Ever since President Donald Trump took office in January 2017, his wife, Melania, has been busy with a variety of traditional first lady duties, one of which is putting her own style stamp on the White House.
Which is understandable: Melania is already accustomed to a palatial penthouse at Trump Tower in New York City, and since this presidential residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. had been around for more than 200 years, it did need some freshening up. (In fact, the president reportedly called the place a “dump” when he first moved in.)
“Old money interiors are known for being a little worn around the edges: nicotine stains, weird furniture, faded drapes, mysterious smells,” says Kim Gordon, a Los Angeles home designer. “Blinging the interior was probably necessary.”
Most recently, Melania announced plans to update the historic White House Rose Garden, but that’s really just the tip of the iceberg.
Over the years, the first lady has been tackling a ton of projects—and as hard as it may be to believe this, many of her upgrades were budget-conscious changes that didn’t cost much (plus they were privately funded, so they didn’t siphon off taxpayer money).
Curious what she’s done? Here’s a tour of the first lady’s glam upgrades to the White House, and what designers and real estate experts think of what she’s done.
She turned the Green Room curtains inside out
Over the years, the Green Room has been used as a dining room, guest bedroom, card room, and parlor.
When the room’s drapes needed an update, Melania surprisingly decided to take a more DIY approach, rather than buying a new set.
She simply flipped the curtains inside out, bringing material from the backside to the front. This frugal move meant that only the curtain’s decorative fringe had to be replaced.
“I love that someone thought that flipping the fabric over was an option! How cool is that?” says Gordon. “And that’s an amazing idea for homeowners to think about: repurposing and not buying everything brand-new.”
She added new wall fabric to the Red Room
The Red Room has historically served as a sitting room or parlor, since it’s located next door to the Oval office and the Cabinet Room.
Melania decided it was time to refresh the red wall fabric, which was badly faded by the sunlight streaming through the windows.
The fabric is red satin twill with a gold scroll design as the border, according to the White House Historical Association.
“Those rooms should always look their very best, and it was just very faded and really, really needed to be done,” said Stewart McLaurin, president of the association.
Unless the White House staff fastidiously kept the blinds and curtains drawn at all times, this update was bound to happen at some point in the White House’s lifetime. But hopefully, Melania did her research and selected a more modern fabric this time around.
“It probably would have been good to select something that is fade-resistant, as this will likely happen again over time,” says Cara Ameer, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker in California and Florida.
She designed a rug for the Diplomatic Reception Room
Serving as the main entrance off the White House’s South Lawn, the Diplomatic Reception Room sees a lot of foot traffic—so much so that a path had been worn into the area rug.
So Melania designed a new rug for this space, which features the flowers of all 50 states (whether she designed it herself or commissioned a designer to follow her lead is unclear).
She also refreshed the upholstery on chairs and benches.
The new rug was a savvy move by Melania, especially if she integrated into the design new materials that can better withstand lots of heavy use, says designer Ana Cummings.
“You don’t want to have guests trip over a bald spot in the rug,” Cummings says. “If this is a high-traffic area, an appropriate selection should be made so that it can handle the daily wear and tear.”
She built a tennis pavilion
— Melania Trump (@FLOTUS) March 5, 2020
The first lady decided to add a tennis pavilion to the White House South Lawn last October, a controversial move that quickly attracted criticism from the Trumps’ critics.
“We know the president likes tennis, so this addition is no surprise,” says Cedric Stewart, a real estate agent with Keller Williams Capital Properties in Washington, DC.
“Tennis is a popular sport, more so in elite circles, so the chances of a future presidential family using this are pretty high. And it’s much easier to install than a golf course!”
She restored the bowling alley
Wonderful to host children of our @SecretService agents today in the newly renovated bowling alley in the residence of the @WhiteHouse! My family appreciates all that Secret Service does to keep us safe. Thank you! #BeBest pic.twitter.com/JSmxU9VFK7
— Melania Trump (@FLOTUS) May 1, 2019
Who would have thought that Melania would turn her attention to the White House bowling alley?
This basement bowling alley dates back to President Richard Nixon‘s administration in the late 1960s. Last year, the first lady took it upon herself to restore it, commissioning crews to update the wiring, redo the interior, and even restore the original wooden bowling lane.
Her choice to restore the original wood lane is particularly on trend right now, says Stewart.
“Antique and reclaimed wood is all the rage right now—just ask Joanna Gaines,” he says.
“When people find original wood under the carpet in DC row homes, they rejoice, because they truly don’t make things like they used to.”
She returned the original furniture to the Blue Room
The Blue Room, which most notably serves as the home of the White House’s Christmas tree during the holiday season, also received some of Melania’s TLC.
Specifically, she returned to the room several restored pieces from the Bellange suite—a historic set of furniture that dates back to 1817, when President James Monroe was in office.
What White House renovation will Melania Trump take on next?
What Melania will tackle next is anybody’s guess. Even so, she’s been surprisingly restrained with all the White House renovations she’s done so far.
“All the upgrades are reasonably thoughtful, nothing appears to be overly eccentric or tasteless, and these are improvements that will serve the house well for years to come,” says Stewart.
“If things go a different way down the road, Melania may be able to get herself a show on HGTV.”