WASHINGTON (AP) — Congressional opponents, stubborn diplomats or wary heads of state, beware: The new Oval Office sofas look so comfy, you just might be lulled into a few reckless compromises.
Every president eventually puts his own mark on the Oval Office, decoratively speaking, and the White House unveiled the Obama makeover on Tuesday, just hours before a major presidential speech on Iraq from his famous Resolute Desk (still there.)
Design experts were weighing in immediately, of course, on the calming melange of browns and tans, with a generous helping of leather and an assortment of stripes: Was it all a little too No-Drama Obama? Or was it livelier, cooler, more chic and elegant than before?
First, the changes: While the president and his family were away on vacation in Martha's Vineyard, workers installed new striped wallpaper, new sofas, reupholstered chairs, new lamps and a coffee table — and a new rug bearing quotes around its borders from famous Americans.
The updates have a more modern, easy-to-live-in look — for example, the new brown leather desk chair, or the mahogany armchairs by the fireplace, now reupholstered in caramel-colored leather.
Or the plush sofas, custom-made in New York and covered with a very soft-looking light brown cotton with red, white and blue threads running through it.
"These sofas look like you could have a lot of long talks," said Michael Boodro, editor in chief of Elle Decor magazine. "They're good for diplomacy. And that coffee table — it looks sturdier. You could put your feet up. I mean, I'm not sure anyone ever gets too comfortable in the Oval Office, other than the president, but this looks like an effort to put people at ease."
The relaxed color scheme — tan, camel and brown, as opposed to more goldish hues in the Bush era — might be another way to calm folks down. On the other hand, some may see the scheme as boring, reflective of the No-Drama Obama moniker.
They should know that in fashion, camel is THE hot new color of the fall. And home decor often follows trends in fashion.
"So you could say he's not ahead of the curve, but definitely on it," quipped Boodro, who found the tones subdued but warm. (He also liked the bowl of apples seen on the new coffee table Tuesday — an Obama family tradition held over from the former design.)
Obama had long been making small changes in the Oval Office, aided by California designer Michael Smith, but held off on a broader redesign until now, mindful of the nation's economic distress.
The White House wouldn't reveal the overall cost of the new look, but said in a statement that it was "in line with the amount spent by Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush on the redesigns of their Oval Office." It added that the funds came from the nonprofit White House Historical Association, through a contribution from the presidential inaugural committee.
The White House also wouldn't reveal the name of the designer — but it was widely assumed to be Smith's work.
Margaret Russell, the new editor in chief of Architectural Digest and a longtime admirer of Smith, noted the designer is a big booster of American products.
"The room seems very American," she said. "And it looks like such a mix of classic and contemporary, with a laid-back elegance. Those sofas are plush, but not fancy, not fussy. It looks like a lot of work gets done in there. It's elegant, and it's also appropriate. It feels humanized."
Russell's favorite addition: The rug. "It just seems right for this time," she said.
If presidents typically put their own personalities into the Oval Office, it's often in the rug. Bush often waxed rhapsodically about his, which was designed by none other than his wife, Laura. The yellowish carpet included radiating stripes, reminiscent of a sunbeam. He had requested a theme of optimism.
Obama's rug is made of 25 percent recycled wool in hues of wheat, cream and blue — and oval, of course. The rug was produced and donated by the Scott Group of Grand Rapids, Mich., which also made Bill Clinton's Oval Office rug, according to the White House.
In the center is the presidential seal, and the quotes on its border include some of the most famous words ever spoken by Americans:
— "GOVERNMENT OF THE PEOPLE, BY THE PEOPLE AND FOR THE PEOPLE" — Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.
— "NO PROBLEM OF HUMAN DESTINY IS BEYOND HUMAN BEINGS" — John F. Kennedy.
— "THE WELFARE OF EACH OF US IS DEPENDENT FUNDAMENTALLY ON THE WELFARE OF ALL OF US" — Teddy Roosevelt.
— "THE ONLY THING WE HAVE TO FEAR IS FEAR ITSELF" — FDR's inaugural speech.
— "THE ARC OF THE MORAL UNIVERSE IS LONG, BUT IT BENDS TOWARD JUSTICE" — Obama's favorite Martin Luther King quotation.
Of course, much remains the same in the Oval Office. The painting of George Washington over the fireplace is still there, as is that Resolute Desk, built from the timbers of a British warship. A gift to President Rutherford B. Hayes, the desk was installed in the office by John F. Kennedy, and since has been used by Clinton, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and Bush.
Now, the office may be a little more casual-looking, as befitting a president who was photographed there in his shirt sleeves on his first day. But not so casual, Boodro said, that one visitor will need to watch his step in the newly designed digs.
That would be Bo, the first dog.
"The sofa's not too much of a problem, but I'm not sure about the rug," Boodro mused. "It's not dark enough to hide stains, and it's not like you can run out to Ikea to replace it. They'd better make sure that pooch is under control."
Noveck reported from New York.
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