Needless to say, architects and designers could not be at the White House without offering critiques.
Diane Lewis, an Interior Design finalist for the National Design Awards, said: “There is no way to see the building and understand its axis from the street” because of security barriers. “You really can’t behold the whole of it. But that’s security — that’s the world we live in. I’m sure if you visited in the 1800s, there would have been a row of guys with bayonets, and that was it.”
Although she envisions an airy and open White House, like an Italian villa, one thing Lewis definitely wouldn’t change is the Eleanor Roosevelt portrait. During a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, she met the former first lady admiring Rembrandt’s “Aristotle Admiring the Bust of Homer.”
Alex Lee, a Corporate Achievement finalist and president of the design company Oxo, said, “They should spruce up the entrance. It looked like any downtown Manhattan government building with a dropped-ceiling and all that security.”
Ralph Rucci, one of the guests who came out publicly for a Presidential candidate, Democrat Barack Obama, envisioned paintings by Cy Twombly and Mark Rothko juxtaposed in the Red Room and the Blue Room. Resisting any urge to sneak upstairs to see the Stephane Boudin-designed rooms put in place under Jacqueline Kennedy, Rucci turned his attention to the ground floor: “I would also change the lighting. It should be pink so everyone glows.”
Aside from the requisite getting to know the client and his lifestyle needs, Tom Kundig, the Architecture Design award winner, said Obama would grasp the premise of design because of his own political style. “The nature of design is to always look at the history of something, its current place and the future. There would be changes but while being sensitive to the new people and the history,” said Kundig.
Olin Partnership principal Susan Weiler avoided the renovation question: “I don’t know, don’t know the client.”
David Rockwell, whose Rockwell Group received the Interior Design award, said, “I have to say it has pretty spectacular bones. What’s interesting to me is the sense of ceremony, deep history and ritual. You don’t find that much in the world. I would keep that. Maybe change the food. There is so much great local food happening. Right now I’m just delighting in how great it is to be here. I didn’t bring any color swatches or fabrics with me.”
As for Thom Browne, “I would keep the White House as it is,” he said.