White House Home Decor Rules The First Family Is Forced To Follow

Moving into a new house is all about putting your indelible stamp on a property and making it your own. It's amazing what an aesthetically minded individual can achieve through a bit of paint, a carefully selected piece of Victorian furniture, an Andy Warhol original, some strategically placed faux leopard skin rugs, and a few tasteful accessories. Home decor isn't just about showing off to friends and family — it's a fun way to spend both your cash and time to give your home your own personality with a few eye-catching spins.

When it comes to the ancient art of home decor, America's first family is no different from the rest of us mere mortals. They may like wallpaper borders, barn doors, and carpeted or textured walls. But interestingly, when any new family moves into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, there's a rigid set of rules and regulations that any slap-happy home decor enthusiast must follow to prevent them from making certain decorating decisions in America's most historic and famous house. Chances are pretty good that you'll never get to live in the White House, but in case you do, here's what you should know before you begin planning to remake the first family's pad in your image.

When you gotta move, you gotta move

Moving is a stressful experience at the best of times, but spare a thought for the first family. They only have a time slot of five hours to move in after the clock hits 10.30 a.m. on inauguration day (via VOA). Strict security protocols entail that any movers they hire have to place all the first family's belongings in boxes on the lawns of the White House, and staff transport these things to the inner sanctum for security reasons. White House chief usher Gary Walters, who has overseen the transfer of several first families, describes the whole process as "organized chaos," according to The Washington Post. The 90-plus members of staff in the White House are up and at 'em at 4 a.m. on the big day to make sure the whole process goes smoothly.

According to ABC News, the outgoing first family's clothes are taken from the closet and replaced with those of the incoming clan. The kitchen is also stocked with the newcomer's fave foods, and to add that homely touch, their preferred towels are hung in the bathroom. Once the president and his family are safely ensconced, it's the duty of the first lady to ensure things continue to run smoothly as she familiarizes herself with the resident staff.

Before new White House residents can decorate, the place must be cleaned

No matter how slovenly or tidy the previous occupants might have been, when a new first family moves in, the White House must always be in immaculate condition. Yet it wouldn't do for the first lady to get on her hands and knees and scrub like her life depended upon it, so a cleaning crew of nearly 100 descend on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to ensure it's sparkling and pristine for the new arrivals, according to the Independent. Furniture must be changed, surfaces must be wiped, floors must be scrubbed, and rooms must be aired, as an army of cleaners sanitizes every inch of the White House's 132 rooms like a plague of locusts with a cleanliness obsession. When the Biden family moved in, they entered a White House which had also been thoroughly deep cleaned due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A White House spokesperson told The Washington Post, "Cleaning will include, but is not limited to, all furniture, flooring, window treatments, handrails, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, elevator buttons, restroom fixtures, door handles, and lighting fixtures." That's a lot of sanitation, but cleanliness is next to godliness, right? To add an extra cherry to an already attractive cake, once the cleaning blitz is over, the White House is filled with the blooming fragrance of fresh flowers. Additionally, new shoes tailored to each member of the first family are placed in the bowling alley so they can enjoy themselves without worrying about the housework.

First ladies can make White House decor decisions ... up to a point

As the president is usually preoccupied with running a country, making speeches, and meeting with various leaders, the pleasure of seeking out an interior designer to work, argue, and disagree violently with traditionally falls squarely upon the shoulders of the first lady. According to Architectural Digest, when not busy concerning themselves with issues regarding equality and the environment, first ladies have traditionally always punched above their weight when it comes to influencing the design of the White House. In 1891, Caroline Harrison basically exclaimed, "Let there be light!" and had electricity installed. In 1902, aware that her growing family needed more living space, Edith Roosevelt supervised the construction of a new West Wing. In 1948, Elizabeth Truman oversaw the $5.4 million reno of the White House when many believed it should be demolished and rebuilt. And in the early '60s, Jacqueline Kennedy went on a mission to accumulate many fine paintings, antiques, and artifacts.

You get the drift. First ladies have always played a pivotal part in the look of the White House, but according to Showbiz CheatSheet, their ambitions have always been tempered by an interior designer that the U.S. Government requires them to pick and work with in case their creative juices run awry. Yet spare a thought for Melanie Trump. According to The New York Times, President Donald Trump decided he didn't like his wife's choice in furniture and replaced her selections with ones more in keeping with his opulent and grandiose taste.

The first family can choose from a wide range of historical furniture and decor

The White House is pretty big with plenty of space to host peculiar eye-catching knick-knacks and conversational starters, such as a hat-stand made out of ivory or a gold-plated CD rack (we'd assume!). Yet if the first family is ever worried their decorations and paintings are a bit bland, help is at hand. The White House warehouse is home to a vast array of furniture and artwork collected by former presidents during their tenure. According to The Washington Times, the 40,000-square-foot warehouse whose exact location remains secret is like a posh version of IKEA and then some. Under its roof, you'll find thousands of items that have graced the interior of the White House during the last 200 years.

Strolling through the warehouse is like a magical mystery tour of American history. Former White House curator Betty Monkman served under eight presidents and explained, "There are stacks and rows, metal shelving, rows of chairs by style or period, paintings on painting racks, carpets rolled up on rolled textile storage, and some things are in crates." Any sitting president can pick freely from this cave of delights, including everything from a rug stood upon by Theodore Roosevelt to a bedside table used by Harry S. Truman. From the big Arkansas style of the Clintons to the small-town taste of the Carters, the White House warehouse has something for everyone's taste and decorative eye.

First ladies can select the china, but slightly damaged pieces must be destroyed

A finely engraved and well-designed china dining set can make you the talk of the town and the belle of any ball, but imagine only using china that you've had specifically designed in your honor. For the first family, it's all par for the course. According to Southern Living, since General Henry Lee purchased some special dinner plates for George Washington in 1786, presidents and their nearest and dearest have been dining off some uniquely patterned plates. From the eagle-adorned regal china of Abraham Lincoln, which bears the Latin inscription "Out of many, one," to the ostentatious, pure gold-rimmed plates of the Dwight D. Eisenhower era, to the striking and scarlet red design of the Ronald Reagan era, each president and the first family enjoys their own special china on which to savor their chow of choice. The design of the plate is usually commissioned by the first lady.

According to The White House Historical Association, all the presidential china is kept in a special place called the China Room. If any White House china was chipped or damaged in any way, it was once given away, but after the Roosevelt administration, it was determined that all imperfect china was to be either kept or destroyed.

First families need to stay within budget or pay for White House decor themselves

You might think the first family would have an unlimited budget when it comes to funking up their pad, but you'd be wrong! According to The White House Historical Association, since 1999, Congress has been willing to fork over $100,000 for redecorating and general maintenance, but anything that exceeds the budget is expected to come directly from the president's pocket. Strictly speaking, the first family is advised to not spend extravagant amounts of money on renovations. Still, it didn't stop Donald Trump from splashing out almost $2 million from his own funds to get the place revamped to his particular tastes, according to NBC News. Before the Trumps, the Obamas spent just under $1.5 million making the place they called home just right.

Yet both Trump's and Obama's home decor spending sprees pale in comparison to the amounts spent by first lady Jackie Kennedy. In 1962, President John F. Kennedy's wife paid a staggering $16.4 million in 2017's dollars to give her beloved White House a full restoration, as Mashable noted. To make this plan financially viable, Kennedy created the White House Historical society. Sales of the first official White House guidebook were so successful they helped the project pay for itself. 

Other presidents and first families have been less extravagant. The Carters spent well within their budget (then $50,000), but the Clintons and Bushes spent $400,000 each. Counting toward their total, Laura Bush paid $74,000 on chinaware.

Some White House features can't be changed

When it comes to renovations, there are certain rooms and floors in the White House that are off-limits to anyone with a paintbrush, a pack of laminate flooring, and a healthy budget. According to ABC News, the Lincoln Room and Yellow Oval Room must remain untouched, and any room not on the second or third floors must pretty much be left alone. When Donald Trump was elected in 2016, Kate Andersen Brower, author of "First Women: The Grace and Power of America's Modern First Ladies," explained, "They are not going to let Trump in and tear down the walls," adding, "Some parts are essentially historic rooms and belong to the American people, not to the families who live there."

Despite a rumor that Trump had once spoke with the Obama administration about building a $100 million ballroom within the White House, the former president once said, "The White House is a special place, you don't want to do much touching." Brower backed up Trump's statement and added, "I don't think we will see any garishness that some people associate with his brand." Just because you're the leader of the free world and one of the most recognizable fellas on the planet doesn't mean you can install a major White House feature at the drop of a hat. No sir! These things require permission, even if your name is Mr. President.

New White House residents might have to leave certain decor alone

First families come and first families go, but there are certain things in the White House, such as the Grand Piano and signature artworks, that are pretty near eternal. According to Artnet, the White House boasts an art collection that includes around 65,000 objects. Now that's a lot of knick-knacks to choose from when picking the perfect Zoom meeting background! From kitchen utensils to ornamental glasses, if it's within the hallowed halls of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, it's a historic item and belongs to the American people. So if whoever's sitting pretty in the big house takes a dislike to certain furnishings, fixtures, and paintings, it's often a case of like it or lump it. However, that doesn't mean a sitting president and his first family can't sprinkle a dusting of their flamboyant flair and add a pinch of their subjective taste to their temporary home.

If a first family wants some fancy art to brighten up a private space, they're more than welcome to put in a request. During President Barack Obama's tenure, Edward Hopper pieces on loan from New York's Whitney Museum of American Art hung in the Oval Office. Whereas the Obamas were modernist in their taste, the Bushes preferred historic etchings and classical landscapes. Interestingly, when President Donald Trump asked the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum if he could borrow Vincent van Gogh's "Landscape With Snow," they declined and offered a strange replacement — a toilet made entirely out of gold by Maurizio Cattelan, as reported by The Washington Post.

The White House is expected to have a Christmas tree in this room

According to Town & Country, the first Christmas Tree was set up in the White House by President Benjamin Harrison in 1889 to amuse his grandchildren. In 1894, President Grover Cleveland's wife added the first lights, and something of a tradition was born. As The Independent noted, seeing the White House all lit up with at least 30 Christmas trees every December is a much-anticipated part of the holiday season, and the first family's official White House Christmas tree always sits pretty in the Blue Room. As shared by the White House Historical Association, President Willian H. Taft's children were the first to place a tree in this public portion of the White House, but Lady Mamie Eisenhower cemented the deal when she insisted that the Blue Room must take priority when it comes to housing the biggest, baddest, and brightest tree.

According to the White House Historical Association, in 1961, First Lady Jackie Kennedy themed the Blue Room tree with characters from the "Nutcracker Suite" ballet, and ever since, first ladies are expected to get creative and follow suit. Each year since 1966, the official White House tree is picked from the best that the National Christmas Tree Association's annual competition has to offer. The Roosevelts were the last first family not to put up a tree in the White House, and since then, it'd appear, any Scrooges amongst the presidential clan are well-advised to knuckle down and get in the spirit!

If you live in the White House, you can't open the windows

There are plenty of windows and views in the White House. Only trouble is, if you're a member of the first family, you're not allowed to open any of them. When Michelle Obama was quizzed on "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert" about what she was most looking forward to when she was no longer FLOTUS, her response was: "I want to do little things like, you know, open a window." Having a post-White House dream to open a window all by your lonesome and let the fresh winds blow is admittedly kind of tragic, but the life of the first lady in the first family isn't all luncheons on the lawn and celebrity meet and greets.

Yes, Michelle Obama was never being allowed to open a window by herself because of the security risks involved. In an Oprah Winfrey interview, Michelle revealed, "Sasha opened her window once — there were calls. 'Shut the window!' It never opened again." 

Further proving how big of a rule this is, the wife of France's president, Brigitte Macron once said of Melania Trump (via Glamour), "She can't even open a window at the White House. ... She's much more constrained than I am." 

It's a kind of unspoken rule to keep this furniture piece in the Oval Office

The Oval Office is where the leader of the country gets to express themselves. White House chief usher Gary Walters told The Washington Post that it's the first room any incoming president wants to get his eager little hands on. The tone and style of its decor will be the American people's first impression of the new president, after all. When President Obama replaced the bust of Winston Churchill with one of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., it spoke volumes. According to Snopes, Biden removed a number of Donald Trump's military flags and added busts of Cesar Chavez, Rosa Parks, and Eleanor Roosevelt (via USA Today). He also opted to go with the same curtains favored by Bill Clinton. According to Slate, every first family also gets to design a rug with the presidential seal for the Oval Office.

One thing that usually remains in the Oval Office in recent years is the Resolute desk, according to The White House Historical Association. Gifted to President Rutherford B. Hayes from Queen Victoria, the stately desk was created from the oak of the British vessel H.M.S. Resolute. House Beautiful reported that, in keeping with Barack Obama, Donald Trump, George H.W. Bush, and J.F.K., Joe Biden has been resolute when it comes to what desk he wants in his place of business.