Oval Office makeover: more taupe, same old desk

The Oval Office makeover completed while President Obama was on vacation includes a new rug, wallpaper, and custom furniture. The 'Resolute' desk, installed in the Oval Office by John F. Kennedy, remains.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
The Oval Office got new furniture, wallpaper, and a custom rug while President Obama was on vacation.

Breaking news: The Oval Office has been redecorated! But it’s still, you know, oval. The fireplace is in the same place. It’s not that different, really. It wasn’t an extreme makeover, no matter what other people are saying.

It was more of a refurbishment. Think of it as a notional episode of “This Old Presidential Workspace.”

First of all, the color scheme has been toned down, moving toward taupe, away from yellows. That’s a bit of a more modern look. There’s new wallpaper, and new trim paint. And there’s new furniture – a new sofa., some new chairs, and a new coffee table in front of the aforementioned fireplace.

IN PICTURES: Inside President Obama's White House

The centerpiece is a new oval rug. It’s wheat, cream, and blue, according to a White House pool report, with five famous American quotes woven into the fabric. “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” from FDR, is one. Another is from Martin Luther King, Jr.: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”.

The pool report notes that the rug was made and donated by the Scott Group, a Grand Rapids, Mich., manufacturer. (No word on whether it or the new furniture was sprayed with fabric protector. The Obamas do have a dog, after all.)

So why did this happen now? One obvious reason is that Obama has been on vacation, and it’s easier to work when the head guy is away. Norm Abram can swing his pneumatic nailer around without the Secret Service going all frantic.

But the other reason is that it is time. Most presidents do redecorate the Oval Office, as we noted in June.

And often it is a service to the recently-departed chief executive. They are constructing their presidential libraries, which often include reproductions of the Oval Office as they used it. We’re betting that the sunburst rug, designed by Laura Bush, that was the heart of the office during the George Bush years will end up in his library, on the campus of Southern Methodist University.

Taxpayers didn’t pay for the upgrade. Obama – like his predecessors – took leftover money that had been donated to his inaugural committee and channeled it to the White House Historical Association to pay for his office makeover.

As to the total cost, the White House press office said it was “in line with the amount spent by Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush on the redesigns of their Oval Office.”

We’ll close by noting that not all Oval Office redecorations are successful. Once, aides to Richard Nixon redid the Oval while Nixon himself was on vacation, and the result was awful. It was heavy on gold drapes, as if Nixon was president of the circus instead of president of the United States. Worst of all, the new side chairs all had the presidential seal on their seats. That meant that visiting members of Congress would be sitting on this symbol of the office during their visit.

Those got swapped out. Fast.

IN PICTURES: Inside President Obama's White House

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