The oval-shaped room features three large south-facing windows behind the president's desk and a fireplace at the north end. It has four doors: the east door opens to the Rose Garden
; the west door leads to a private study
and dining room; the northwest door opens onto the main corridor of the West Wing; and the northeast door opens to the office of the president's secretary.
Presidents generally decorate the office to suit their personal taste, choosing new furniture, new drapery, and designing their own oval-shaped carpet to cover most of the floor. Artwork is selected from the White House's own collection, or borrowed from museums for the president's term in office.
President Theodore Roosevelt
built the West Wing in 1902, but his office in the new wing was not oval-shaped. The Taft Oval Office
was built as part of the West Wing's 1909 expansion, and was centered in the wing's south façade—similar to the oval rooms in the White House residence, such as the Yellow Oval Room
(which had sometimes served as the president's office before the West Wing was built). The Taft Oval served President William Howard Taft
through President Franklin Roosevelt
, but suffered a major fire in 1929, and was demolished in 1933. President Franklin Roosevelt built the modern Oval Office at the corner next to the rose garden in 1934, as part of the wing's reconstruction with an expansion to the West Wing's east facade.
, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. George Washington's Bow Window (not depicted) is echoed in the shape of the Oval Office.
In 1790, Washington built a large, two-story, semi-circular addition to the rear of the President's House in Philadelphia
, creating a ceremonial space in which the public would meet the president.
Standing before the three windows of this Bow Window, he formally received guests for his Tuesday afternoon audiences
, delegations from Congress and foreign dignitaries, and the general public at open houses on New Year's Day
, the Fourth of July
, and his birthday.
Washington received his guests, standing between the windows in his back drawing-room. The company, entering a front room and passing through an unfolding door, made their salutations to the President, and turning off, stood on one side.
President John Adams
occupied the Philadelphia mansion beginning in March 1797 and used the Bow Window in the same manner as his predecessor.
Curved foundations of Washington's Bow Window were uncovered during a 2007 archaeological excavation of the President's House
They are exhibited under glass at the President's House Commemoration, just north of the Liberty Bell Center
Architect James Hoban
visited President Washington in Philadelphia in June 1792 and would have seen the Bow Window.
The following month, he was named winner of the design competition for the White House.
The "elliptic salon" at the center of the White House was the outstanding feature of Hoban's original plan. Oval interior space was a Baroque
concept that was adopted by Neoclassicism
. Oval rooms became common in 18th-century neoclassical architecture.
In November 1800, John Adams
became the first president to occupy the White House. He and his successor, President Thomas Jefferson
, used Hoban's oval rooms in the same ceremonial manner that Washington had used the Bow Window, standing before the three windows at the south end to receive guests.
During the 19th century, a number of presidents used the White House's second-floor Yellow Oval Room
as a private office or library.
Location of the Yellow Oval Room
on the second floor of the White House. A number of presidents used this as their private office or library.
The West Wing
was the idea of President Theodore Roosevelt
, brought about by his wife's opinion that the second floor of the White House, then shared between bedrooms and offices, should be just a domestic space. Completed in 1902, the one-story Executive Office Building was intended to be a temporary structure, for use until a permanent building was erected on that site or elsewhere.
Building it to the west of the White House allowed for the removal of a vast, dilapidated set of pre-Civil War
greenhouses that had been constructed by President James Buchanan
Roosevelt relocated the offices of the executive branch
to the newly constructed wing in 1902. His workspace was a two-room suite of Executive Office and Cabinet Room, that occupied the eastern third of the building. Its furniture, including the president's desk
, was designed by architect Charles Follen McKim
and executed by A. H. Davenport and Company
, of Boston.
Taft Oval Office: 1909–1933
Taft Oval Office, completed 1909. Nearly identical in size to the modern office, it was damaged by fire in 1929 and demolished in 1933.
President William Howard Taft
made the West Wing a permanent building, expanding it southward, doubling its size, and building the first Oval Office.
Designed by Nathan C. Wyeth
and completed in 1909, the office was centered on the south facade of the building, much as the oval rooms in the White House are. Taft intended it to be the hub of his administration, and, by locating it in the center of the West Wing, he could be more involved with the day-to-day operation of his presidency. The Taft Oval Office had simple Georgian Revival trim, and was likely the most colorful in history; the walls were covered with vibrant seagrass green burlap.
On December 24, 1929, during President Herbert Hoover
's administration, a fire severely damaged the West Wing. Hoover used this as an opportunity to create more space, excavating a partial basement for additional offices. He restored the Oval Office, upgrading the quality of trim and installing air-conditioning. He also replaced the furniture, which had undergone no major changes in twenty years.
Exterior of the West Wing (circa 1910s), showing the curve of the Taft Oval Office.
President Hoover views West Wing fire ruins, January 15, 1930.
West Wing construction, 1934.
Exterior of the Oval Office as viewed from the South Lawn, July 15, 2006.
Modern Oval Office: 1934–present
Location of the Oval Office in the West Wing
The newly built Oval Office in 1934.
Dissatisfied with the size and layout of the West Wing, President Franklin D. Roosevelt
engaged New York architect Eric Gugler
to redesign it in 1933. To create additional space without increasing the apparent size of the building, Gugler excavated a full basement, added a set of subterranean offices under the adjacent lawn, and built an unobtrusive "penthouse" story. The directive to wring the most office space out of the existing building was responsible for its narrow corridors and cramped staff offices. Gugler's most visible addition was the expansion of the building eastward for a new Cabinet Room and Oval Office.
The modern Oval Office was built at the West Wing's southeast corner, offering Roosevelt, who was physically disabled and used a wheelchair
, more privacy and easier access to the Residence. He and Gugler devised a room architecturally grander than the previous two rooms, with more robust Georgian details: doors topped with substantial pediments, bookcases set into niches, a deep bracketed cornice, and a ceiling medallion of the Presidential Seal
. Rather than a chandelier or ceiling fixture, the room is illuminated by light bulbs hidden within the cornice that "wash" the ceiling in light.
In small ways, hints of Art Moderne
can be seen, in the sconces flanking the windows and the representation of the eagle in the ceiling medallion. Roosevelt and Gugler worked closely together, often over breakfast, with Gugler sketching the president's ideas. One notion resulting from these sketches that has become fixed in the layout of the room's furniture is that of two high back chairs in front of the fireplace. The public sees this most often with the president seated on the left and a visiting head of state on the right. This allowed Roosevelt to be seated, with his guests at the same level, de-emphasizing his inability to stand. Construction of the modern Oval Office was completed in 1934.
The basic Oval Office furnishings have been a desk in front of the three windows at the south end, a pair of chairs in front of the fireplace at the north end, a pair of sofas, and assorted tables and chairs. The Neoclassical
mantel was made for the Taft Oval Office in 1909 and salvaged after the 1929 West Wing fire.
A tradition of displaying potted Swedish ivy (Plectranthus verticillatus
) atop the mantel
goes back to the administration of John F. Kennedy
, and the current plants were rooted from the original plant.
longcase clock, made in Boston by John and Thomas Seymour c. 1795–1805 – commonly known as the Oval Office grandfather clock
– was purchased by the White House Historical Association in 1972, and has stood next to the Oval Office's northeast door since 1975.
The carpet of the Oval Office bears the Seal of the President
. President Harry S. Truman
's oval carpet was the first to incorporate the presidential seal. In Truman's carpet, the seal was represented monochromatically through varying depths of the cut pile. His carpet was used in the Dwight D. Eisenhower
and Kennedy administrations. Since then, most administrations have created their own rug, working with an interior designer and the Curator of the White House
. As part of her overall restoration of the White House, Jacqueline Kennedy had a redecoration of the Oval Office begun on November 21, 1963, when she accompanied President John F. Kennedy on a trip to Texas. The next day, November 22, a new carpet was installed just as the Kennedys were making their way through Dallas and the president was assassinated.
have been used in the Oval Office by U.S. presidents. The Theodore Roosevelt desk
was used by Roosevelt in his (non-oval) office at the southeast corner of the West Wing. Subsequently, it was used in the Oval Office by seven presidents – most recently by Eisenhower.
Also popular is the Resolute Desk
, so named because it was made from the timbers of the British frigate HMS Resolute
. The ship had been frozen in Arctic
ice and abandoned but was later found and freed by American seamen. It was refurbished and presented as a gift from the United States
to Queen Victoria
in 1856. When the ship was decommissioned from the Royal Navy
in 1879, Queen Victoria ordered twin desks made from its timbers, keeping one and presenting the other as a gift to President Rutherford B. Hayes
in 1880. President Franklin D. Roosevelt
ordered a kneehole panel with the Presidential Seal
added, but work was not completed until after his 1945 death in office. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy
had the desk restored, and she was the first to place it in the Oval Office. Following the 1963 assassination of President Kennedy
, the desk toured the country as part of a traveling exhibit for the Kennedy Presidential Library
and was then lent to the Smithsonian Institution
. President Jimmy Carter
brought the desk back to the Oval Office in the 1970s. Since then, presidents Ronald Reagan
, Bill Clinton
, George W. Bush
, Barack Obama
, Donald Trump
and Joe Biden
have also used it as their Oval Office desk.
When not in use in the Oval Office, a desk is often placed in the adjacent Oval Office Study, in the White House, or is used by the vice president.
Art may be selected from the White House collection or may be borrowed from museums or individuals for the length of an administration.
Statuettes, busts, heads, and figurines are frequently displayed in the Oval Office. Abraham Lincoln has been the most common subject, in works by sculptors Augustus Saint-Gaudens
, Gutzon Borglum
, Adolph Alexander Weinman
, Leo Cherne
and others. Over time, traditional busts of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, or Benjamin Franklin have given way to heads of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman or Dwight Eisenhower. Western bronzes by Frederic Remington
have been frequent choices: Lyndon Johnson displayed The Bronco Buster
, as did Gerald Ford
, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump. Presidents Reagan and Bush added its companion piece, The Rattlesnake
. Harry S. Truman displayed Remington's oil painting Fired On
Barack Obama with Oval Office artwork
President Harry S. Truman displayed works related to his home state of Missouri
, illustrations of biplanes
, and models of jet-airplanes. He hung a large photograph of the White House portrait of Franklin D. Roosevelt, under whom he had served as vice president and who died in office in 1945. President Dwight Eisenhower filled the office walls with landscape paintings, as well as a painting of Robert E. Lee
President John F. Kennedy surrounded himself with paintings of naval battles from the War of 1812
, photographs of sailboats, and ship models. President Lyndon Johnson installed sconces on either side of the mantel, and added the office's first painting by a woman artist, Franklin D. Roosevelt
by Elizabeth Shoumatoff
. President Richard Nixon tried three different George Washington portraits over the mantel, and hung a copy of Earthrise
– a photograph of the Earth taken from the Moon's orbit during the Apollo 8
mission – besides his desk. President Gerald Ford displayed tasteful, conservative works, paintings that remained mostly in place through the administrations of Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. President George H. W. Bush added luminist
landscapes. President Bill Clinton chose the Childe Hassam and Norman Rockwell paintings mentioned above, along with Waiting for the Hour
by William T. Carlton,
a genre painting showing African-Americans gathered in anticipation of the Emancipation Proclamation
going into effect. President George W. Bush mixed traditional works with paintings by Texas artists and Western sculptures.
A tradition evolved in the latter part of the twentieth century of each new administration redecorating the office to the president's liking. A new administration usually selects an oval carpet
, new drapery
, the paintings on the walls, and some furniture. Most incoming presidents continue using the rug of their predecessor until their new one is installed. The retired carpet very often is then moved to the presidential library of the president for whom it was made.
The Oval Office floor has been replaced several times, most recently during the administration of George W. Bush
. The 2005 installation, based on the original 1933 design by Eric Gugler, features a contrasting cross pattern of quarter sawn
oak and walnut.
Since the present Oval Office's construction in 1934 during the administration of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt
the room has remained mostly unchanged architecturally.
More than any president, Roosevelt left an impression on the room and its use. Doors and window frames have been modified slightly.
A screen door on the east wall was removed after the installation of air conditioning. President Lyndon B. Johnson's row of wire service Teletype machines on the southeast wall required cutting plaster and flooring to accommodate wiring.
The Georgian style plaster ornament has been cleaned to remove accumulated paint, and a series of electrified wall sconces
have come and gone.
Though some presidents have chosen to do day-to-day work in a smaller study just west of the Oval Office, most use the actual Oval Office for work and meetings. Traffic from the large numbers of staff, visitors, and pets over time takes its toll. There have been four sets of flooring in the Oval Office. The original floor was made of cork
installed over softwood; however, President Eisenhower was an avid golfer
and damaged the floor with his golf spikes. Johnson had the floor replaced in the mid-1960s with wood-grain linoleum
. In 1982, President Ronald Reagan
had the floor replaced with quarter sawn
oak and walnut, in a cross parquet pattern similar in design to Eric Gugler's 1933 sketch, which had never been installed. In August 2005, the floor was replaced again under President George W. Bush
, in exactly the same pattern as the Reagan floor.
In the late 1980s, a comprehensive assessment of the entire house, including the Oval Office, was made as part of the National Park Service
's Historic American Buildings Survey
Detailed photographs and measured drawings were made documenting the interior and exterior and showing even slight imperfections. A checklist of materials and methods was generated for future conservation and restoration.
The ratio of the major axis to the minor axis is approximately 21:17 or 1.24.
President Richard M. Nixon and Bob Hope play golf in the Oval Office, a tradition harking back to the tenure of Lyndon B. Johnson
One of many hand-shake photos in front of the fireplace. President George W. Bush sitting to the viewer's right, the guest (Paul Kagame
, President of Rwanda) to the left, March 2003. One of the rare images where there is fire in the fireplace.
A panoramic view of the Oval Office, January 26, 2017. President Donald Trump
is seated at the Resolute
Taft Oval Office, 1909–1933 Modern Oval Office, 1934–present
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Last edited on 10 May 2021, at 18:46
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