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Michelle Obama's White House Legacy

By Steven L. Brawley

November 21, 2016: As Michelle Obama's era as First Lady comes to an end, many champions and foes alike are acknowledging her important legacy and impact.

First and foremost she has been a wife and mother in the style of Jackie Kennedy and Bess Truman. She has been fiercely protective of her family's privacy and created a comfortable home setting for her husband, children, and mother.

But this hominess came with a dramatic sense of modern style. Her fashion, home decor, and entertaining have been beyond forward thinking - she has been a trailblazer.

Her White House garden has spawned a renewed interest in home and school-based gardening that has not seen since the likes of World War II victory gardens. Her White House state dinner menus were healthy, fresh, and tasty. Her White House china featured a color known as Kailua Blue," a bright blue color inspired by the hue of the sea in President Barack Obama's home state of Hawaii.

She partnered with interior designer Michael Smith to personalize the private quarters and for significant updates to the Oval Office in the West Wing, and to the Old Family Dining Room and State Dining Room on the State Floor. The Obamas choice in art was modernArchitectural Digest gave a rare glimpse into the Obama White House in their December 2016 issue.

She opened the White House to Google to create virtual tours and formally allowed visitors to take their own pictures. Her impact on staffing was also historic. Angella Reid was named the Director of the President’s Executive Residence and “Chief Usher.” Reid was the ninth person and first woman to serve in the role. Jeremy Bernard served as the White House Social Secretary. He was the first male, as well as the first openly gay individual, to serve in that role.

Read more: Michelle Obama's White House Legacy

Jackie and Jayne

By Leon Pascucci

October 2, 2016: Another tastemaker in the life of Jackie Kennedy was Mrs Charles (Jayne) Wrightsman (above left), wife of an oil and gas tycoon and both major donors to the White House restoration project and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Wrightsman gallery, partially designed by Stéphane Boudin, assembled the finest 18th century French period rooms and furnishings in the USA, reflecting the Wrightman's passion for collecting antique French furnishings of the highest caliber. Their New York, London and Palm Beach homes (where they were neighbors of the Joseph Kennedys and where JFK swam in their heated pool), all designed by Boudin set a standard of unrivaled excellence.

Jayne was a behind the scenes influence in Jackie's White House project, brokering a truce with Sister Parish when she threatened to resign the project due to what she perceived as Boudin's interference, and underwriting the complete and costly renovation of the Blue Room (below)  in January, 1963.   Jayne also worked as a kind of "shop hound," seeking out fine French antiques in Paris for Jackie's approval.  Much as with Bunny Mellon, another influential tastemaker to Jackie, Mrs Kennedy didn't entertain her women friends, she put them to work for the White House as JB West observed.

Jayne served on Jackie's Fine Arts Committee for the White House, and she and her husband arranged the initial introduction to Jackie Kennedy of Henry Du Pont. Years before, it was Jayne who introduced Boudin to Senator Kennedy's young wife. Jayne opened many doors for Jackie and they remained lifelong friends. Jayne still resides in her New York apartment.

The Wrightsmans avoided publicity but her connoisseurship particularly of French period furniture was an enormous help and support for the Kennedy restoration.  Refer to "Designing Camelot" by James Archer Abbott for a more in depth look at Jayne Wrightsman's involvement in the Kennedy White House restoration. 

Jayne was very active in seeking antique furniture in Paris for the Kennedy's White House Yellow Oval Room (below) along with Boudin.

Images courtesy JFK Library.

Bunny and Jackie's Historic Collaborations

By Leon Pascucci

August 30, 2016: “Mrs. Kennedy didn’t entertain her own friends in the White House.  She put them to work,” wrote J.B. West.  Foremost among those friends was Rachel Lambert Mellon, or Bunny, (1910-2014) who had an enormous influence on Jacqueline Kennedy and was a lifelong friend.  An heiress in her own right, Mrs. Mellon was a famed horticulturalist who maintained exceptional gardens at her many homes. Picture above: Bunny Mellon (left in hat) and Jackie (right in white hat).

She surrounded herself with beautiful French furniture and fine art, all put together in an amazingly understated style.  “Nothing should be noticed” was one of her design principles.  Dressed in couture by Givenchy, who also designed the uniforms of her staff, Mrs. Mellon exacted a kind of perfection in everything she did.  She lent her expertise and generosity to the Kennedy White House in many areas.

The White House Gardens

Perhaps Mrs. Mellon’s signature and most lasting influence is the Rose Garden which she completely redesigned at the invitation of President Kennedy in 1962.

He was actively involved in its renovation as well.  Bunny designed planting beds along the sides in the 18th century style, adding mature magnolia trees at each corner and leaving a large open lawn in the center, suitable for gatherings.  Broad stairs and a landing outside the Cabinet Room provided a place for presentations and press conferences, as it is used to this day.

In the 1980’s Mrs. Reagan called back Bunny to review the Rose Garden and she oversaw some heavy pruning and installed new plantings.

A superb piece on the garden’s development may be found in an issue of White House History.

In 1965 Lady Bird Johnson dedicated the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden, the former East Garden, in the former First Lady’s honor, and it followed a design of Mrs. Mellon’s begun before the Kennedy assassination.  A more intimate garden than the Rose Garden it features a trellised arbor and small reflecting pool as well as planting beds and topiary holly trees.  It serves as a lovely setting for smaller receptions and outdoor gatherings.

Read more: Bunny and Jackie's Historic Collaborations

Copyright Steven L. Brawley, 2002-2015. All Rights Reserved.