There are few images in American culture as recognizable as the White House. Inspired by George Washington in 1792 and first occupied by John Adams in 1800, the White House acts as a temporary home for every incumbent president from the day they're inaugurated to the moment they leave office.
But though the White House’s exterior has remained fairly consistent over its 200-year lifespan, the inside has seen drastic changes. Given that all presidents make the White House their home for their tenure as Commander-in-Chief, it stands to reason that they would want to decorate the interior to their personal tastes.
What’s inside the White House?
As the presidential palace, it’s fair to say that the White House is big. By its own account, the building has the following features:
· 132 rooms
· 35 bathrooms
· 6 total levels
· 412 doors
· 147 windows
· 28 fireplaces
· 3 elevators
Of course, this is just what they tell us. It’s likely that the White House has plenty of other secret rooms and compartments that the public isn’t privy to. For example, there’s the Presidential Emergency Operations Center, located in an underground bunker beneath the East Wing.
Changes need Congressional approval
Technically, the White House is government housing, which means that its care and upkeep rely on federal funding. And traditionally, Congress is the entity responsible for allocating funds toward care, maintenance, upkeep and any refurnishing that must be done.
Once funds are approved, sitting presidents can use them to purchase new furnishings from auctions, private sales, and more. They can even restructure certain parts of the building and add new elements, as we’ll get into below.
How much do they get?
Federal funding is provided by the American taxpayers, so it’s natural that citizens would be curious about how much funding our sitting presidents are allowed to use to redecorate their new home. Courtesy of the White House Historical Association, here are a few of the decoration budgets allotted to previous presidents (not adjusted for inflation):
· John Adams (1800) - $14,000
· Andrew Jackson (1833) - $20,000
· Calvin Coolidge (1925) - $50,000
· Bill Clinton (1999) - $100,000
As of 2019, the $100,000 allotment for each administration still stands. However, some presidents throughout history — Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama, for example — elected to forgo spending taxpayer money on renovations and paid for all changes with donations and money from their own pockets.
More recently, Donald Trump has already spent more than $1.75 million in federal funds on White House renovations. Spokespeople for his administration declined to comment on where the money came from or what it was for.
What changes can they make?
Naturally, sitting presidents have plenty of flexibility in the changes they’re allowed to make to the White House. Interior furnishings like rugs, chairs, couches, drapes, and tables are all fair game for replacement, depending on the president’s taste.
This applies to most of the rooms in the White House, as well as the grounds. In fact, it’s common practice for presidents and their wives to bring in interior decorators as one of their first acts to spruce up the place in the family’s preferred style.
However, some areas are a bit more protected. For example, sitting presidents can’t make many changes to the Lincoln Room, the Yellow Room, or many of the historical artifacts that populate the building.
This is partly due to an order passed by Lyndon Johnson in 1964, which established an advisory committee for White House preservation. This group was made to guide the maintenance of the museum character of the State Rooms, and it established the permanent position of White House curator — an official in charge of making sure that American historical artifacts aren’t compromised by change.
Some of the White House’s biggest changes
Let’s look at a couple of the biggest renovations made to the White House over the years.
1902 – Architects performed a classical renovation of the White House, adding on the now-famous West Wing.
1942 – Under Franklin D. Roosevelt, the famous East Wing (and its emergency underground bunker) were added to the White House grounds.
1948 – Harry Truman launched a four-year campaign to completely renovate the structural integrity of the aging White House.
1961 – Jacqueline Kennedy spearheaded a historical renovation, redecorating the White House with donations and collected artifacts from prominent American families.
1979 – In a surprisingly tech-centric push, Jimmy Carter installed several upgrades to the White House, including the administration’s first computer system, as well as water-heating solar panels.
Of course, this is just a sampling of the changes that have been made over the years. But no matter what aesthetic or technical renovations are made, we can hope that the honor, dignity, and integrity of the White House will live on.