Did you know that a new president entering the White House means the Oval Office gets a redesign to suit the leader?
Yes, the famed political room cycles through a different look with every new elected official and, for Donald Trump, this meant ushering in a yellowed era of interior design to the White House.
This begs a question: what have other presidents done to redesign the Oval Office to fit their style and point of view? Are all the rooms as bad as Trump’s gaudy interior preferences? Digging back as far back as colored photography will allow, let’s dip back in time to see how much the interior design of the Oval Office has changed and who reigns supreme as the most savvy in regards to their domestic design.
Harry Truman, (1945 – 1953)
Initial Thoughts: Very green! And blue? This is a seeming recreation of the office and I can only assume that those red upholstered things are from the 1980s and are terrible.
Standout: That red upholstery is just awful.
Takeaway: There’s something peaceful about the scheme, a calming something to reflect the end of the World Wars.
Dwight D. Eisenhower, (1953 – 1961)
Initial Thoughts: The pairing of the wood, grays, and blues seem to draw inspiration from Eisenhower’s spotted bald head. There’s also a general military feel to this, like an army Class A uniform left in the sun for too long.
Standout: That damn red couch! I guess this couch stuck in the office and wasn’t a strange, late eighties addition.
Takeaway: Military men love to impart a military style to everything.
John F. Kennedy, (1961 – 1963)
Initial Thoughts: This is what I’m talking about: a cool, sexy blue, something that suggests a lush lap to sit on. The addition of the globe and the ships, via paintings and replica, offer the feeling that this is a soothing space. It is a room of action but it is also a room of peace. How Democrat!
Standout: The pink flowers. They’re so precious! I wonder if he always had flowers on hand? Also, the stage left cord behind the chair: it has now been strangely present and I’m mad. The tiered window treatment has also been the exact same for three decades, only changing colors.
Takeaway: Like clothing, dress a room to be the space that you want it to be. In this case, calming and cool.
Lyndon B. Johnson, (1963 – 1969)
Initial Thoughts: A jump into a bright white future, a cleansed palette from the loss of Kennedy. The lack of actual white for cream is a sophisticated touch but is a bit of overkill. Also: is that the same rug from the Kennedy office? This is the first rodded curtain, too.
Standout: The green-blue accents. This seems to be a strange but calming holdover from the Kennedys, to carry them on in spirit.
Takeaway: Johnson, although singular, couldn’t really escape the shadow of the Kennedys. Perhaps this room was an homage to them?
Richard Nixon, (1969 – 1974)
Initial Thoughts: Golden and bright! The contrast with the blue is fantastic. This is the first room that makes a statement and feels more presidential than living room.
Standout: That rug’s crest is so in-your-face America. When stared at for an extended period, the gold turns to yellow, which molds to a yellow-green. This is perhaps a fitting parallel to Nixon’s time as president.
Takeaway: Yellow is good in moderation—but complimentary colors make an impact.
Gerald Ford, (1974 – 1977)
Initial Thoughts: Those couches are to die for in a very refined 1970s fashion. This is a recreation of the office and there is a nice, complex, diverse set of colors here: there is the red and the yellow, the baby blue with potentially green-blue, which has been strangely present for much of these offices. This office does revert a bit back to living room instead of office. It’s those lovely couches that add a levity, for worse or better.
Standout: The damn scalloped red curtains. They are awful.
Takeaway: A funny couch can sink a presidency.
Jimmy Carter, (1977 – 1981)
Initial Thoughts: Peanut-y? And the same rug from before? Peanut aside, I do appreciate the tonal plays around the color brown, from the wood to the pale pink-brown in the curtains. I’m glad he also pared back the flags, too. This isn’t an ROTC classroom: it’s the Oval Office.
Standout:I think the couches and upholstery from those distracting couches of Ford remain.
Takeaway: Don’t take the couches from the president whose second term you steal—because you’ll be doomed to repeat the past.
Ronald Reagan, (1981 – 1989)
Initial Thoughts: Very restrained for someone so “Hollywood.” This appears to be a recreation but it’s surprisingly the first to feature a table of photographs and feels littered with tchotchkes. The presence of green life via plants is a fabulous addition too and stands somewhat antithetical to Reagan’s presidency given he confirmed Nixon’s means to prevent persons of color from thriving and succeeding.
Standout: While the rug isn’t as bold as Nixon’s, there’s something lovely about this earth toned floring.
Takeaway: The presence of living materials like plants and photographs do not make a man more compassionate for his fellow man: it’s simply a distraction.
George H. W. Bush, (1989 – 1993)
Initial Thoughts: The plants and photos continue their window dominance and the calming blues of Kennedy have returned, albeit lighter and more directly blue. This seems classic nu-American, a la very much representative of nineties political sweetness. The scalloped window treatment is a disaster, yet again.
Standout: The brass desk details. Are there drawers everywhere? Also, is that a glass of wine on his desk? Look at how young and cute Colin Powell looks!
Takeaway: Being a grab bag of former presidential looks is useful.
Bill Clinton, (1993 – 2001)
Initial Thoughts: I hate to say this because I know it will be crass but this room is…sexy? It’s sexy. It’s the first office to feel contemporary with a boldness similar to Nixon’s contrasting colors paired with the lushness of Kennedy’s office. The art in the room is much more pronounced, from the statues to the paintings. This is the most stereotypically Oval Office. I have never seen The West Wing but I’m sure this was ripped off in the show.
Standout: The multi-colored rug crest. It’s beautiful. My mind is also wandering non-stop around the room, wondering where he could have fucked Monica.
Takeaway: Looking literally presidential can help distract people from the behind-the-scenes personal politics of a president.
George W. Bush, (2001 – 2009)
Initial Thoughts: There is a seeming return to cream couches, which his father was all about too. That said, this room is very much the opposite of the former Bush’s: it’s bright and embracing, more shiny and exciting than calming. It’s also super sparse. Perhaps this is the angle and the clean desk but this room is markedly subdued.
Standout: The rug. It reminds of Regan in it’s radiating rays from the crest.
Takeaway: “An empty wagon makes the most noise.”
Barack Obama, (2009 – 2017)
Initial Thoughts: If I had to guess what Barry’s Oval Office would look like, it would not have been this. This is surprisingly sparse and old fashioned, suggesting that the catalogue presidents have to choose from is very much curated by bureaucracy. The the photos are nice and the paintings are more pronounced too. In fact, the painting on the left appears to be the same piece that hung in Clinton’s Oval Office. The details on the front of the desk are gorgeous and you’ll notice there is not a lot on the surface area used as technology has advanced so much at this point.
Standout: The red curtains seem to dominate the space, reminding of heart and compassion and love—but also blood.
Takeaway: When the government hands you bloody lemons, make bloody lemonade.
Donald Trump, (2017 – ??)
Initial Thoughts: Gold and blue assertion and a sparseness all around. Obviously there is not much going on here since it is a punched in photo but it’s remarkable how there are no plants, photos, or anything on the desk: all that you see is gold. The curtains dominate the room, swallowing everyone up in center.
Standout: Those disgusting curtains. This is clearly a throwback to Nixon’s treatment with a side jab at Clinton’s blue.
Takeaway: Shower yourself in gold when no one else will.