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Obama's Oval Office gets makeover

The West Wing office in the White House has new furnishings, all of which were U.S.-made. The changes, which represent President Obama's stamp on his office, came at no taxpayer expense.

September 01, 2010|By Michael A. Memoli, Tribune Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington —

While President Obama was on vacation, his West Wing office got a bit of a face-lift, complete with a new rug, fresh wallpaper and paint, and new furniture — all done at no taxpayer expense, according to the White House.

The renovation of the Oval Office came 19 months after Obama first set foot inside as president, and represents "his stamp" on the room, the White House said.

In making changes, the White House took pains to ensure that new additions were American-made. The striped wallpaper was produced in Amagansett, N.Y. The rug was made by a manufacturer based in Grand Rapids, Mich. The fabric for new couches, including red, white and blue threads, was woven in Pennsylvania.

The centerpiece of the changes is the new oval-shaped rug — wheat- and cream-colored with blue stripes on the edges bordering a series of quotes chosen by the president. Four of the five quotes were from previous presidents — Kennedy, Lincoln and both Roosevelts. The fifth was from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.: "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice."

The previous rug, with a sunbeam motif, was designed by former First Lady Laura Bush for her husband, and was a favorite of another former occupant of the Oval Office.

"I love this rug," Bill Clinton remarked in January 2009, during a photo op in the room featuring all living presidents. Clinton's Oval Office featured a dark-blue rug.

Preempting possible criticism, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs described the renovations as "very modest" in an interview Tuesday on MSNBC.

"Each president puts his stamp on the office," he said. "None of the modest changes that were done inside the Oval Office were done at any taxpayer expense, much like they've been done by previous presidents."

The total cost was said to be "comparable" to what former Presidents George W. Bush and Clinton had spent. The changes were paid for out of the White House Endowment Trust, which received a donation from Obama's Presidential Inaugural Committee. The White House did not release the precise cost or the list of donors.

Maria Downs, former social secretary to President Ford who now works with the White House Historical Assn., which oversees the endowment trust, said the fund was created to raise private contributions for such projects. Downs said that since the modern Oval Office was renovated in 1934, most presidents have chosen to customize the room, changing everything from the color scheme to the drapes and artwork.

"They're the president. They can do whatever they want to their office," she said.

michael.memoli@latimes.com

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