Stephanie Winston Wolkoff served as a senior adviser to the First Lady of the United States, Melania Trump, between early 2017 and February 2018, after which Melania cut off all ties with her. On September 1, 2020, Stephanie Wolkoff released her book Melania and Me, in which she discusses her experience of working with the First Lady, the renovations she demanded to be made to the White House and her relationship with stepdaughter Ivanka Trump. Based on what we learnt from Stephanie’s book as well as several other sources, we have compiled this video on the changes that Melania Trump made to the White House before moving in there to be with President Trump.
It is normal for the President and the First Lady to ask for some changes to be made to their home at the White House. After all, when a couple knows they are to spend five years of their life at a place, they want to make the place their own in every way. Obamas also asked for some changes to be made to the White House before they made it their home. To start with Michelle Obama had the rug, draperies and many of the chairs replaced in the State Dining Room. Similarly, she also made changes to the Old Family Dining Room where she had the colour of the yellow walls changed to light grey walls. She also added new contrasting red rugs to the room. Michelle Obama also added four different works of American abstract art to this room. One of these works was a painting by Alma Thomas, making Alma the first African-American female to have a piece in the White House. However, according to Stephanie and her new book, Melania and Me, Melania Trump found the White House’s decor to be shabby and refused to move in until and unless everything was done to suit her style.
According to Stephanie, Melania made it clear that she would move into the White House only after the bathroom that had previously belonged to the Obamas was completely ripped off and changed to suit her style. According to Stephanie, Melania checked the room and the bathroom that was going to be hers and demanded that everything be ripped down and changed to suit her personal taste. She also demanded new furniture. According to Stephanie, at this time, Melania appeared as someone very hard to please and it seemed that she was more concerned about the interiors of the White House than the allegations of alleged infidelity that her husband was facing. Further, Stephanie revealed in her book that while teams worked to change the White House to suit Melania’s standard and taste, she stayed at the Trump Tower in New York with her son Baron and refused to move in with President Trump, even when everyone was questioning their marriage.
Melania not only changed her personal space before moving into the White House but she also made changes to the Red Room, Green Room and the Blue Room in the White House. The first thing that Melania changed in the Red Room was the wall fabric. She also asked for the draperies in the Green Room to be repurposed and for the furniture to be brought back into the Blue Room.
Steward McLaurin, the President of the White House Historial Association, a non-profit organization founded by Jacqueline Kennedy in 1961 that takes care of the finances of home-improvement related projects within the White House, revealed that Melania pointed out because of the direct sunlight coming into the room, most of the wallpaper in the Red Room had turned a shade of pink. The current First Lady, therefore, wasn’t wrong in asking for the wallpaper to be changed. Unlike Stephanie, Steward was more accomodating of Melania’s demands as she believed that the White House actually needed many of the changes that Melania asked for. More importantly, according to McLaurin, since the First Lady entertains a lot of high-profile guests, it is good for her to want to project out the right image.
She said that Melania works in close coordination with the chief usher, head curator and several other White House staff members to make sure the White House is ready to welcome guests at all times. In fact, during one of the receptions, Melania, who usually maintains an introverted personality, spoke about White House and said that she was proud of living at the White House and she feels honoured to have been able to play a role in its restoration and maintenance.
Other than changing the drapes in the Red Room, Melania also requested the staff to change the draperies in the Green Room. However, since both Melania and the staff did not want to waste money, they decided to repurpose the draperies by reversing the material. Similarly, for the Blue Room, Melania decided to restore the furniture from the Bellange Suite. One of the pieces that Melania restored to the Blue Room was a 53-piece exquisite furniture set that was originally a part of the Bellange suite.
The Bellange Suite was added to the White House in 1817. President James Monroe is credited with adding the room to the White House. The original suite was made in Paris by Pierre-Antoine Bellangé and James Monroe had the entire suite transported to the White House as is. However, most of the furniture pieces that belonged to the Bellange Suite were sold at an auction in 1860.
Michelle Obama started the Bellange Suite restoration project in 2013 and the project was completed last year. Since its inception until its completion last year, $450,000 had been spent on the project already. Under the project, staff members were able to reacquire 10 pieces that were a part of the original suite. Melania moved one of these reacquired pieces into the Blue Room.
That apart, Melania Trump also asked for the wood, brass and lighting of the elevator that connects the President’s office and his living space to be refinished. Further, she had the upholstery of chairs and benches changed in the Diplomatic Reception Room. The Diplomatic Reception Room sees a lot of traffic and therefore, changing the upholstery of chairs and benches becomes much required after every few years. Melania also had a very special rug designed for the Diplomatic Reception Room. She had this rug placed on the entrance of the South Lawn. This new rug features the 50 flowers of the 50 states and this piece is something Melania chose by herself and really wanted in the Reception Room. In 2019, Melania also began working on adding a 1,200-foot tennis pavilion to the White House. The photos of the project were widely shared on social media.
Other than the various projects mentioned above, the current First Lady also commissioned work on a bowling alley that goes back to the Nixon administration and was later refurbished and renovated in 1994. The money for this renovation came from the Bowling Proprietors’ Association of America. After the renovations were done, Melania even invited many kids into the White House to enjoy the new bowling alley.
However, one of the restoration projects that Melania undertook and that has drawn a lot of flak from the media is the White House Rose Garden renovation project. The White House Rose Garden was inaugurated in 1962 and this year, Melania decided to renovate the garden before the Republican National Convention. She decided that she would deliver her convention speech from the Rose Garden. She, therefore, asked her staff and team members to give the area some facelift by adding some pale roses and new walkways. The media was invited to enjoy the new garden. However, the White House officials did not reveal the cost of the renovation project and said the entire project had been done using private donations.
The project drew criticism for two reasons. First, federal rules state that the White House cannot be used for political events. Therefore, Melania broke a federal rule by giving her speech from the White House Rose Garden. More importantly, the garden closed for further renovations only three weeks after its opening.
It is important to know that every decision that Melania Trump takes has to pass a committee. When Jacqueline Kennedy was renovating the White House, she was surprised to see that most of the furniture that the White House had was coming from a New York Department store. It was then that Jacqueline Kennedy decided to set up the White House Historical Association, hired an advisory committee as well as a curator.
Whenever a new President and his family move into the White House, the First Lady shares renovation ideas which have to go through the scrutiny of the committee created by Jacqueline Kennedy for the Preservation of the White House. This committee then approves or disapproves ideas as well as sends its suggestions. Once all the ideas are approved, the committee asks the White House Historical Association for funding. In most cases, the association approves $1 million to $1.5 million every year for renovation projects. Other than serving as home to the President and his family, the White House also accommodates staff and has a living museum that sees close to one million tourists every year. Therefore, the White House does undergo immense wear and tear and requires renovations each year.
So, do you think Melania Trump really wants to make White House a better place in whatever ways she can and the media is being extra harsh on her? Or, do you think $3.4 million on renovations is a bit too much? Do let us know your opinion in the comments section.
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