Debunking the Obama Decorating Myth: What Does the Oval Office Really Look Like?

A 2010 email accusing President Barack Obama of removing the American flag from the White House and redecorating the Oval Office with a "Middle Eastern" theme has gone viral once again, uploaded by users on several websites over the weekend -- including Yahoo! Shine. It has been debunked several times over.

For the record:

The picture of President Obama addressing reporters while standing in front of a bright-yellow curtain wasn't taken in the Oval Office. That's the East Room, a reception room on the second floor of the White House, and the curtain -- a brocade pattern featuring with birds, medallions, flowers, olive branches, and winged angels (yes, angles) -- has been there since Jacqueline Kennedy redecorated the room nearly 50 years ago. (Both Nancy Reagan and Laura Bush redesigned the curtains during their husbands' administrations, but used the same fabric.) Here's a closer look at the curtain:

President Obama gives Al Pacino a National Medal for the Arts on February 13, 2012, in the East Room of the White House. (Photo: AP)
President Obama gives Al Pacino a National Medal for the Arts on February 13, 2012, in the East Room of the White House. (Photo: AP)

The American Flag is still prominently displayed in the Oval Office. But it's not always used as a backdrop for press conferences in other rooms at the White House, or when the President is speaking from other locations. This is not a new development; even Ronald Reagan typically didn't speak to the press in front of a fleet of flags all the time, as the 1986 AP photo shows:

Red, white, and blue decor has never been traditional in the Oval Office. In fact, the only president to come close to that color scheme was Bill Clinton, who paired red-and-white striped couches with a deep blue rug.

The meme is a prime example of fear-mongering, xenophobia, and misplaced patriotism, but it did make us wonder: Since the Oval Office gets redecorated almost every time a new president is ushered in, how did it look before Obama took office? We decided to take a look:

The Oval Office in about 1909. (Photo:
The Oval Office in about 1909. (Photo:

When William Howard Taft was president at the turn of the 20th century, the Oval Office sported dark-green walls with golden trim, dark leather couches, and a green rug.

Franklin Roosevelt's office in 1936. (Photo: Library of Congress)
Franklin Roosevelt's office in 1936. (Photo: Library of Congress)

By the time Franklin Roosevelt was in office, in 1936, the room had a deep, cranberry-red rug and matching drapes set off with valances adorned with an emblem of an American eagle holding olive branches and a shield.

The Truman Library has this recreation of Truman's Oval Office. (Photo: The Truman Library via
The Truman Library has this recreation of Truman's Oval Office. (Photo: The Truman Library via

When Harry S. Truman redecorated the Oval Office, he brought in simple blue-gray curtains to match the blue-gray rug; red-upholstered couches and chairs lined the perimeter of the room.

John F. Kennedy's newly redecorated Oval Office. (Photo: The Kennedy Library via
John F. Kennedy's newly redecorated Oval Office. (Photo: The Kennedy Library via

John F. Kennedy's decorator was in the middle of revamping the room when JFK was assassinated; the newly-installed red rug and white curtains (with red trim) were quickly removed.

Lyndon B. Johnson replaced the red-trimmed curtains with blue-trimmed ones, replaced the deep red rug with a sky-blue one, and added sage-green throw cushions to the cream-colored couches.

Richard Nixon brought deep gold drapes into the Oval Office; they matched the bright yellow chairs in the room, as well as the stars that decorated the edge and center of the royal blue rug, which was designed by first lady Patricia Nixon.

When Gerald R. Ford took office, he installed pumpkin-colored curtains and a light yellow rug with sky-blue medallions on it; the new couches had orange, cold, and sky blue stripes on a cream background.

Jimmy Carter used Ford's decor throughout his presidency, but when Ronald Reagan took office, he changed the rug to a wheat-colored one with cream and camel-colored stripes radiating from a large, red-bordered presidential seal in the center and added couches upholstered in cream-colored brocade.

George H.W. Bush brought serene slate-blue curtains and a matching carpet, but continued to put Reagan's couches to good use.

Bill Clinton went back to using gold curtains, and had the most patriotic color scheme yet, with a royal-blue plush rug and red-and-white striped couches.

George W. Bush quickly returned the room to a Reagan-inspired color scheme; his Oval Office was mostly cream-colored, with the same brocade-covered couches, more-ornate gold-brocade curtains, and a rug designed by first lady Laura Bush, with tan and cream lines radiating out from the presidential seal in the center.

Barack Obama's turn to redecorate the Oval Office came in August, 2010; he replaced the rug and wallpaper and added new sofas, lamps, and a coffee table. (The gold brocade curtains are a holdover from the Bush administration; Obama later installed deep-red drapes.) The new rug, which was donated by a Michigan company, is tan with the presidential seal in the center, surrounded by blue stars. He re-used George W. Bush's blue-striped armchairs, re-upholstering them in brown leather, and the light brown couches have red, white, and blue threads running through the upholstery. As with previous presidential redecorations, the changes were paid for by the White House Historical Association.

Obama chose five inspirational quotes to be woven into the border of his rug. Wondering which ones he chose? Here they are:

  • "The Only Thing We Have to Fear is Fear Itself" -- President Franklin D. Roosevelt

  • "The Arc of the Moral Universe is Long, But it Bends Towards Justice" -- Martin Luther King, Jr.

  • "Government of the People, By the People, For the People" -- President Abraham Lincoln

  • "No Problem of Human Destiny is Beyond Human Beings" -- President John F. Kennedy

  • "The Welfare of Each of Us is Dependent Fundamentally Upon the Welfare of All of Us" -- President Theodore Roosevelt

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