Obama to Clinton: How 3 Presidents Decorated the Oval Office

Homes

January 18, 2017 | BY Jacqueline Kot

As it's due for a renovation soon, we take a look at the past iterations of the official office of the President of the United States

It’s the most famous office in the world, situated in the most famous house in the world, and it gets a makeover every four or eight years when a new US president moves in and makes it their own. Ahead of the next facelift, we look at how the decor of the Oval Office in the White House has changed over the past three administrations.

President Barack Obama (in office 2009-2017)

9466_2.jpg

Photo courtesy of the White House Historical Association/Bruce White 

Featuring a cosy palette of taupe and warm brown hues and a comparatively streamlined set of furniture, the decor of President Obama’s Oval Office is more subdued and modern than that of his predecessors. The Resolute desk, a popular choice among presidents, remains in place. It’s made from the oak remains of British Arctic exploration ship the HMS Resolute and was a gift from Queen Victoria to President Rutherford B. Hayes. Obama added a bust of Martin Luther King Jr and one of President Abraham Lincoln by American sculptor August Saint-Gaudens, while the rug has inspiring quotations along its border from the likes of King and President John F. Kennedy. The work of US painters Norman Rockwell (The Statue of Liberty) and Childe Hassam (The Avenue in the Rain) hang on either side of the Resolute desk. And on the mica coffee table is the ever-present bowl of apples for visitors to help themselves to—said to be an Obama family tradition.

President Barack Obama (in office 2009-2017)9467.jpg

Photo courtesy of the White House Historical Association/Bruce White

President George W. Bush (in office 2001-2009)OvalOfficeReplica_NARA and George W Bush Presidential Center.jpg

Photo courtesy of the White House Historical Association/Bruce White

The decor was classic and the colour scheme light and airy in President Bush’s Oval Office—from cream sofas with a subtle floral motif to armchairs upholstered in teal and gold stripes, and decorative china on the bookshelf. The rug, in a soft golden hue, had a sunbeam pattern emanating from the presidential seal and was similar in design to the one used by President Ronald Reagan. Hanging over the mantelpiece was a painting of President George Washington by Pennsylvania-born artist Rembrandt Peale, while busts on display around the room included one of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill by Jacob Epstein. Bush also had a few reminders of his home state, with several paintings by local artists portraying scenes of Texas. 

President George W. Bush (in office 2001-2009)OvalOfficeReplica2_NARA and George W Bush Presidential Center.jpg

Photo courtesy of the White House Historical Association/Bruce White

President Bill Clinton (in office 1993-2001)20120914-550.JPG

Photo courtesy of the White House Historical Association/Bruce White

Red, white and blue were the dominant colours in President Clinton’s Oval Office. The vibrant blue of the rug was teamed with sofas in white and cherry-red stripes, balanced by plain white walls. Framing the windows that look out to the Rose Garden were golden yellow curtains with a blue border, a colour scheme that appeared in the upholstery of several chairs positioned around the room. On either side of the mantelpiece were paintings depicting American scenes—George Cooke’s City of Washington From Beyond the Navy Yard and Thomas Moran’s The Three Tetons, depicting the Teton Range of mountains in Wyoming. Clinton also had a bronze bust of Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the United States, by French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon. And like most of his predecessors going back to President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1881, Clinton chose to work at the Resolute desk.

President Bill Clinton (in office 1993-2001)20100521-549.JPG

Photo courtesy of the White House Historical Association/Bruce White

This article was originally published in the Winter 2016 issue of Hong Kong Tatler Homes.