All the President's designers
The Oval Office, in the west wing of the White House, is the personal office of the President of the United States of America.
It is elliptical in shape, with a fireplace on the northern side and three large windows facing south, right behind the Resolute desk: a gift from Queen Victoria, it was made with timber from the British explorer HMS Resolute and presented to President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880.
Since then, many Presidents have used this desk, but it was President John F. Kennedy, or rather his wife Jacqueline, who first placed it in the Oval Office.
This big room, 11 meters by 8.8, has four doors: the one to the east leads into the White House rose garden; the one to the west leads to a smaller private bureau; the one to the north-west leads into the main corridor of the west wing and the one to the north-east leads to the office of the President personal secretary.
It is quite common for the Presidents to change the furnishing of the White House and, especially, of the Oval Office. Through the various administrations, the most important office in the world has undergone constant restyling, always financed by a fund for the President inaugural ceremony and by the White House Historical Association.
Gerald R. Ford, born Leslie Lynch King Jr., decided to remove the Resolute desk: his successor, James E. Carter, better known as Jimmy, brought it back to the Oval Office, but decided not to change either the rug or the drapes chosen by the 38th President of the United States.
During the presidency of Ronald W. Reagan, it was First Lady Nancy who decided on her husband’s office decor, opting for a more Spartan style, both in furniture and colours scheme.
This choice was ratified by President George H. Bush, but not by his successor, William “Bill” J. Clinton, who entrusted designer Kaki Hockersmith with the most radical chromatic transformation the Oval Office had undergone for decades.
Kaki Hockersmith used a more vibrant range of colours, which comprised shades of cream, gold, crimson and sapphire blue, and put her signature on a more striking overall design.
In 2001, when the dramatic events at the World Trade Centre took place, President George W. Bush begun his first mandate and decided to soften the colours in the Oval Office, choosing more sober tones of grey, celadon and dark blue: on this occasion, the master of ceremonies, as far as deco and design was concerned, was the Texan Ken Blasingame.
And so we come to the present.
A couple of years ago, when President Barack H. Obama spend a week’s holiday on Martha’s Vineyard with his family, they had the chance to completely refurbish the Oval Office, just in time for the President to address the nation on the end of the war in Iraq.
According to indiscretion in The Washington Post, the man in charge of this overhaul was Michael S. Smith, the same LA interior designer who redesigned the private rooms for the 44th tenant of the White House.
In an interview, Smith did not confirm that he did the work, but simply stated he was not at liberty to divulge the name of his clients. However, many have recognized his touch.
The Oval Studio has now a new striped wallpaper, a custom made rug, new chairs and a coffee table that, in its style, shows an evident break with the past.
Altogether, this latest version proves to be one of the most elegant, balanced in the choice of colours but with a precise character, welcoming and maybe leaving little room for improvements, except in the drapes.
The new carpet, cream coloured with blue trims, features the seal of the President in its centre and bears along the edges five quotations, four by illustrious former Presidents and a fifth wrongly attributed to Martin Luther King. All of these quotations were a source of inspiration for President Obama.
The five quotations are, as follows:
“Government of the people, by the people, for the people”
“The welfare of each of us is dependent fundamentally upon the welfare of all of us”
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”
Franklin D. Roosevelt
“No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings”
John F. Kennedy
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”
Martin Luther King, Jr. (Theodore Parker)