Joe Biden Is Already Redesigning the Oval Office

Here’s what you need to know about the new U.S. president’s immediate design interventions.

All photography by Bill O'Leary

Besides signing 17 executive orders on his first day in office (which includes rejoining the Paris Agreement), it looks like one of Joe Biden’s immediate prerogatives as U.S. President has been redesigning the Oval Office to his liking. It’s worth noting that nearly every president has changed up the symbolic room’s decor to reflect his personality and what type of presidency he hopes to have. “It was important for President Biden to walk into an Oval that looked like America and started to show the landscape of who he’s going to be as president,” Ashley Williams, deputy director of Oval Office Operations, told The Washington Post during a recent tour. 

Biden’s Oval Office stands out for the sheer quantity of portraits of American leaders and icons. Most notably, he focused the room around a massive portrait of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, which hangs directly across from the Resolute Desk. Like Roosevelt, Biden is also faced with helping the country surmount a multitude of crises such as getting the ongoing coronavirus pandemic under control. That’ll require a commitment to science, which is precisely why Biden placed a portrait of Benjamin Franklin immediately to the left of the Resolute Desk.

He also paired paintings of former president Thomas Jefferson and treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton—two founding fathers who frequently and notoriously disagreed—next to one another. It illustrates, in the Biden office’s words, “how differences of opinion, expressed within the guardrails of the Republic, are essential to democracy.” He also removed a portrait of former president Andrew Jackson, a populist whom Trump deeply admired. It’s a powerful anti-racist gesture—Jackson kept enslaved people and signed the Indian Removal Act, resulting in thousands of deaths among Native Americans as they were forced to relocate to make room for white settlers. 

In addition to paintings, Biden’s office features several busts of progressives and activists including Robert F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Cesar Chavez. “Placing a bust of my father in the Oval Office symbolizes the hopeful new day that is dawning for our nation,” Paul F. Chavez, the labor leader’s son and president of the Cesar Chavez Foundation, said in a statement. “That isn’t just because it honors my dad, but more importantly because it represents faith and empowerment for an entire people on whose behalf he fought and sacrificed.”

Biden removed flags of military branches that Trump displayed behind the Resolute Desk. In their place, he installed an American flag and another with a presidential seal. He also replaced Trump’s gilded drapes with a darker shade once used by Bill Clinton. 

While the room’s furniture was swapped out and deep-cleaned in preparation for Inauguration Day, the Resolute Desk remains the same… for the most part. Biden swiftly removed a button that provided instant Diet Coke to soda devotee Donald Trump, who reportedly consumed 12 cans of the carbonated beverage every day. Tom Newton Dunn, who interviewed the former president at the Oval Office in 2019, “became fascinated by what the little red button did,” he wrote on Twitter. “Eventually Trump pressed it, and a butler swiftly brought in a Diet Coke on a silver platter.” According to former White House aide Chris Sims, who chronicled his experience in the 2019 book Team of Vipers, Trump also used the button to prank visitors by suggesting that it triggers nuclear capabilities.

Sage, anyone?

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