This week marks a huge transition for America. After the inauguration, the Obama family will move out (opens in new tab) of the White House, and the transition team will have a tight five-hour timeframe (opens in new tab) to ready the residence for Donald Trump and his family. But once the Trumps are officially the first family, what happens to America's most iconic home? Here's exactly what the Trumps can (and, perhaps more importantly, can't) do to the White House.
The First Family has the most leeway in redecorating the living quarters (opens in new tab), which are located on the top two floors of the 132-room building. They'll be able to repaint the rooms to their liking, as well as pick out their own furniture, wall decorations, and bedding.
Usually, the First Lady has taken the lead on redecorating the family living spaces, so if the Trumps follow tradition, Melania's taste will dictate what the top two floors of the White House look like for the next four years.
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While the First Family can fully revamp their living quarters, there are plenty of changes they can't make—at least not without approval from the Committee for the Preservation of the White House (opens in new tab). Historic rooms—like the Lincoln Bedroom—and public spaces—like the Green Room and the state dining room—are protected from changes without committee approval. So, while the White House is a home for the First Family, it's also a living museum of American history and so aspects of it can't be changed easily.
When it comes to decorating the White House, the First Family has a lot of gorgeous historical options. A high-security White House storage facility (opens in new tab) houses furniture and artwork collected by past presidents and the White House Curator (opens in new tab).
The collection is expansive (opens in new tab), including everything from vintage four-poster beds to works by famous artists like Norman Rockwell and Georgia O'Keeffe, and the First Family will be able to pull from anything in the collection to decorate both the private and public spaces in the White House.
President George W. Bush, for example, chose a painting called A Charge To Keep by W.H.D. Koerner for his Oval Office decor. Bush took the name (opens in new tab) of his 1999 autobiography from the painting.
While the First Lady typically helms the redecorating ship, she's welcome to (and usually does) enlist the help of a professional interior designer (opens in new tab). The Clintons brought in Little Rock decorator Kaki Hockersmith (opens in new tab), the Bush family tapped Fort Worth designer Kenneth Blasingame (opens in new tab), and the Obamas hired Hollywood decorator Michael S. Smith (opens in new tab) for all their redecorating needs.
That said, they still have to get approval. The FLOTUS and her interior designer work closely with a White House curator (opens in new tab) to ensure that no changes compromise the history of the home.
Congress allocates funds for redecorating the White House and the budget has been $100,000 per term since Bill Clinton's second term (opens in new tab). This means the First Family can use up to $100,000 of taxpayer money to redecorate the space. However, they aren't obligated to use that money.
Groups like the White House Historical Association have privately-raised funds that have been used for White House purchases in the past—like a $74,000 set of china (opens in new tab) chosen by Laura Bush. But the Obamas made a big statement when they declined to use the allowance or donations (opens in new tab).
The Obamas opted to pay for their White House renovations out-of-pocket, something the Trumps could also choose to do. Of course, paying for the decorations out-of-pocket doesn't change the rules about making changes to historic aspects of the home.
Past presidents have made their own signature additions to the White House (opens in new tab). The Kennedys added a swimming pool and Nixon added a bowling alley, for example. Obama had the White House tennis court adapted (opens in new tab) so it could also be used as a basketball court. While these big changes require approval, the Trumps could conceivably make a big change or two to the White House or its grounds.
The Obamas also had a playground built for Malia and Sasha, but now that they're moving out of the White House, they've donated it to a D.C. homeless shelter (opens in new tab).
Anyone worried that the incoming First Family will come in with a demolition crew and transform the White House into a D.C. version of Trump's New York City penthouse can breathe a little easier. While the First Family can make reversible decorating decisions and even petition for bigger changes and additions, they won't be able to walk in with sledgehammers and a contractor and gut the place.
"They are not going to let Trump in and tear down the walls," Kate Andersen Brower, author of First Women: The Grace and Power of America's Modern First Ladies told ABC News (opens in new tab). "Some parts are essentially historic rooms and belong to the American people, not to the families who live there."
In an interview with People (opens in new tab), Trump addressed his plans for the iconic house—and it doesn't sound like he plans to try to duplicate the ornate decor of his penthouse.
"If I were elected, I would maybe touch it up a little bit, but the White House is a special place," he said. "You don't want to do too much touching."
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Kayleigh Roberts is a freelance writer and editor with more than 10 years of professional experience. Her byline has appeared in Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, ELLE, Harper’s Bazaar, The Atlantic, Allure, Entertainment Weekly, MTV, Bustle, Refinery29, Girls’ Life Magazine, Just Jared, and Tiger Beat, among other publications. She's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.
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