America’s most famous house and one of our priciest landmarks attracts over 100,000 visitors monthly. It’s grandiose, mysterious, and powerful. However, for some American families, it has to be a comfortable home as well.
These first ladies put their unique spin on White House home decor, however, it didn’t come cheap. While each family is given a budget, which has escalated to fit inflation, the following women exceeded it drastically to make the White House feel like their home.
Jackie Kennedy spent an incredible amount of time and effort to transform her new home from what she found dismal and dowdy into the elegant, television-worthy historical display that it would become. Following John F. Kennedy’s inauguration, Kennedy appointed interior designers like Stéphane Boudin (Jackie was a known Francophile) to help her transform the White House.
Jackie began developing creative ways to access more funding for the house. She organized a volunteer committee of antique enthusiasts to locate pieces that she could decorate with on loan. Jackie gave her famous guided tour of the White House on CBS that attracted over 80 million viewers, eager to see how she transformed the presidential quarters. She spent $2 million on the redesign in 1962, which comes out to $16.4 million in 2017 dollars.
While each first couple is given an allowance to spend — since the Clinton administration, it’s been $100,000 — Michelle and Barack opted to use personal funds. Michelle notably transformed the White House State Dining Room for the first time since 1998 when Hillary Clinton took on the task.
The interior alterations gave the room a distinctly 21st-century update and cost $590,000. She took on the project shortly after completing the renovations for the Old Family Dining Room. It was once off-limits to the public, however, Michelle remade the room into a modern space now fit for public viewing. The Obamas spend $1.5 million in total on decorating, according to NBC.
In true Trump fashion, Melania and Donald are already on track to greatly exceed the Obama’s spending after their first year in the White House. So far, the Trumps have spent nearly $2 million on new White House decor. According to NBC, while it’s unclear exactly what the two have done with the place, some of the money has reportedly gone toward things like “furniture pedestals” and custom rugs. And, of course, Donald has adorned his office with gold drapes, his favorite color.
Melania made headlines for her elaborate Christmas decorations. She personally designed this year’s holiday display, titled “Time-Honored Traditions,” which intends to give a “nod to the past 200 years of White House holidays,” according to CNN.
Back in 1861, Abraham and Mary Lincoln were allowed $20,000 to revamp the White House. The first lady caused a stir, overrunning the cost by nearly $7,000. She reportedly bought items like carpets, china, and draperies from the finest stores in Boston, New York City, and Philadelphia. Mary tried, unsuccessfully, to hide the debt from her husband.
She eventually received an additional allowance from Congress and was able to pay off the purchases. In 2017, the total cost would have roughly equaled $600,000 in renovations.
According to Architectural Digest, Nancy Reagan left her own unique mark on the second- and third-floor private quarters of the White House. She also put money into the Yellow Room, the Treaty Room, and the Lincoln and Queens’ Bedrooms. The Reagans found 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in a grim state when they moved in. The plumbing and wiring were outdated, the floors needed serious work, and the draperies were “falling apart,” according to the family’s go-to designer, Ted Graber.
Nancy secured most of the $1 million budget from private donations since the renovation costs drastically exceeded the $50,000 the government allotted her. She allegedly spent $200,000 on new china alone.
Hillary and Bill Clinton spent $396,429 on a redecoration bend by designer Kaki Hockersmith from Little Rock, Arkansas. The restoration was financed by private donations to the White House Historical Association
White House spokesmen said that the Clintons opted not to use the $50,000 allowance from Congress. They also received fabric and decorative materials via donations from manufacturers. Hillary had Hockersmith redo the Yellow Oval room, four of the private bedrooms, a few of the sitting rooms, the kitchen, and the third-floor guest rooms and solarium. The Clintons displayed the renovations to reporters for an hour after they were completed.
Laura Bush took on what she called a “job of decisions” upon moving into the White House. “He [husband George Bush] did what he thinks is the smart thing for a leader to do — he delegated it to me,” she told Architectural Digest. Laura took the money and ran … all the way to designer Kenneth Blasingame, who also designed the Bushes’ ranch house in Texas.
Laura and Blasingame made changes to the Oval Office, the Cabinet Room, the Lincoln Bedroom, and the Vermeil Room, among countless others. Of all the rooms she redid, the Green Room was Laura’s favorite. “There’s a great reminder of history when you live here,” she said. However, there is always room for new additions; Laura revealed a $74,000 set of China they purchased for the White House just before the end of President Bush’s second term.
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