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A message of change

Harry Truman said it was like living in a big white jail. How will the new first family cope with their new home? Will they change the interior of the White House? It may not be the most crucial element on a new president’s agenda, but says historian William Seal, in the FT’s Jan 18th House and Home section, ‘you can be sure it will be one of the most observed and scrutinised things the incoming family will do’.

No decorator has been appointed yet, but as journalist Tony McMullen, goes on to explain, the White House is like a living American museum where there are 40,000 revolving exhibits to choose from its permanent collection, all kept in check by a committee, complete with a curator.

The White House is an unusual genre: it is part office, private home and entertaining and ceremonial venue. It is mixed use par extraordinaire. It possesses elements of a country house hotel or a live-work unit on a grand scale. Somewhere in one’s imagination it might be in between a Roman palace, an 18th century aristocratic home, or even a medieval merchant’s town house.

Regardless, the crucial issue remains the health and happiness of the chief incumbents, as decisions that come from it affect the entire world. Creating a safe and truly comfortable haven for the president and his family is thus vital for our future.

We know that the happiest times of day are around 6 -10 pm, and the place where people spend much of this time is the kitchen. As far as we can tell, the domestic kitchen in the White House is not a sociable place. There is a gap in facilities for the Obama’s family, in terms of chances of intimacy and time together cooking and eating.

For the Johnny Grey Design team, the key question is not the décor, or just creating the perfect kitchen. It’s more fundamental. We think it is necessary not only to create a place for the first family’s well-being, a series of environments that offer sanctuary, as well as offices for staff and spaces for public ceremonies, but also the social heart of the first family’s new home. This is where a sociable kitchen could truly come into its own and take on a new meaning.

Over the next week, we will be posting vignettes of our imaginary sociable kitchen space for Barack and Michelle and their daughters. We think the new president, as a visionary leader, should use the opportunity to send a public message – both symbolic and practical – that would be part of his change initiative to make family life happier.

We plan to write an open letter to the president outlining family-friendly proposals as to how design can improve the United States from an eco-based point of view. Watch this space.


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