At a press preview of the Trump garden party in the dark of night Thursday, dramatic lighting cast a magical glow and you could see the portraits and flags inside the lit Oval Office. Cream-colored chairs with green cushions were being carried in and various military musicians were practicing “Autumn Leaves” and “Waltzing Matilda” as crickets chirped. Two tables were set up and featured green and gold, the national colors of Australia, that come from the golden wattle, the national flower.
The tables, dressed in ombre yellow and green cloths, were layered in golden goodness, from the oil lamps to the woven baskets. Champagne grapes and candied ginger were nestled among the place settings. The centerpieces were a combo of the fluffy golden wattle and lush yellow garden roses. The china being used for the three-course dinner is from both the Clinton and George W. Bush services. The first lady’s office released the menu for the three-course dinner featuring Dover sole (our colleague Emily Heil dishes on the food here), however the guest list and the designer of Melania Trump’s gown are under wraps until Friday.
The Trumps’ first state dinner in April 2018 for French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte, was a gilded affair. The tables in the State Dining Room were laid with the Clinton yellow and gold Lenox china, gold vermeil flatware and gold rimmed wine glasses. Melania Trump wore Chanel.
So about the entertainment. Donald Trump is known for his love of military music. The after-dinner treat Friday will be “the largest gathering of premier military musicians for a state dinner at the White House,” according to a release from the office of the first lady. What? No country music? In 2006, the last time there was an Australian state visit here, Kenny Chesney performed for George W. Bush and then-Australian Prime Minister John Howard and the assembled crowd in the East Room. Bush presented Chesney with a pair of custom-made Rocky Carroll black cowboy boots embossed with the singer’s initials and crossed American and Australian flags.
In addition to planning the state dinner, Melania Trump has been doing a bit of White House refreshing, mainly in the public rooms. Some of the work may have been done when the Trumps were on their August vacation in Bedminster. Contrary to recent reports, however, the work was not driven by the upcoming state visit. All decisions on White House interiors must be reviewed by the White House curator and the Committee for the Preservation of the White House and can take many months to complete.
“Mrs. Trump is very involved and has a wonderful sense of history. She very much wants to take care of the house,” says Stewart D. McLaurin, president of the White House Historical Association, a nonprofit educational institution that uses private funds on projects in the public rooms and to conserve collections and purchase new pieces. He says his organization typically spends $1 million to $1.5 million per year on White House improvements.
Recently completed projects in the Trump White House include replacing faded fabric on the walls of the Red Room, repairing curtains in the Green Room and the completion of a $550,000 multiyear project involving restoration of the French Bellange furniture in the Blue Room, a major undertaking begun in the Obama administration. A worn rug in the Diplomatic Reception Room was replaced by a new design made by Stark Carpet. McLaurin says the new version has a border decorated with the official flowers of the 50 states, a motif suggested by the first lady. (Remember the veil Meghan Markle designed for her marriage last year to Prince Harry, featuring the signature flowers from the countries in the British Commonwealth?)
Does the president get involved in White House decorating? “He has expressed to me that he thinks the house is great and he loves the house,” McLaurin says. “But I don’t know what he and the first lady talk about.”
No doubt the president has noticed the recent upgrade in the small wood-paneled elevator that goes up to the private quarters. It “had not been touched in decades,” McLaurin says, and the wood and brass elements were refinished and it was given a new light fixture. The elevator, which holds about four people, is for the use of the first family and their guests. It’s ready for its close up: It might be used at some point Friday to whisk the Australian prime minister and his wife upstairs.