Archive for the Oval Office Category

A Fresh Coat of Bland, the Oval Office Redecoration.

Posted in architecture, Oval Office, White House on September 1, 2010 by babylonbaroque

As I was reading this morning’s New York Times I was greeted with the news that our President had redecorated the  nation’s Seat of Power, the Oval Office.

I was left deeply unimpressed, how did we become so Beige!

The rooms flaxen decor reminds me of any expensive hotel eager to cocoon you in it’s monochromatic safety. The room gave me no indication of Mr. Obama’s real interests, although the new oval carpet included several quotes he is said to treasure. But aside from that personal detail the room is yet again another example of his decorator Michael Smith’s rarefied yet sterile aesthetic (I assume Smith was in charge).

It is a celebration of blandness with a chorus of wheat, oatmeal, and putty. No wonder Mr. Obama’s detractors criticize his apparent lack of emotion. No- Drama- Obama has gone  way too far in his pursuit of understatement.

Obama Redecoration of the Oval Office.

Subtle or boring as hell?

sourced from NYTimes

Apparently the decoration of the Oval Office has not been a pressing priority for most of the presidents. Eisenhower and Carter didn’t even bother, but most have at least switched out the rugs and window furnishings.

The Oval Office is a relatively new room. Our Decorator In Chief, the house mad Jefferson complained about the presidential palace being too cramped for domesticity and national function. In 1885 what is now the West Wing was a series of glass conservatories in which the White House’s floral needs were met. As you can see by this post card, they needed a heck of a lot of flowers.

ca. 1885

It seems Big Stick Teddy decided to take matters into his own hands and tore down those sissy flower cradles. Wisely hiring McKim, Mead, & White to handle the extensive project. This image of the entrance hall is an example of their skill and taste.

ca. 1902

Of course Teddy’s bravado was not immune to criticism , this 1902 cartoon lambasts Roosevelt’s manly excesses. I wish I could find a actual image of the room, I would probably love it.

I particularly like the human trophies in the ceiling dome, nice little touch.

Although the renovation was extensive, the Oval Office still did not exist. Roosevelt used what is now the Roosevelt Room as his West Wing Office.

ca. 1904

Charming in it’s modesty, yet still personal.

President Taft as part of the expansion of the West Wing, created the Oval Office.

William Howard Taft’s Oval Office

ca. 1909

I like the choice of olive green,masculine, powerful, dignified.

Refreshingly not red-white-0r-blue.

ca. 1909

Detail of valance decoration, they were used through F.D. Roosevelt’s presidency. A wise move, easily the most handsome window furnishings we will see, window treatments became increasingly more pretentious.

Truman ultimately retires them, an unfortunate decision.

Oval Office ca. 1923

The black crepe is in honor of President Harding,having suffered a fatal heart attack that year.

His vice president Calvin Coolidge now occupied the Oval Office.

ca. 1925

I have a ridiculous fondness for early electrical fixtures, this clunky Neo-Georgian with ungainly bulbs is particularly charming.

In 1929, on Christmas Eve, a fire destroyed what is now known as the Original Oval Office.

Fire damage ca. 1929

The room is rebuilt by  Herbert Hoover according to the original plans. It is unclear to me but apparently F.D.R. , after further expansion and remodeling moves the Oval Office to the southeast corner of the West Wing.

F.D. Roosevelt’s office, ca. 1945

Note the hint of  the still handsome valance, soon doomed  for retirement under Truman.

I really like this room , rich in WASPy clutter.

Truman’s newly “improved” office

ca. 1947

Eisenhower’s take on the Oval Office

ca. 1956

Did Mamie choose the little soldiers on the mantle piece?

Under Her Majesty Jackie and her Franco decorator ,Stéphane Boudin, the White House underwent many improvements.

But for some time the Kennedy Oval Office was a rag tag collection of Truman and Eisenhower leftovers and frankly kitsch.

ca. 1961

PLEASE explain the illuminated globe/spinning wheel thingie.

JFK seems comfy.

Perhaps the most tragic example of redecoration  is the Kennedy Oval Office, as Kennedy was being assassinated the decorations were being installed.

Recquiscat in Pace President Kennedy.

The ill fated Kennedy Oval Office

ca. 1963

Dismantled soon after the assassination.

For a time L.B. Johnson uses the red carpet and window furnishings.

ca. 1964

Note the ever popular “Resolute ” desk is not in use. Perhaps the happy memories of John-John playing in his father’s office was too recent for dignity.

I leave tragedy behind and jump forward to more recent incarnations, some surprisingly colorful.

President Ford

ca. 1974

re-using Nixon’s imperial yellow decor.

Ronald Reagan’s last day in office

ca. 1989

George H. W. Bush

ca. 1991

Handsome window furnishings.


ca. 1996

George W. Bush

source New York Times

In closing I show a detail of the carpet chosen by Mr. Obama, I’m happy that it continues the tradition of repeating the ceiling ornament.

In memory of JFK, I include this always delightful clip of Jackie’s tour, we have all heard it of course, but her patrician lisp is always a delight.

God love her.

Good Night