These Are the Most Surprising Ways That Presidents Redecorated the White House (Including Donald Trump)
Donald Trump made a lot of changes when he moved into the White House. He redecorated the Oval Office and made updates to other parts of the building, too. Melania Trump also took on the task of redecorating the White House when she moved to Washington. She even hired a Ralph Lauren designer to update the first family’s private quarters — though the historic rooms remain untouched.
Over the years, many of the presidents who lived in the White House have put their own touch on the historic mansion or its grounds. Read on to discover the most surprising ways that presidents have redecorated at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
1. Thomas Jefferson added a wilderness museum
Mic reports that when Thomas Jefferson moved into the still-unfinished White House, he didn’t hesitate to put his personal touch on the decor. Jefferson created a “wilderness museum,” which the White House Historical Association reports told the story of the American west. It contained artifacts brought back by Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and Zebulon Pike.
According to the historical association, Jefferson’s museum reportedly contained “arrows, headdresses of the Indians, animal skins, and samples of crops.” The association adds that Jefferson’s collection even included two live grizzly bear cubs, who lived in a a large pen outside the doors of the White House and could be seen by visitors.
Next: Dolley Madison saved this iconic piece of White House decor from the British.
2. James Madison’s wife saved an iconic portrait of George Washington
Mic reports that Jefferson’s successor, James Madison, largely left the White House redecorating to his wife, Dolley. The publication characterizes the decision as “a rarity at the time, as decorating was traditionally a man’s job.” But any renovations that Dolley made didn’t last long, as the British set the White House on fire during the War of 1812.
Nonetheless, Dolley managed to make a long-lasting contribution to the residence’s decor. History reports that as British troops gathered in the distance, Dolley chose to “abandon the couple’s personal belongings and save the full-length portrait of former president and national icon George Washington from desecration by vengeful British soldiers.”
Next: James Monroe spent a large sum of money on furniture from this European country.
3. James Monroe spent almost $20,000 on French furniture
Slate reports that the tradition of incoming presidents redecorating the White House began by necessity when the British set fire to the building and destroyed all the original White House furnishings. In fact, Slate notes that “the only object from the earliest days of the republic that’s still in the White House is a portrait of George Washington,” that Dolley Madison saved.
Subsequently, presidents and their wives furnished and redecorated the residence according to their own taste. The White House Historical Association reports that Congress had established a $20,000 furniture fund in 1817 for incoming president James Monroe. Monroe and his wife spent nearly that entire amount on furniture shipped from France alone. Monroe asked Congress for additional funds and received another $30,000.
Next: Martin Van Buren created the color scheme of one of the White House’s most iconic rooms.
4. Martin Van Buren gave the ‘Blue Room’ its namesake color scheme
Slate reports that the Blue Room hasn’t always been the Blue Room. When Martin Van Buren moved in and redecorated the White House, he chose one room to be decorated with silver wallpaper and light-blue satin. The oval-shaped room been called the Blue Room ever since.
As the White House Museum reports, George Washington himself preferred oval rooms. The room served as the traditional place for presidents to greet guests. And Washington liked the idea of a space where nobody would be stuck in a corner. But Van Buren did attract criticism with his Blue Room renovations, with one member of Congress scolding him for spending “$1,805.55 of the PEOPLE’S CASH” on improving the room.
Next: Abraham Lincoln’s wife went a little over budget.
5. Abraham Lincoln’s wife went over-budget when she redecorated the White House
According to the White House Historical Association, Abraham Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, got a $20,000 allowance to redecorate the residence. The association notes that the allowance “quickly evaporated during 1861 as she purchased carpets, china, cut glass, draperies, wallpaper, and other items at the finest department stores of Boston, New York City, and Philadelphia.”
Architectural Digest reports that she turned to the head gardener at the Lincoln White House for help hiding her expensive shopping habit. The gardener padded his bills to help her pay. Nonetheless, the first lady ended up with a cost overrun of $6,858, which she tried and failed to hide from the president. But with some help from the commissioner of public buildings and an additional $4,500 from Congress, she eventually paid it off.
Next: Rutherford B. Hayes received this iconic piece of furniture as a gift.
6. Rutherford B. Hayes received the iconic Resolute Desk
Slate notes that Queen Victoria presented Rutherford B. Hayes with a desk built from oak timbers salvaged from the Arctic research vessel, the HMS Resolute. (As Atlas Obscura notes, the British naval vessel had to be abandoned in an arctic ice pack in 1853. It was eventually recovered by an American whaling vessel, and sailed back to Britain.) Since Queen Victoria gifted Hayes the desk, many presidents have sat behind it.
Atlas Obscura reports that the Resolute Desk originally sat in the president’s study, and didn’t make it to the Oval Office until Jacqueline Kennedy put it there. Franklin D. Roosevelt did commission a modification for the desk in 1944. He wanted a front panel to hide his wheelchair. And Ronald Reagan wanted the desk raised a couple of inches to accommodate his chair.
Next: Chester Arthur turned to this artist to add a Victorian touch.
7. Chester Arthur enlisted Louis Comfort Tiffany to add Victorian style to the White House
Architectural Digest characterized Chester Arthur’s “Victorian obsession” as his greatest contribution when he redecorated the White House. Arthur “set out to add a staunchly Victorian flair to the White House after he took office,” the publication explains. Arthur didn’t move into the White House right after becoming president, as he wanted to undertake renovations first. He even put much of the White House’s existing furnishings up for public auction.
Arthur added an enormous Louis Comfort Tiffany screen and gilded tracery. The White House Historical Association reports that this screen of colored glass “stood in the Entrance Hall a mere nineteen years, from 1883 until 1902.” In 1902, Theodore Roosevelt undertook a major renovation of the White House, stripping away the Victorian touches and restoring the Federal style.
Next: Theodore Roosevelt made this addition to the White House grounds.
8. Theodore Roosevelt installed a tennis court
As Slate notes, some presidents simply redecorated the private quarters at the White House. But others have opted to undertake a large-scale home improvement project during their time in the White House.
Theodore Roosevelt made just such a notable addition to the White House. Enlisting the help of architectural firm McKim, Mead, and White to undertake a much-needed expansion, Roosevelt added the West Wing. And as Architectural Digest notes, the “classically leaning design team also removed Arthur’s Victorian additions.”
Next: Roosevelt also hung these items in the dining room.
9. Roosevelt also decorated the dining room with stuffed animal heads
As the White House Historical Association reports, Theodore Roosevelt’s remodeling of the White House in 1902 “transformed it from a crazy quilt of alterations over time into a cohesive statement of modern times.” But Roosevelt also put his own touch on the mansion when he redecorated.
Most notable? The choice to hang stuffed animal heads in the White House dining room. Architect Charles F. McKim, who undertook Roosevelt’s renovation, turned to an interior decorator named William Hart in New York to acquire the taxidermy.
Next: Franklin Roosevelt made his own addition to the White House.
10. Franklin D. Roosevelt added a swimming pool
Mic reports that Franklin D. Roosevelt made his mark on the White House by adding a swimming pool. Atlas Obscure reports that Roosevelt used the 50-foot-long pool to exercise, and equipped it with the most modern array of devices, including sterilizers and underwater lighting.
Swimming World Magazine reports that frequent users of FDR’s pool included Harry S. Truman,, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson. Later, Richard Nixon removed the pool and turned the space into the Press Briefing Room. But Gerald Ford later added an outdoor swimming pool.
Next: Jacqueline Kennedy undertook this major project during her short time at the White House.
11. John and Jacqueline Kennedy saved the historical integrity of the White House’s decor
Architectural Digest notes that while Harry S. Truman undertook a major renovation to restore the structural integrity of the White House, John and Jacqueline Kennedy restored the historical integrity of the White House’s decor when they redecorated.
The publication explains, “First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, along with the help of Sister Parish, Henry de Pont, and Stéphane Boudin, famously redecorated the White House with historic art and artifacts sourced from museum collections and prominent American families.”
Next: Richard Nixon made this famous addition.
12. Richard Nixon built a one-lane bowling alley
Many Americans know that bowling numbered among the hobbies that Richard Nixon enjoyed at the White House. But what you may not know is that Nixon installed a one-lane bowling alley under the North Portico of the White House residence.
Politico notes that Harry S. Truman had already had a two-lane bowling alley built in the basement of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. But as The White House Historical Association reports, Nixon had the one-lane bowling built in 1969. Nixon reportedly spent many late nights bowling alone — and awkwardly, wearing a tie.
Next: Jimmy Carter added this modern technology.
13. Jimmy Carter installed solar panels
Some renovations made at the White House have proven longer-lasting than others. As Slate explains, “Jimmy Carter famously installed solar panels on the White House grounds that Ronald Reagan removed.” The solar panels were used to heat water. And while Reagan removed them, they were later reinstalled under George W. Bush.
Architectural Digest notes that that wasn’t the only way that the Carter administration was ahead of its time. The Carter administration also installed the White House’s very first computer.
Next: George W. Bush made headlines with his choice of art.
14. George W. Bush hung a painting he seems to have misinterpreted
Slate reports that when they redecorate the White House, a president and his wife can choose art and furniture from a White House storage facility. When he redecorated, George W. Bush chose a painting he particularly loved to hang in the Oval Office.
Bush often told visitors that the painting, called A Charge to Keep, depicts Methodist circuit riders. (These missionaries spread their religion across the Alleghenies in the 19th century.) However, as Slate notes, the painting actually depicts a horse thief fleeing a mob, and was commissioned to accompany a short story in The Saturday Evening Post in 1916.
Next: George and Laura Bush also made this contribution to the White House.
15. George and Laura Bush also made the White House a little more green
Though it’s less exciting than the controversy over the painting that George W. Bush placed in the Oval Office, the Bushes made another important renovation to the White House. Slate reports that they added low-flow faucets and toilets. They also installed solar heating. And they added CFL bulbs.
In addition to those eco-friendly additions, the couple also expanded the Situation Room, according to Mic. They also renovated the Family Theater and the Press Briefing Room.
Next: Barack Obama made headline with his decor choices, too.
16. Barack Obama showcased ‘the audacity of taupe,’ as well as modern art
How could you forget the brilliant headline run by The New York Times, “The Audacity of Taupe,” upon the unveiling of Barack Obama’s newly redecorated Oval Office? Obama famously mixed classic and contemporary elements both in the Oval Office and elsewhere in the White House.
In fact, Art Report notes that the Obamas worked with decorator Michael Smith and White House curator William Allman to procure modern and contemporary art for the White House. The publication maintains that the Obama’s art selections made history, as the Obamas became “the first presidential family to select works from this genre with a remarkably diverse list of artists.”
Next: Donald Trump followed in Richard Nixon’s footsteps with this decor decision.
17. Donald Trump bought a conference table from the same place where Richard Nixon bought his
Slate reports that every four years, Congress appropriates money that will go to maintaining and redecorating the executive mansion. For instance, Congress set aside a $100,000 budget to cover any renovations that the Trump administration wanted to undertake.
Donald Trump took the opportunity and redecorated the White House — but spent nearly $2 million on furniture alone. Some his most notable purchases? A $12,800 conference table (from the same place where Richard Nixon bought his) and an “enormous crystal chandelier” in the dining room, which Trump bragged about purchasing himself.
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