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Oval Office gets a makeover

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 31, 2010

If President Obama's visitors ever grow bored, they can always read the mottoes woven into the border of the Oval Office's new rug.

There are five of them, "of meaning to the president," around the perimeter of the rug, according to a White House spokesman, and they definitely are not from Disney. No "whistle while you work," in other words.

This is fare for troubled times, and the White House is, uh, very transparent about it all. The carpet-bound philosophies are:

• "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself" (Franklin D. Roosevelt);

• "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice" (Martin Luther King Jr.);

• "Government of the people, by the people, for the people" (Abraham Lincoln);

• "No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings" (John F. Kennedy); and

• "The welfare of each of us is dependent fundamentally upon the welfare of all of us" (Theodore Roosevelt).

Just in time for autumnal speechifying, photo ops and Tuesday's prime-time address, White House designers have completed a swift, extreme weekend makeover of the nation's most famous workspace.

A pair of former President George W. Bush's fireside armchairs have been reupholstered in caramel-colored leather. There are two new custom-made sofas in a buff-colored, suedelike material, shot with subtle threads of red and blue. Each is topped with a quartet of plump pillows in navy and wide stripes.

Comfy.

Mr. Obama has an authoritative new leather chair behind his desk, a perfect foil for those on-camera moments.

It's all pretty svelte, pretty plush and maybe -- could it be? -- a tad drab.

The sumptuous rug in a neutral shade of wheat sprawls underfoot, this produced and donated by the Scott Group, a Michigan carpet maker that also made the Oval Office rug during the Clinton administration. It replaces one designed by former first lady Laura Bush; there's talk that she would like to have it back.

Wallwise, there's also new handmade striped wallpaper in ivory and the ever-present wheat tone, plus custom-mixed paint. Clean-lined table lambs sport blue ceramic bases and simple white shades.

A flurry of decoration is a rite of passage for every president seeking to put a personal imprimatur on one of the most high-profile spaces at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. And this space was not always oval. Though the original White House design had a few oval rooms, the presidential version was not crafted until 1909, at the behest of President Theodore Roosevelt.

At 816 square feet, the current version is about the size of a studio apartment, though this one has 18-foot ceilings.

And before any partisan fingerpointing can commence, the White House made a pre-emptive strike against criticism by noting that both President Clinton and President George W. Bush engaged in "a comparable level of redesign" with funds from their Presidential Inaugural Committees and the White House Historical Association.

This time around, Mr. Obama's design bills were "in line with the amount spent by Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush on the redesigns of their Oval Office," the White House said.

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