The Shocking Thing Jackie Kennedy Said About the White House’s Home Decor (Plus Other Surprising Changes She Made While First Lady)

JFK’s legacy isn’t the only thing Jackie Kennedy influenced. She had a major impact on life at the White House, too. Whether it was entertaining notable guests from around the world or selecting pieces of furniture for the mansion’s most famous state rooms, she curated an American lifestyle that would change 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. forever.

Ahead, we take a look at some of the surprising ways she changed the White House. Note the hilarious thing she said about its home decor (page 5).

1. She brought champagne to the White House

President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jackie Kennedy seated at a table
She brought champagne to the White House. | National Archive/Newsmakers/Getty Images

Believe it or not, before Jackie Kennedy set foot in 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., champagne wasn’t a thing (at least in the White House). But Jackie’s champagne was more than a bubbly beverage served at state dinners. It was a representation of the class she brought to White House living — which still rings true today.

Next: Changes to the White House kitchen

2. She hired a French chef

Rene Verdon Kennedy White House Chef
She brought her high-class tastes with her. | Robert Knudsen/White House, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

It’s no secret that Jackie was a well-traveled, intelligent woman. And her experiences influenced everything from her wardrobe to the food she ate. So it should come as no surprise that she hired a French chef for her time at the White House.

Next: Was her home decor an indication of how she felt about being first lady?

3. She paid homage to her Georgetown home

First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy's Bedroom
She wanted it to resemble her Georgetown home. | Robert Knudsen/White House, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

Prior to moving to the White House, John and Jackie Kennedy lived nearby in Georgetown. And when it came time to decorate her private living quarters at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., it was clear she was homesick for her former life. The first lady hired Sister Parish to decorate and requested a similar design to her home in Georgetown.

Next: How she brought history into the White House

4. She turned the White House into a museum

The Blue Room white house
The Blue Room was filled with stunning historical artifacts. | Wikimedia Commons

According to the JFK Presidential Library, in 1961, Jackie Kennedy expressed her concerns about the White House’s decor to Life magazine, stating: “All these people come to see the White House and they see practically nothing that dates back before 1948.”

To make up for this, Jackie created two important White House organizations: the White House Fine Arts Committee and the White House Historical Foundation. She hoped they would help her obtain historical artifacts and works of art to display in her temporary home.

Next: What Jackie Kennedy really thought about the White House’s decor

5. She thought the White House was tacky

Eisenhower white house decoration
She did not hold back when it came to the predecessors’ decor choices. | White House Historical Association

According to The Washington Post, Jackie was not a fan of the White House’s decor and said “it looked like it’s been furnished by discount stores.” So that is why she went out of her way to transform the White House into a symbol of American history.

Next: What she did about it

6. She hired a curator

Kennedy White House curation collection
She restored and curated the historical pieces. | John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

Jackie couldn’t stand the decor left by her predecessors, so she hired a curator. As far as redecorating and renovating goes, many things in 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. are off-limits. But that didn’t stop her from restoring the White House with classy, 19th century furniture.

Bringing antiques to the White House wasn’t just for personal preference. Jackie was very concerned about preserving history and hated that the White House did not reflect its history and influence of past presidents.

Next: She invited unusual (by Washington, D.C., standards) guests.

7. Entertaining at the White House

Jacqeuline Bouvier Kennedy
The first lady became a position all its own. | Kennedy Library Archives/Newsmakers

There’s no doubt Jackie transformed the role of first lady during her time at the White House. Not only did she hire a French chef, redecorate, and introduce class to the White House — by way of champagne, of course — she invited new kinds guests into her temporary home, as well.

Jackie’s state dinners were unlike any other. From the elegant decorations to the food and the guests (many of whom were cultural giants), she breathed new life into White House dinners and paved the way for many future occasions.

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