At a time when people are having trouble holding on to their houses, Barack and Michelle Obama have sensibly decided not to use taxpayers’ money to renovate theirs. New presidents are allotted $100,000 to overhaul the White House residence and the Oval Office, and the Obamas hired Hollywood decorator Michael S. Smith (known, per his site, for mixing “Old World classicism with very contemporary settings”). But the First Couple isn’t spending that money. They “are not using public funds or accepting donations of goods for redecorating their private quarters,” says Camille Johnston, director of communications for the First Lady. Nor is the couple, who reported $4.2 million in household income in 2007 tax returns, using money from the White House Historical Association, a privately funded foundation that paid for a $74,000 set of china shortly before Laura Bush left town.
But does this mean they’re going to spend more than $100,000 or less? Though Michelle Obama has talked up Pottery Barn, Smith’s client list includes cost-is-no-object types like Rupert Murdoch, Steven Spielberg, and former Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain—for whom he procured that $87,783 rug. “There’s no question that he’ll get it done in the way that it’s supposed to be done,” says Smith client and Democratic donor Katherine Chez. “But how, I don’t know.” The White House declined to disclose the budget, saying that all expenses would remain private as a result of the Obamas’ decision to absorb the cost.
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