May 23, 2024

Traditional Decor at the White House

In years past, home decorating pundits have erred in proclaiming that the traditional decorating style is dead.

It’s true that traditional style has begun to wane in importance over the course of the past decade. It is also true that transitional, modern and contemporary styles are trending up. Even at the world’s most famous traditionally decorated mansion, the White House, at one point it was questionable whether the traditional style would continue to be the home decorating style of choice in the future. Before the Trumps took office, the Obamas had begun bringing in elements of modern and transitional style to decorate the White House.

It has now become clear that traditional décor is far from dead — and is likely to reign on for at least the remaining duration of Joe Biden’s presidency, if not longer. As proof, let’s check out the traditional style home décor of the world’s foremost trendsetters: the US President, Joe Biden, and his family at the White House. Considering Joe Biden’s former status as Vice President of the United States, many considered the Bidens to be trendsetters before Joe’s election to the presidency, and the Bidens are certainly among the world’s foremost trendsetters now. And, likewise, the Obamas, Trumps, Bushes, Clintons, and others who came before them are still ranked among the country’s foremost trendsetters, too.

Shortly after former US President Donald Trump took office, the White House’s chief curator, Bill Allman, retired after a 41-year career on staff. It’s a big deal that the Trumps were responsible for choosing his replacement because it is the head curator who oversees the furnishings, art and decorative antiques that comprise the White House collection. To a significant degree, the people they choose as curators will influence whether the White House continues in its traditional style aesthetic or becomes a more transitional environment in the future.

In 2017, former President Donald Trump chose Lydia Tederick for White House Office of the Curator. Tederick has worked as an assistant curator in the White House’s curatorial office since 1979 before being promoted to head White House curator.

Members of the First Family are able to exercise quite a bit of their own discretion when decorating the executive mansion. Most choose to decorate with furnishings from the White House’s extensive collection. If the First Family members aren’t able to find what they want in the existing collection, they often borrow pieces from museums and art galleries. Congress is able to approve funds if they’re needed for updates to the White House and its furnishings. Presidents are also able to draw from their own accounts to pay for White House furnishings.

The following narrative and images will give you an update on the state of traditional decor at the White House.

The State of the White House in 2023:

The White House serves multiple functions:

  • It is a home. The President, his family and other members of their household live there.
  • It is an office building and political meeting place. The White House accommodates offices for many of the President’s top staff members.
  • It is a functional museum, complete with curators, a preservation committee and an interior decorator.
  • It is a tourist destination. Millions of visitors tour the premises every year.
  • It is a recreational facility featuring a swimming pool, tennis court, basketball court, jogging track, bowling alley and movie theater.

The furnishings in the White House must be suitable for serving all these functions.

President Joe Biden’s Oval Office Décor

President Joe Biden talks with former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Tuesday, April 18, 2023, in the Oval Office of the White House. Photo is by Adam Schultz.
President Joe Biden talks with former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Tuesday, April 18, 2023, in the Oval Office of the White House. Photo is by Adam Schultz.

Former President Donald Trump’s Oval Office Décor

This photo shows former US President Donald Trump's decorating style. In this photo, he was meeting with his staff in the Oval Office surrounded by his interior design choices: gold drapes, traditional oil paintings and a rug designed by former First Lady Laura Bush.
This photo shows former US President Donald Trump’s decorating style. In this photo, he was meeting with his staff in the Oval Office surrounded by his interior design choices: gold drapes, traditional oil paintings and a rug designed by former First Lady Laura Bush.

The Desk in the Oval Office at the White House

US Presidents have been using the ornate, imposing Resolute Desk in the Oval Office for decades now; some of the presidents who conducted the country’s business from the Resolute desk include John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump. President Biden has opted to continue that tradition.

The Oval Office Draperies

Gold is Donald Trump’s signature decorating color. Both his Manhattan Penthouse and his Palm Beach, Florida mansion are decked out in gold. So it’s no surprise that President Trump chose to exchange former President Barack Obama’s choice of brick-red colored draperies with eye-catching traditional gold ones. Former President Clinton had decorated with these luxurious golden draperies previously, so perhaps that is why President Biden opted to keep them; the golden draperies are still hanging in the Oval Office, but Biden has made some other changes to the Oval Office decorating scheme.

Rugs in the Oval Office

Barack Obama decorated the Oval Office floor with a round rug that featured quotes by previous US Presidents around the outer edges. Within hours of occupying the Oval Office, Donald Trump replaced the quote rug with a sunburst rug that former first lady Laura Bush designed. The rug had been a prominent inclusion on the Oval Office floor during the early days of George W. Bush’s presidency.

When President Joe Biden took office, he chose to have Laura Bush’s rug replaced with a deep blue rug that graced the Oval Office floor during Bill Clinton’s presidency. Kaki Hockersmith was the rug designer, and she also designed the golden draperies that currently hang in the Oval Office.

Wallpaper in the Oval Office

Early in Donald Trump’s presidency, the Oval Office had striped wallpaper. It was later replaced with traditional damask wallpaper that is still adorning the walls despite Trump’s White House departure. It’s a prominent feature of the Biden Oval Office decor, too.

While all the current decor choices in the Oval Office are fairly traditional in design, to my way of thinking, this ultra-traditional wallpaper choice is a signal that traditional decor is far from being dead. Certainly President Biden could have ripped out the traditional wallpaper and had the Oval Office painted with his choice of colors, had he wanted to. And if traditional decor is truly dead in this country, the nation’s foremost trendsetter might as well have opted for a more contemporary wallcovering than old-fashioned damask.

To me, one of the main takeaways is that traditional style decor is still alive and well in the United States. Can we expect to see a resurgence in damask pattern designs across the United States as a result? This outcome wouldn’t surprise me. Wallpaper is currently in style in Q4 of 2023, and I foresee it remaining trendy as we head into 2024. There are many truly lovely and up-to-date damasks available, so if that style appeals to you, I definitely see it as being an on-trend and viable option to use for decorating American homes right now.

Seating in the Oval Office

President Trump chose to replace some casual couches made of gray suede that were formerly in use in the Oval Office. In their place, he brought in fancy brocade sofas. President Biden has opted to continue using them.

Busts, Paintings and Art Decorating the Oval Office

During former President Barack Obama’s administration, critics had given President Obama a hard time over his choice to remove the Winston Churchill bust from the Oval Office. In its place, President Obama had placed a bust of Martin Luther King, Jr.

President Trump chose to include both busts in his Oval Office decorating scheme. The bust of Martin Luther King Jr. was moved to occupy a position on a wooden desk in the Oval Office, while the Churchill bust occupies a more prominent position on display not far from the President’s resolute desk.

President Trump did not care to keep the modern art President Obama used for decorating the Oval Office. Instead, President Trump selected traditional oil paintings to hang on the Oval Office walls. Two of his most prominent choices include portraits of former US Presidents Andrew Jackson and Theodore Roosevelt.

The White House Family Theater Is Influencing America’s Home Theater Décor Trends

Former US President Barack Obama entertains in the White House movie theater. Pete Souza took this photo on May 25, 2012.
Former US President Barack Obama entertains in the White House movie theater. Pete Souza took this photo on May 25, 2012.

Home theaters remain trendy in 2023. The White House’s home movie theater was at the forefront of media attention following a May, 2017 announcement that Melania Trump decided to include the theater as a brand new part of the East Wing White House tour. Prior to that time, the theater was not open to the public.

Before motion pictures were popularized, White House residents used the room as a cloakroom. The theater was created during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration. The Reagans remodeled the theater in 1982-1983 to include 51 seats arranged in tiered rows.

The theater’s last remodel took place in 2004-2005, when it was outfitted with the red seats and décor you see pictured in the 2012 photo above. As Americans and world citizens tour the White House in droves, this style is influencing public perception of what home theater décor should look like.

Décor in Donald and Melinia Trump’s Private Living Quarters at the White House During the Trump Presidency

Shortly after Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, Melinia Trump hired Tham Kannalikham as the interior decorator who would transform the First Family’s private living quarters at the White House. Ralph Lauren Home was Kannalikham’s previous employer. Before that, she was a student at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Several sources report that Kannalikham has a strong affinity for classical interior décor and architecture. She frequently attends the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art’s events, according to Mitchell Owens at Architectural Digest.

In the private West Wing dining room, the Trumps performed extensive renovations, including hanging an opulent crystal chandelier paid for with Trump’s own funds. President Trump also added a 60+-inch flat-screen television to the dining room wall above the fireplace. Time reported that,

“…contractors from the General Services Administration resurfaced the walls and redid the moldings in two days.”


This page was last updated on 9-6-2023.

Focus Keyword: Traditional Décor
2018 Traditional Décor Trends Influenced by Donald and Melinia Trump’s White House

President Trump and his family are influencing more than just politics. Their choice of traditional décor at the White House is influencing decorating trends worldwide.