White House prepares for a new family

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The Independent Online

If history is a guide, the White House is in for an extreme makeover by its next occupants.

It's not just that the imposing and very formal 132-room mansion, with its 35 bathrooms, 28 fireplaces, and 8 staircases needs to be made liveable for a lively family with two young children and their soon-to-arrive new puppy. There is also the question of taste.

One of Barack Obama's first moves will be to take the flat screen TV out of the famous Lincoln bedroom, where only the most important guests are invited to stay.

"You have all these mementos of Abraham Lincoln, but you have this flat-screen TV in there," he said describing a tour he made as a US Senator.

"I thought to myself, 'Now, who stays in the Lincoln Bedroom and watches 'Sports Centre'? That didn't seem to me to be appropriate. So I might take out the TV…You should read when you're in the Lincoln Bedroom! Reread the Gettysburg Address. Don't watch TV."

Incoming first ladies also have a habit of upsetting their predecessors by complaining about the décor they inherit.

Laura Bush for example, taunted Hillary Clinton about her poor housekeeping and supposed bad taste during her eight years in the White House. Mrs Clinton might have repeated her unfortunate remarks that she never intended to stay staying home and bake cookies, but she held her tongue.

Mrs Bush insisted on throwing out the bold colours and striped sofas Mrs Clinton used for her infrequent afternoon teas, preferring muted, pastel-coloured upholstery, and she changed the drapes.

Sarah Palin teased Mr Obama about "measuring the White House drapes" before the election had even taken place. We don't yet know if the incoming First Lady Michelle Obama is planning to get the decorators in, but as the first African-Americans to take up residence it's a fair bet that some of the artwork, if not the curtains, will be changing and that there will be fewer statues and painting of "DWMs" - dead white males.

The White House already has a swimming pool, tennis courts and extensive gardens, but is almost certain that the Obama presidency will require a basketball court somewhere in the building. Mr Obama likes nothing better than to "shoot hoops" early in the morning. His advisers have learned the hard way that when he misses one, or fails to get in a daily hour in the gym, he tends to get cranky.

The decisions a president-elect makes about the desk he intends to use in the Oval Office and the surrounding artwork is often the most analysed of his early moves. George Bush has a statue of Winston Churchill and Ronald Reagan gave pride of place to a Remington bronze of a cowboy on a rearing stallion.

"I'll never forget the first decision I had to make," Mr Bush recalled in 2006. "I wasn't even sworn in yet, and a fellow called me on the phone and he said, "what colour rug do you want to have in the Oval Office?'"

For the moment, Mrs Bush has organised for painters, electricians, and handymen to do a spruce up between now and inauguration day, January 20, 2009.

Spokeswoman, Sally McDonough said: "The radiator covers in the East Wing colonnade have been replaced, touch-up painting is being done in a variety of rooms, rugs that are showing wear and tear from tours are being replaced."

Mrs Obama may want more than the drapes cleaned and a new lick of paint when she shows up with the kids and the puppy.