Now that we’ve had several days to bathe in the hot water tub of hope Barack Obama drew for us, it’s time for a teeny tiny complaint. Michael S. Smith for White House Decorator? We had no idea you loved beige so much.
Plenty of people might say uttering the words “White House decorator” is pretty flippant right now in this economy. There are those who would love for Obama to spend that money redecorating the house that was just foreclosed on or the basement at their parents’ that they had to move back into. For the record, Smith is no stranger to decorating for folks looking to spend in hard times; he recently redid the homes of Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain. But this is going to be the home of the most beloved family in America for the next four (hopefully eight) years, and we can’t begrudge them wanting to turn it into a personal space to escape the mounting pressure of unrealistic dreams we’re heaving upon them.
But that’s just the problem. Smith’s decorating doesn’t feel that personal. The grand traditional style of uninviting antiques, silk flowers, and too many pillows has been the modus operandi at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for years. Domino Editor-in-Chief Deborah Needleman put it eloquently in her New York Times column this week, “the Obamas stepped into a house whose design influences virtually stop around the end of the 19th century.”
Smith, of course, isn’t that dated — or even untalented. His ability to do what he does is impeccable, and he can craft a home with a mix of global traditional influences that looks damn pretty. He even has a habit for using mass-market design stores like Pottery Barn and Urban Outfitters, a quality that we’re sure the J.Crew-loving Obama’s adored.
It’s just that the selection goes completely against the way Michelle operates with her clothes — it’s so incredibly safe it’s boring. This isn’t an emerging fashion designer who can’t catch a break, this is an old-school Hollywood guy that’s decorated for Steven Spielberg, Brian Grazer and Cindy Crawford (not necessarily the most trend conscious bunch). It’s the equivalent of her wearing a Ralph Lauren dress to the inauguration. It looks great but no surprises — the kind of choice someone with taste but not a daring sense of personal style would make.
We like to hope Smith will surprise us. That he’ll inject bold pops of color in the White House, not just safe choices picked up in the floral patterns of frilly valences gone by. We want him to use furniture designed in the last decade (and not by mass market chains trying to reproduce antiques). We want him to weave modern American artworks into the cabinet offices. Did you know Hillary was the first to hang an artwork painted by a woman in the White House?
Smith needs to make the White House look like a place where someone lives, not a place that’s constantly blocked off by velvet ropes. He needs to make gutsy decorating choices Americans don’t have the financial means or opportunity to take the risk to do. He needs to find his green silk moiré walsl and run with it. Not just frame flat screen TVs and buy some old furniture.
The Obamas have said they are hoping to channel Camelot and turn the White House into a salon-style background for folks to listen to jazz music and enjoy poetry; a home brimming with youth, style and optimism. It would be nice if the curtains matched the creative cacophony.
But of course all of Smith’s décor will match, because beige always goes with beige.