- The Washington Times - Monday, January 19, 2009

It’s moving day for the Obamas. But unlike average folks, they don’t have to worry about unpacking the moving van.

The family can choose any piece of furniture ever used in their new home: the White House.

When the Obamas move into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., they will have their choice of any presidential sofa, table or chair that is still in working order. All they have to do is select from among thousands of pieces located in a secret, 40,000-square-foot warehouse in Maryland.

Its exact location is undisclosed.

Presidents and their families have dipped into the treasure trove for years. “I remember Rosalynn Carter found in White House storage some child-size furniture that had been given to the White House during Caroline Kennedy’s time,” said former White House curator Betty Monkman.

Miss Monkman, now in her early 60s, worked in the office of the White House curator from 1967 to 2002, and in 1997 was appointed chief curator. During her years in the office, she culled through the White House antiques for eight presidents.

The storage facility, she said, houses everything from Theodore Roosevelt-era rugs to Harry S. Truman’s bedside table.

“It’s a historic record of everything that has been used in the White House over the last 200 years,” she said.

The office of the first lady told The Washington Times that the facility’s location is never discussed publicly for security reasons, but Miss Monkman explained in an interview what it was like.

“There are stacks and rows, metal shelving, rows of chairs by style or period, paintings on painting racks, carpets rolled up on rolled textile storage, and some things are in crates,” she said.

Walking through the warehouse is like traveling through American history.

“There are many things from Theodore Roosevelt’s time, especially things that were used on the State Floor that will probably not be used in the White House again,” said Miss Monkman.”We have furniture from the Blue Room dating back to James Buchanan’s time in the mid-19th century.”

In addition to the pieces in storage, the new president also can borrow any painting from any of the national museums and hang them in either their private residence or the White House’s West Wing.

The Obamas can choose furniture for any of the 132 rooms in the White House.

If the new president and his family want something more contemporary, they can buy pieces using money that Congress appropriates.

The Obamas will get a $100,000 budget, the same amount allocated to President Bush and first lady Laura Bush. Any spending on decorations beyond that will need to be financed from private sources.

The Obamas have tapped some of their allocated money to purchase a king-size bed from Leonard’s New England, in Seekonk, Mass., which specializes in antique and reproduction beds. The 1820s tall-post Tiger Maple bed was delivered Saturday to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Leonard’s would not disclose the cost of the bed, though the store’s offerings are priced as high as $12,000.

But first families usually find their key furniture pieces in the White House collection, Miss Monkman said.

Some bring their personal furniture to the White House, particularly if they are closing a house for the move, but the Obamas, like the Bushes, will use a great deal from the White House collection.

First ladies hire usually interior decorators to help choose pieces and tailor the house to the family’s personal style. Michelle Obama announced Thursday that she had chosen Los Angeles designer Michael Smith to work with her.

“The family’s casual style, their interest in bringing 20th Century American artists to the forefront and utilizing affordable brands and products will serve as our guiding principles as we make the residence feel like their home,” Mr. Smith in a statement.

The two floors of the residential area above the State Floor probably will be the focus of the First Family’s redecorating. It is where first families generally spend the most time together.

The White House layout has changed over the years.

“There wasn’t a kitchen or a dining room there prior to the Kennedy administration,” Miss Monkman said. “So a bedroom and a sitting room were converted into a very nice dining room and a kitchen,” to accommodate the Kennedy children.

Simple decisions like where the Obama daughters will do homework or where the family will eat meals will help define space even more.

“Where will the girls eat breakfast? Will they have it in the more formal dining room or in the kitchen up on the second floor?” asked Miss Monkman. These are decisions that need to be made before the furniture is chosen.

The Reagans, for example, ate meals in front of the television from time to time, Miss Monkman said.

Miss Monkman predicts that a room on the third floor called the Solarium will become a comfortable refuge for the Obama girls.

“It’s a much more informal living space, with windows on three sides, and it overlooks the lawn and the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial,” said Miss Monkman. “There are televisions there, and it is usually a place people play games or meet informally or have informal meals.”

“I look forward to adding our own touch to the East Wing and creating a living space where our family feels comfortable, happy and settled,” Mrs. Obama said in a statement.

When the Clintons came to town, many Washingtonians raised concerns that this governor and his wife would bring their ‘Arkansas style’ to the White House. People also worried that the small-town Carters were not sophisticated enough to accessorize correctly.

But those were just uninformed stereotypes, Miss Monkman said.

“The Carters were criticized for their Georgia style, yet some of their entertaining was the most elegant that’s happened. They had a wonderful interest in classical music and American paintings,” she said. “People adapt very quickly to life in the White House and I think people want to represent the White House in its best way.”

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