Obama's 'decorator in chief' reflects on 8 years at the White House

October 30, 2020 at 09:11

Written by Oscar Holland, CNNThere aren't many interior design jobs in which a decorator is prohibited from visiting the property before starting work.
But then again, there aren't many residences like the White House.
So, when Michael S. Smith -- President Barack Obama's self-described "decorator in chief" -- arrived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington on Inauguration Day 2009, he knew he had to hit the ground running.
Now, in his comprehensive new book "Designing History: The Extraordinary Art & Style of the Obama White House," the interiors expert reveals how he did it, whether selecting mahogany chairs for the State Dining Room or commissioning a handmade carpet for the master bedroom.
The White House's master bedroom complete with a late 18th century desk and bookcase, and a high-post bed from the early 19th century.
Credit: Michael MundyWritten alongside journalist Margaret Russell, the book provides a detailed history of the White House's layout and contents.
While the White House had, he said, been left in "extraordinarily good shape" by the Bushes, the 18th-century building was ill-equipped to meet the needs of a young family.
"To try to contextualize it and keep it somehow tethered to the White House was really more challenging," he added.
"I knew that (Obama) was an incredibly Socratic thinker, and would work really late into the night, so this room ... was really a working office."
Contemporary touchesOne might expect the White House decorator to have access to a rich selection of old furnishings, but until the turn of the 20th century, decorative objects and items of tableware were often auctioned or sold off at the end of any given administration.
A painting by Sean Scully, on loan from the National Gallery of Art, pictured in the family sitting room.
Changing of the guardEffusive in his praise for President Obama, Smith described his former employer as having "the precision and the focus of an architect."
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