temporarily using the final Kennedy rug and curtains. The desk is LBJ's and was built for him by the Senate cabinet shop during his long tenure there.

A photo of the new Kennedy Oval Office taken in 1963 while the couple was visiting Dallas. Sadly the president never made it back to the office and it was dismantled after the assassination, before Mrs. Kennedy returned and LBJ took occupancy.

Here is a picture behind the desk in the Oval Office. The footrest under the desk was meant to help with the President's chronic back pain. Also notice the ashtrays on stands at the ends of the sofas, things have certainly changed.

A picture of JFK along with John and Caroline. This was not long after he moved into the White Hous and the office still features the Truman/Eisenhower carpet.

Here's a look at the decor of the office during President Eisenhower's administration. He largely maintained the decor from Truman's tenancy. The carpet utilized sculpting for the seal and border, though this is barely visible in the pictures.

Here is President Truman's office. Unlike many of the President's he must have taken a lot of meetings around the desk judging from the abundance of seating.

Here is a picture of FDR and his secretary in the newly constructed Oval Office. His desk seemed to have more on it than many of the other President's and he opted not to have the two chairs flanking the desk facing the windows (a bit odd in my opinion anyway, though the large desks may make this more comforable in person than in the pictures). The valances mimic those traditionally found in the Original Oval Office during many President's terms in office.

Here is a photo of the old Oval Office following a Christmas Eve fire in 1929.

Here is a picture of the old Oval Office during the Coolidge Presidency. I like the bookcases on either side of the desk, it suggests a well read person sits behind this desk.

A photo of the original Oval Office in 1923. The black ribbon on the chair memorializes President Harding.


The Life and Times of a Southern Foodie said...

I believe the Carter oval office carpet was made by Georgia based Lacy-Champion.

Great photos and a compelling story.

Things That Inspire said...

Fantastic post. If I had seen this last week, I would have put it on my favorite posts of 2008 list.

I must say, the current oval office decor and rug are most appealing to me, perhaps because it is a reflection of current design and style. I can't imagine Obama improving upon it much, given it is quite muted and neutral.

ArchitectDesign said...

Oh I love this post! I can't wait to see what the Obamas choose to do with the white house, especially with the current economic climate. Things in DC (as everywhere) are very on edge lately.

Cote de Texas said...

Ab Fab post. my favorites are Reagan and Jimmy Carter - for some reason it looks like a real rug. I also like the present rug with the stipes to mimic the floor. I wonder why they have that optical illusion design on the hardwooods????? It makes me sad about Bush Sr. rug's. Hokanson is a wonderful Houston company!

Athenaeus said...

January 5th Visitors - Thanks for looking back at an old post. It's one of my favorites too. I can't wait to see what spin the Obama's put on this historic room.

Joann said...

I'm curious...are the rugs in storage or at the various libraries?

Athenaeus said...

Joann - It appears that the rugs go into government storage after a President leaves the Whitehouse while their Presidential Libraries are built. Once they're done the rugs are then loaned to these museums to be displayed in their Oval Office recreations.