The White House has been the official residence of the President’s family since November 1800, where its first residents were President John Adams and First Lady Abigail Adams. Since then, its interior has gone through many monumental changes driven by various First Ladies.
From Jackie Kennedy to Michelle Obama, we take a look at how their decorating tastes influenced the White House over the years, the designers responsible for bringing the aesthetics into the historical building, and the residence of the Obama family.
Edith Roosevelt (1901-1909)
Designer: Architecture firm McKim, Mead & White
Besides arranging for the construction of a new West Wing in 1902 to house the presidential offices, Edith Roosevelt also reworked the interiors of the White House. Her collaboration with architecture firm McKim, Mead & White adorned the White House with understated elegance – which includes a gallery of portraits of past First Ladies and a collection of presidential china.
Jacqueline Kennedy (1961-1963)
Designer: Stéphane Boudin of Parisian interior design firm House of Jansen
Mrs Kennedy’s decor choices pay homage to different periods of history. She worked with Henry Francis du Pont of the Winterthur Museum to add antiques, fine paintings, and artefacts to various parts of the house. Each room was decorated to represent a different period of history — with The Blue Room inspired by the French Empire, the Treaty Room mirroring the Victorian era, and the Green Room featuring Federal-style interiors.
Hillary Clinton (1993-2001)
Designer: Arkansas-based decorator Kaki Hockersmith
Then-First Lady Hillary Clinton had an affinity for classic American art, and celebrated America’s top artists in the White House by displaying a distinct collection of paintings and pottery. This included the 1930 Georgia O’Keeffe oil painting Mountain at Bear Lake, Taos and Henry Ossawa Tanner’s 1886 painting Sand Dunes.
Michelle Obama (2008-present)
Designer: Los Angeles-based interior designer Michael S. Smith
Michelle Obama’s refined taste is prevalent in the sophisticated interior design of the current White House, which has been described as the perfect residence for the Obamas — worldly and relaxed.
Smith, who was introduced to the Obamas through a mutual friend following the 2008 elections, said in an interview with Architectural Digest: “They were unbelievably charming, gracious, and thoughtful, and those qualities were reflected in the design of their home.”
“It was very welcoming and comfortable, with books everywhere, and I immediately grasped the spirit of their family,” he added.
It is apparent that each piece adorning the residence is carefully curated to embody the cultural richness and history of the house and America as a whole — whilst reflecting the taste of Mrs Obama.
(All photos courtesy of Architectural Digest)
The Treaty Room is filled with memorabilia, including one of the President’s two Grammy Awards, family photos, and a personalised football. The namesake table (far right) has been in the White House since 1869.
The wall features artworks of George Catlin, the first white man to depict Plains Indians in their native territory, along with an overmantel mirror from the 1850s. The floor is covered by a 1930s Hereke carpet.
Smith worked with William Allman, the curator of the White House to stay within the traditions of the White House, “while at the same time adding strategic modern touches.” To do that, Smith introduced an array of abstract and contemporary artworks — particularly in the private rooms — without disrupting the gravitas and historic character of the building. In the West Hall, Alma Thomas’s 1973 Sky Light complements a circa-1895 English mahogany pier table.
Late-1960s Robert Mangold works hang on the walls of the Family Dining Room, complemented by Christopher Spitzmiller ceramic lamps.