Trump's $3m White House redesign? It's as drab as a downmarket hotel

‘Straight out of a corporate conference centre’ … an eagle statue hovers over the refurbished Roosevelt Room.
‘Straight out of a corporate conference centre’ … an eagle statue hovers over the refurbished Roosevelt Room. Photograph: Carolyn Kaster/AP

‘A real dump,” is how Donald Trump is said to have described the White House he inherited from the Obama administration. For a man used to inhabiting a penthouse fantasy land of golden columns, heaving chandeliers and cherubs tumbling from the ceilings, the decor at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue must have seemed a bit drab. So he took the opportunity of his summer vacation to call in the decorators for a $3.4m (£2.6m) overhaul, the results of which have been unveiled this week.

Those looking forward to an opulent vision to match the glitz of his Trump Tower eyrie, or the palatial pomp of his Mar-a-Lago resort, will be disappointed. For once, in matters of domestic design, it seems the billionaire builder has acted with relative restraint.

The yellow candy-stripe wallpaper of the Obama Oval Office has been stripped out and replaced with a creamy grey damask affair, picked out by President Trump himself, as his aides were eager to emphasise. “The Obama wallpaper was very damaged. There were a lot of stains on it,” they added, as if to suggest the previous occupants were a bunch of uncouth ne’er-do-wells who went around spraying their fluids against the walls.

Gold-hued … the renovated Oval Office with unstripy wallpaper.
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Golden … the renovated Oval Office with unstripy wallpaper. Photograph: UPI/Barcroft Images

White House reveals new look … and Trump chose the wallpaper – in pictures

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Trump, on the other hand, “wanted to bring back the lustre and the glory” to the place. According to the philosophy of Trumpitecture, lustre and glory come in the form of gold drapes (installed in January) and gold-hued upholstery, both of which now adorn the president’s office.

Elsewhere, 6,000 metres of new carpet have been rolled out across the sprawling residence, featuring “a floral medallion inspired by the White House architecture and the Rose Garden”. The plain old Obama brown carpet clearly wasn’t lustrous or glorious enough, but the new busier version looks like it has been lifted straight from a mid-range chain hotel. It’s clearly a look that the hotelier Trump is comfortable with: a surface of ornament, but ultimately bland, forgettable and good for hiding the stains.

New treads … steps to the South Portico porch of the White House.
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New treads … steps to the South Portico porch of the White House. Photograph: Carolyn Kaster/AP

Trump’s obsequious aides have been dutifully gushing with praise online. “The White House’s newly renovated Roosevelt Room looks incredible,” cooed Cliff Sims, special assistant to the president. He can’t get out much. The accompany photos he tweeted look straight out of a corporate conference centre brochure. Recessed lights glare down from a suspended ceiling, while the walls are drenched in that ubiquitous shade of greige.

The outside of the White House has been spruced up and stripped back too, given the same liberal dousing of bleach as the interior. The timeworn stone steps of the South Portico staircase have been replaced with brand new treads, giving them the look of one of the many Chinese McMansions modelled on the White House, rather than the real thing itself. The beautiful wisteria that used to cascade down has been savagely hacked back, too – clearly the germophobe Trump found the idea of nature intruding on his sparkling white mansion too much to bear.

Peach florals … President Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy eat TV dinners in their White House quarters in 1981.
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Peach florals … President Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy eat TV dinners in their White House quarters in 1981. Photograph: Everett/Rex/Shutterstock

Ever since Thomas Jefferson replaced the outdoor privy with modern flushing loos, and added rows of classical colonnades to the humble house, it has been the done thing for the incoming first family to make their mark on the official residence. Jackie Kennedy famously set the tone for the first lady’s role as homemaker to the nation, enlisting socialite decorator Sister Parish to fill the house with antique wallpaper panels and swagged drapery, creating a series of theatrical stage sets that climaxed in her blue silk dressing room, with a button-tufted chaise-longue and leopard skin throw.

Nancy Reagan enlisted Beverly Hills interior designer Ted Graber to deliver a dose of 1980s Hollywood glamour, filling the dressing room with peachy floral fabrics, swamping her office in a symphony of pistachio and lining the bedroom walls with hand-painted chinoiserie wallpaper.

President Richard Nixon’s bowling alley, 1971.
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Underground … President Richard Nixon’s bowling alley, 1971. Photograph: Bettmann Archive

Richard Nixon built an underground bowling alley, Gerald Ford added an outdoor swimming pool, while Barack Obama installed basketball hoops on George Bush Sr’s tennis court. But, so far at least, the Trumps have remained restrained – perhaps because they don’t spend much time living in the White House anyway.

The one revealing thing in their light-touch makeover are the eagles. Lots of new eagles, everywhere. Perching on a pair of pedestals, their talons clinging to gilded rocks, an alarming duo of metre-high eagles greet visitors to the Roosevelt Room, beaks agape, wings raised up high, ready to attack. A gilded eagle peers down from the ceiling of the Oval Office too, clutching a chandelier in its talons, as if ready to hurl it down on any uncooperative heads of state.

To Trump, the eagle is no doubt part of his campaign for more lustre and glory, emphasising his desire for a more “patriotic” look in the house, after the Obamas filled it with modern and contemporary art, hanging paintings by Josef Albers and Robert Rauschenberg and installing sculptures by native and African American artists. It’s an odd choice, given the president’s uneasy history with the bird of prey: a video of him posing with a bald eagle, which then proceeds to attack him, has been watched more than 3 million times.

One of the new eagle statues at the White House.
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Ready to attack … eagle statues. Photograph: UPI/Barcroft Images

But you only have to look back at the words of one of the country’s founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, to realise what an appropriate symbol the eagle is for president Trump. “I wish that the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country,” Franklin wrote to his daughter in 1784. “He is a bird of bad moral character, he does not get his living honestly.” The eagle, he continues, is “too lazy to fish for himself,” so he waits on a nearby branch and steals from other birds instead. “Like those among men who live by sharping and robbing, he is generally poor and often very lousy,” he concludes. “Besides he is a rank coward.”

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By Stanley Ward 08/24/2017 09:40:00