Decorating the White House: What the Trumps Can and Can't Do

The family's penthouse in NYC is incredibly opulent.

ByABC News
November 11, 2016, 9:03 AM

— -- In a few weeks, a new first family will reside in the White House.

At 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, Donald Trump and his family will find themselves surrounded by a collection of museum-quality paintings, exquisite furniture and historic fixtures.

How will the Trumps -- known for grandeur and over-the-top living conditions -- change the residence and preserve the collection of fine and decorative arts associated with the 224-year-old home?

"They are not going to let Trump in and tear down the walls," said Kate Andersen Brower, author of "First Women: The Grace and Power of America's Modern First Ladies."

She said most changes will occur on the second and third floors of the mansion; the Lincoln Room and the Yellow Oval Room will remain off-limits. The Trumps will work with a White House curator to ensure they are preserving history, she noted.

The first lady will collaborate with an interior designer of her choice, just as the Obamas and Clintons did, to add personal style to the living quarters.

"Some parts are essentially historic rooms and belong to the American people, not to the families who live there," Brower said.

Earlier this year, the Obama administration said it had previously rejected Trump’s offer to build a $100 million ballroom inside the executive mansion, an idea the president-elect once floated to Obama aide David Axelrod.

Trump has previously insisted that if he made it to the White House, he wouldn’t make too many alterations to the West Wing. In an interview last year in People magazine, he said he would "maybe touch it up a little bit."

"But the White House is a special place, you don’t want to do much touching," Trump said.

For now, the president-elect will live in his Manhattan penthouse, until he is sworn into office. Trump will move into the White House with his wife, Melania, and his 10-year-old son, Barron, with his adult children expected as frequent guests.


Funding plays a role in how many of the White House's 132 rooms might be revamped in a Trump presidency. The money Congress allots to the first family for household expenditures has fluctuated over the years.

Still, each administration has its own approach to styling the White House. Some first ladies have overseen renovation projects, while others leave the home intact. Any alterations will be under scrutiny as Americans have long-viewed the White House as "the people’s house."

Lavish purchases have come under scrutiny in the past. In 1861, first lady Mary Todd Lincoln ordered a new china tableware for the White House. Although she spent less than her successors, the country at that time was bracing for war and any spending appeared frivolous.

In the midst of the Great Depression, first lady Eleanor Roosevelt announced a plan to order a 1,000-piece china service. In 1981, Nancy Reagan made a china purchase while government budget cuts were being implemented. Both these decisions were met with disapproval, with Reagan’s purchase later called the "china crisis."

A lot of funding for china now comes from private donations and the White House Historical Association, not Congress itself.


When it comes to decorating the White House, the executive mansion has reflected the family’s personal tastes for most of the modern era. Starting in the 19th century, those living at the White House made it more of a museum than a home. It’s unclear how the Trumps will respect the stately and historic home.

"I don't think we will see any garishness that some people associate with his brand," Brower said.

The White House Historical Association has worked to preserve the many collections inside the home, including a grand piano presented to President Franklin D. Roosevelt by Theodore Steinway in 1938. Distinguished works from a variety of American and European artists and craftsmen line the walls of the historic house.

Of the many pieces of art associated with the White House: the famous portrait of George Washington painted by Gilbert Stuart in 1797, and later saved by first lady Dolley Madison as British soldiers approached the nation’s capital and burned it to the ground.

Today, there is a White House curator who is in charge of preservation for the various collections to make sure they are cared for by each new president.

Related Topics