Nancy Regan's California decorator Ted Graber says "none of us changes our spots when we move from one place to another," and the Ronald Reagans are no exception. When they move into the White House on Jan. 20, Graber, who has seen to their West Coast decorating needs, will redo the upstairs family living quarters to suit the Reagan's long-established life style.
Graber, with the Beverly Hills firm of William Haines Inc., says that will mean "one thing for sure -- the family quarters will be tailored to fit the 20th century" but with a strong dose of what both Reagans like from the past.
He will accompany Nancy Reagan when she takes her second White House walk-through on Dec. 13, escorted by chief usher Rex Scouten and curator Clement Conger.
Reagan got her first glimpse of where she will live for the next four years when she and the president-elect visited Washington last month. She found the Red Room in the State Rooms to her particular liking, her press secretary Robin Orr said later, because she is fond of red.
Yesterday, in a telephone interview from his Beverly Hills office, Graber said the color red "has got to appear somehow" in the redecorated family quarters and that "the palette has all shades of it."
He said Nancy Reagan likes to combine the present and the past through the use of 18th-century mahogany furniture, floral prints and interesting textures. The result is something warm and inviting, the way their house is here."
He said he expects the next first lady to bring along prized personal artifacts from the Pacific Palisades home "just the way we all take parts of our nests with us when we move." Among them probably wil be Chinese porcelains, collection during the Reagans' travels abroad, to help turn "strange tables and strange chests" into less formidable living companions.
Decorating guru to such Regan friends as the Alfred Bloomingdales, the Earle Jorgensens and the Walter Annenbergs, Graber said he and Nancy Reagan "discuss" rather than argue over differences of opinion they may have on a particular decorating point.
"Don't you ever challenge your couturier or your decorator?" he asked, adding that he and Nancy Regan end up with a "meeting of the minds."
While he has been studing White House photographs and floor plans, Graber said he has learned not to rely too much on photographs for help. I've seen pictures of a lot of places in this world, but when I've gotten there they are the worst outhouses I've ever seen."
He did not put the White House in that category, however. "It's a beautiful period house," he said.
Asked if he planned any changes in the upstairs Yellow Oval Room, once described by Nancy Kissinger as the most beautiful room in the world, Graber said he hadn't seen it. "But I'm not one to throw things away."
He said he doesn't know where the money will come from to pay for Nancy Reagan's redocrating project but that if it is like other government property, including Winfield House in London, which he redecorated for then-U.S. Ambassador Walter Annenberg, some government funds usually are available.
"I don't think that the governement budget ever keeps up with the times, however," he said.
At the White House yesterday, curator Conger said funds are available at the outset of each new administration to spruce up the family quarters. But he said Nancy Regan is prohibited by law from making any changes in the mansion's public rooms on the main floor or in the Queen's Bedroom, the Lincoln Bedroom and the Treaty Room on the second floor. Any changes there require the approval of the 24-member Committee for the Preservation of the White House, a bipartisan committee that includes experts on American art and antiques. The committee members are expected to offer to resign at the end of an administration.
"It's true that Jacqueline Kennedy started all these wonderful things, but when legislation was passed in 1961 the idea was to protect the museum character of the mansion," said Conger, who acts as the committee's executive. c
Similarly, the decoration of the presidential guest quarters across from the White House known as Blair House soon will come under stricter control when an associate curator is appointed and an inventory of its furnishings and artifacts is made for the first time in its history. "Nobody has any idea what's over there," said Conger.
The Reagans will get a firsthand look at Blair House next week when they return to Washington for a brief stay.
Conger said he is at Reagan's disposal should she seek his advice -- as she did years ago when her husband was governor of California and she was furnishing the new governor's mansion.
Work on the famliy quarters won't get underway until the Regans move in, but Conger says it shouldn't be too disruptive.
Nobody else but the Regans will be living in the house," he said.