We recently lost President H. W. Bush, and after looking at the news coverage and seeing photos from when he was in the Oval Office, I began to think about all the changes the Oval Office has gone through. Particularly the drapes. So I did some research about the Oval Office and how and why the changes come about.
President William Howard Taft made the West Wing a permanent building, expanding it southward, doubling its size, and building the first Oval Office. Designed by Nathan C. Wyeth and completed in 1909, the office was centered on the south side of the building, much as the oval rooms in the White House are. Taft intended it to be the hub of his administration, and, by locating it in the center of the West Wing, he could be more involved with the day-to-day operation of his presidency. The Taft Oval Office had simple Georgian Revival trim, and was likely the most colorful in history; the walls were covered with vibrant seagrass green burlap.
On December 24, 1929, during President Herbert Hoover’s administration, a fire severely damaged the West Wing. Hoover used this as an opportunity to create more space, excavating a partial basement for additional offices. He restored the Oval Office, upgrading the quality of trim and installing air-conditioning. He also replaced the furniture, which had undergone no major changes in twenty years.
Congress has always been tasked with appropriating funds for the care, repair, refurnishing and maintenance of the White House and its grounds. Each incoming president has found furnishings that were worn out and in need of replacement due to everyday wear and tear. Congress approved funds enabling a new president to carry out structural improvements and purchase new furnishings from auctions, private sales and other sources, as well as occasionally authorizing the sale of furnishings that were out of repair or unfit for use.
As of late, most Presidents rely on the White House collections of furniture, rugs, portraits, and objects to furnish the residence and the Oval Office. Others, such as Presidents Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama, have declined to use the appropriated money in favor of using private funds.
Presidents have the option to have new furnishings made or reuse furnishings from past Presidencies. Furnishings are stored for future use.
President Trump opted for reusing President Clinton’s draperies and President George W. Bush’s sofas.