President Clinton, who spent his vacation in purple golf shirts and salmon-colored pants, proved he's equally unafraid of bright color in the Oval Office.
Yesterday the White House offered the first peek at the Clinton Look with a 10-minute walk-through of the newly redecorated presidential suite. The color scheme, no surprise, is red, white, blue and gold. But it's bolder, more vibrant and a bit showier than it was under Bush or even Reagan. And loaded with weighty power symbols -- lots of stars, laurel wreaths and eagles.
"The president was very involved from the beginning," said Kaki Hockersmith, the decorator, as her high heels sank into the center medallion of the thick Scalamandre rug that was finally laid last week. "He told me he wanted it to make a strong, bold statement that reflected this country."
So what is Clinton style? Well, look at what he and Hockersmith -- a spokesman said Hillary had no major input on her husband's office design -- had the courage to change. Out with George Bush's sofa coverings of sedate cream-colored damask. The two sofas are now showing stripes of cherry red and cream silk and are accessorized with red pillows decorated with gilt-leaf medallions. The Bush neoclassical pale blue curtains are gone, replaced with lusher, fuller golden silk swags trimmed with a wide tape featuring a blue laurel leaf motif. "The colors are stronger and deeper," said Betty Monkman, associate White House curator. "The other room was much paler."
It's a room in which his Hollywood friends would be comfortable, in contrast to the classically correct, understated style of its previous occupant.
During a breezy tour yesterday squeezed around a few minutes when the president was otherwise engaged (he did not show up to point out his favorite bibelot in the built-in shelves), it was immediately obvious that the dominant feature of the office where the president conducts much of his daily business is a 30-foot rug. A dramatic design in deep blue wool with a large center medallion of the Presidential Seal encircled by 50 white stars, the rug also has a wide border with green olive branches and gold laurel wreaths separated by red rosettes. Important rugs appear to be a major statement of power, as well as expensive pieces of history that end up as part of the flotsam and jetsam of the presidency. Recently carted off to deep White House storage in suburban Maryland was the three-year-old, $28,550 steel-blue rug that designer Mark Hampton had made for George Bush's Oval Office. It joins the $49,625 cream-and-apricot carpet that Ted Graber chose for the Reagan Oval Office in 1988.
Although Hockersmith, who decorated for the Clintons at the Arkansas governor's mansion, has been designing the Oval Office and the Clintons' private quarters since before the inauguration, the White House has steadfastly refused to release information on specific costs or who is raising or donating the money for the work that spokesmen say will be paid for by private funds. Last month, in the wake of revelations of delays and unplanned overtime costs for the project, the First Lady's office disclosed that it expects the budget for the entire project to be $400,000.
According to Lisa Caputo, the First Lady's press secretary, the bills are being paid with donations through the nonprofit White House Historical Association. The White House refuses to release other information on cost until Hockersmith's work at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. is finished later this year. George Bush, by the way, spent $62,470 in donated funds redoing his Oval Office.
This version of the Oval Office, in the southeast corner of the West Wing with a view of the Rose Garden, was first occupied by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1934. Hockersmith commissioned an oval coffee table with an inlaid starburst design and devised the golden curtains, also made of fabric by the Scalamandre firm of New York, that were actually installed while the Clintons were at the Capitol on Inauguration Day. Clinton brought some of his personal items to the office, including busts of Thomas Jefferson and John F. Kennedy.
According to White House curator Rex Scouten, the president selected a Childe Hassam painting, "The Avenue in the Rain," a scene of American flags in the streets of New York, to be hung near his desk. The 1880 presidential desk he chose, the Resolute Desk, was first used in the Oval Office by John F. Kennedy. Next to the desk is a very ordinary-looking government-issue brown leather swivel chair that the curator's office officially describes as "acquired by the White House in 1989." Four cane-back chairs were upholstered in Scalamandre's Little Rock Diamond pattern, a blue background with red and gold designs.
On his mostly cleared-off desk, next to a suspiciously empty in-box, sits a copy of Yale law professor Stephen Carter's book "The Culture of Disbelief," which was among those purchased by Clinton at the Bunch of Grapes bookstore in Martha's Vineyard last week on his wife's credit card.
When he works at the desk, Clinton is flanked on either side by busts of Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt sitting on a sofa table to the rear. This table is sometimes called a signing table, but it doesn't offer much writing room, jammed as it is with presidential tchotchkes, books and the latest newsmagazines -- Newsweek's Michael Jackson cover on top. There are of course the requisite framed office photos of the wife and kid. There are a hefty pair of scissors from a recent ribbon-cutting, a clay paperweight that spells DAD, a miniature version of the Clinton-Gore campaign bus and a newsletter from the school in Hope, Ark., attended by Clinton and childhood chum Thomas F. "Mack" McLarty, White House chief of staff.