Making the White House home

November 29, 1993|By Linda Bennett | Linda Bennett,Contributing Writer

A tantalizing peek at some of the newly refurbished rooms in the Clintons' White House family quarters last week revealed richly textured fabrics, elegant antique furnishings and a vibrant color palette.

The grand old structure at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., where every U.S. president since John Adams has lived and worked, has been updated in the Clinton style -- including a second office on the residential floor for the workaholic president and a cozy, family-style kitchen where the Clintons enjoy casual meals and family time together.

Little Rock, Ark., designer Kaki Hockersmith, who worked with the Clintons during renovation of their private living quarters in the Arkansas Governor's Mansion in 1991, served as design consultant on the White House project.

Ms. Hockersmith was not present last week when three reporters were allowed to view portions of the first family's private living quarters on the second floor of the White House, nor were the Clintons present or available for comment on the large-scale redecorating project.

The designer talked freely, however, in a recent interview at her Little Rock home. She has worked almost exclusively on the White House project for the past year.

"As a design project, working on the White House was very different from most jobs," Ms. Hockersmith said. "I was not just trying to please the clients and make them happy, but trying to do that while factoring in the integrity of the building and its history."

While planning the refurbishing, the designer studied photographs and other documents in the White House archives and visited on-site and off-site storage facilities where items in the White House collection are housed.

"But my relationship with the Clintons on this project was not any different than with any other clients," she added. "We would consult, I'd do a presentation and if there was something they didn't like, we'd change it. We'd get down on the floor and crawl around with the samples. It seemed to be a nice pause in their busy days when I'd come to town -- they couldn't wait to see what I'd brought to show them."

The Clintons took a personal interest in refurbishing the White House rooms. Lisa Caputo, Hillary Rodham Clinton's press secretary, said Mrs. Clinton read more than 40 books on the White House in preparation for the project.

"They wanted the new rooms to be a reflection of their personalities as well as an appropriate display of the White House collection," Ms. Hockersmith said.

The recently completed project, which, according to the White House, cost just under $400,000, included routine maintenance and restoration of heavily used areas as well as extensive redecoration of some public and private rooms.

Private contributions to the White House Historical Association, including a $300,000 donation of surplus Democratic Inaugural Committee funds, paid for the work. In addition to monetary donations, more than two dozen individuals and firms contributed such items as fabric, furniture, draperies, rugs, wall coverings and trim.

The most dramatically altered rooms that reporters were allowed to view were the Treaty Room and the Lincoln Sitting Room. The newly refurbished Oval Office in the West Wing, where the president conducts most official business, had been opened for inspection earlier.

The Treaty Room, which had glazed, pale green walls, pastel upholstery and floral draperies during the Bush years, has been redone in bolder shades as a second office for President Clinton.

Handsome walnut paneling, faux leather wall covering in a rich shade of red and a colorful circa 1850 Heriz rug warm the high-ceilinged space, which Mr. Clinton uses most mornings, evenings and weekends -- when he's not at work in the more public Oval Office.

Among the room's notable features are the circa 1869 walnut conference table on which a number of historic documents have been signed, and the massive Theobald Chartran oil painting depicting the signing -- at this table, in this room -- of the 1898 Peace Protocol ending the Spanish-American War.

Another room that's been changed drastically during the Clintons' first year in the White House is the cozy sitting room off the Lincoln Bedroom Suite, which is usually reserved for family friends staying over at the executive residence.

The sitting room's brown, beige and rust color scheme was dated and dreary, Ms. Hockersmith noted, and it didn't relate at all to the elegant Victorian decor of the Lincoln Bedroom it adjoined.

"Hillary was particularly interested in restoring the sitting room to the proper Lincoln-Grant Victorian period style and also making it an inviting and comfortable room for guests to use when they're staying at the White House," the designer said.

Working closely with the White House painting staff, Ms. Hockersmith had the sitting room walls lightened to a creamy shade.

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