Kennedy Renovation: 1961-1963
The Yellow Oval Room when it was first converted from a study to a sitting room, circa 1962, looking south
Renovation, Restoration, or Redecoration?
Dining room wallpaper
In 1961, when John and Jackie Kennedy moved into the White House, they found that the Truman-era decor and furnishings used modern fabrics or were casual reproductions of period pieces. These items had been acquired quickly as funds dried up in 1952, and, many felt, didn’t befit the heritage of the home of the president of the United States. Jackie Kennedy’s upbringing and education gave her a deep appreciation for fine art and authentic period pieces, so she looked for ways on the White House’s limited budget to not merely redecorate but to restore the White House to a grander, more authentic period look appropriate to its role in American life.
Initially, Mrs. Kennedy enlisted Dorothy Mae Sister Parish to do some redecorating. Together, they redid several of the family bedrooms and a few others. But this was only the first step. Mrs. Kennedy also converted the former Prince of Wales suite into a Private Dining Room and Family Kitchen for the first family.
The Kennedys created the White House Historical Association to help publicize the heritage of the president’s house. They got the White House declared a museum to help preserve it and put in place a fine arts committee to accept gifts of antique furniture that fit the White House. Mrs. Kennedy enlisted enlisted Henry DuPont, a well-connected collector of Americana and St phane Boudin, a respected Parisian designer of the House of Jansen, to help acquire antiques from donors and add more rigor and sophistication to the decorating. Boudin left the family rooms much as Parish designed them and concentrated on the state floor rooms and West Wing.
Particularly distinctive were the antique wallpaper panels that depicted scenes from the American Revolutionary War and which were installed in the new Private Dining Room. And more visible were the antique wallpaper panels depicting scenes of the American landscape which were installed in the Diplomatic Reception Room.
In the West Wing, President Kennedy mounted his prized trophy swordfish in FDR’s Fish Room (today’s Roosevelt Room) and had a Situation Room constructed. The Rose Garden was re-landscaped to better accommodate press briefings. President Kennedy’s father, Joseph P Kennedy, commissioned a scenic mural to be painted on the wall of the swimming pool (today’s Press Briefing Room).
Boudin redecorated the Cabinet Room and Oval Office. However, Boudin’s renovation were not quite complete in the West Wing in November of 1963, when President John Kennedy was assassinated. Mrs. Johnson oversaw some of the last touches, but also made changes of her own. The Johnsons had previously purchased a French chateau-style mansion in the Washington area called Les Ormes ( The Elms ) which had been decorated by Boudin, and they had brought in an American designer to add some touches of Texas.
The turnover was so rushed that Mrs. Kennedy never got a chance to see the final Oval Office makeover. It was completed while the first couple were in Dallas and President Kennedy’s personal effects (including the Resolute desk, which Johnson switched out for another he preferred) were removed before Mrs. Kennedy returned.