Doing over the White House -- again

Nancy Reagan's much-advertised hurry to redecorate the White House ought to be kept in perspective. Even the first First Lady to live there, Abigail Adams, found that it was not exactly to her taste. The mirrors were like "dwarfs." There were not a "twentieth" of the necessary lamps. With no drying yard the wash had to be hung in the big, still-uncompleted audience room.

And Mary Lincoln did so much overbuying during the first year, $7,000 beyond her allowance, that a special funding bill had to be rushed through Congress. In a rare display of lost patience, President Lincoln asked where in the world she intended to place a $2,500 rug, and how could she be asking for more money for "flub-dubs for this . . . old house" when the Army needed every cent?

Mrs. Reagan, by contrast, is planning ahead. It will be interesting to observe the results -- more red for the family rooms, for example. She is reportedly consulting with a decorator and mapping where furniture will go on a floor plan of the presidential living quarters. She is said not to rule out redecorating the official public rooms, though here a room-by-room plan of redecoration under a White House curator has been underway for a number of years.

It would be out of keeping with President- elect Reagan's grass-roots appeal to pay undue attention to the surfaces of the Executive Mansion. But obviously it should represent the country appropriately in appearance, comfort, and good repair. The Trumans actually had to move out so that structural rebuilding could be undertaken. Several recent first ladies have worked to restore the interior elegance and collect more antiques and works of art. Now the Reagans will add their stamp.

By way of a little more perspective, it can be presumed they will not auction off 24 wagonloads of what they want to get rid of, as Chester Arthur did. They won't be laying in 20 cuspidors as Andrew Jackson did. They won't have a little Tad Lincoln around to leave his marks on the woodwork with a new toolkit.

Then there is the example of Thomas Jefferson, who had tried to design the whole White House but had his plans defeated in open architectural competition. As President he combined informality of dress and socializing with sprucing up the place by means of his own fine chairs, sofas, and bric-a-brac. He added his inventive touch with "silent helpers," circular shelves that would turn to bring serving dishes through the dining room wall -- no need for servants to interrupt the presidential conversations.

Yes, Mrs. Reagan, the possibilities are endless.

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