The Oval Office is the closest thing the U.S. has to a throne room. It is the inner-sanctum of the presidency. Most of us know it through news broadcasts, photos published by the news media, and its many depictions in pop-culture, and we know there’s a desk, some flags, a couple couches, and a landline phone. But though the room has served a similar function for centuries, it has changed a lot over the years. (Usually every four to eight of them.)
The space has evolved throughout history in accordance with aesthetic themes across the decades. The Oval Office occupied by William Taft was not the same as the Oval Office occupied by Harry Truman or the Oval Office Richard Nixon. It just so happens that U.S. presidents like to redecorate — and you can compare and contrast the style and taste of the various occupants of the Oval Office over the years — from 1909 to present day — courtesy of American Home Shield.
The insurer compiled a multitude of images of the room throughout the 20th and 21st centuries and configured them into graphic renderings of the most consequential office in the land, which you can browse here. The settings allow you to compare any two Oval Office images in a drop down menu, or you can scroll them like a gallery.
It offers a fascinating window into how the Oval Office has changed over the years.
1909-1954: Drab, green and unappealing
A century ago, the Oval Office was not a comforting place, at least visually speaking. Under every administration from William Howard Taft to Franklin D. Roosevelt, the walls were a dark, sickly green. This was Taft’s touch — he employed the designer Nathan C. Wyeth to head up the remodel that gave the office its famous oval shape, and succeeding presidents were’t inclined to redecorate.
Just imagine the fortitude it took for FDR to lead the U.S. through the Great Depression and WWII surrounded by so much…green.
1945-1969: It gets a little better!
If you ever need a tidbit of trivia about Harry S. Truman and someone else has already mentioned that bit about the newspaper headline, feel free to note that he also saved the Oval Office from its status as a miserable, pea soup -coloured prison. (Although you should really know at least some other things about Truman’s pivotal place in world history).
Truman had the walls repainted a delightful teal, and became the first president to line the floor of his office with a rug emblazoned with the presidential seal, a tradition that has endured on and off ever since. (A big time interior design influencer, that Harry Truman).
A military man, Dwight D. Eisenhower made few if any changes to the design of the office, but John F. Kennedy got a bit more eclectic. He invited the French interior designer Stéphane Boudin to give the digs a more continental feel, by way of a dark red carpet and white sofas.
1969-present day: Modern looks
For my money, it was Richard Nixon who ushered in the presidential aesthetic we’re all familiar with today: Gold and blue abound, and there’s a pronounced eagle on the presidential crest.
Subsequent presidents took a more measured approach — Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter both used the same carpet, devoid of the presidential crest — but Ronald Reagan brought it back in 1981 and it has remained prominent to this day.
By the start of Bill Clinton’s tenure in 1993, the office recalled sharply Nixon’s sensibilities: gold, bold blues, and those polarising candy cane striped couches, which together scream “stars and stripes forever!” Kaki Hockersmith designed Clinton’s office and, as AHS points out, his rug design has recently been pulled out of mothballs and adorns Joe Biden’s office.
You’ll notice the most noticeable changes in the post-Clinton era come by way of the rug. Texan George W. Bush favoured one with lone stars all over it. Barack Obama’s style was a bit more understated, while Donald Trump festooned his office with flags, communicating to the world his status as an uber-patriot. Joe Biden office, on the other hand, looks a lot like Bill Clinton’s, which I suppose you could chalk up to liberal solidarity.