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Obamas Foot White House Redecorating Bill

Laura Bush chats with Michelle Obama in the White House's private residence on Nov. 10. (White House photo by Joyce N. Boghosian)

Who turns down a free $100,000 home makeover? Barack and Michelle Obama, who are writing a personal check for the redecoration of the private quarters at the White House.

Yesterday, Camille Johnston, the first lady's director of communications, confirmed the Obamas will forgo the $100K government allowance provided every four years for sprucing up the White House residence, as first reported in New York magazine. "In light of the difficult economic conditions, the Obamas have determined now is not the time to use taxpayer funds for this and they will not be accepting any donations, monetary or goods," said Johnston.

How much are they shelling out? We'll never know. "The budget will not be made public since all expenses are private," Johnston told our colleague Jura Koncius.

And, for the first time in modern history, the first family will not accept any donations through the White House Historical Association for the upstairs residence, something many of their predecessors have done. Which means when they leave, they're free to take all the stuff they've paid for.

"This is so in touch with what is going on now," said Carl Sferrazza Anthony, historian of the National First Ladies' Library. "It is politically astute in terms of symbolism. It is also really thoughtful when people are losing their actual houses."

More savings: High-profile Los Angeles interior designer Michael S. Smith is donating his services -- like other decorators who've landed the White House gig. Smith has been making the rounds of Georgetown antiques and furnishings shops, but the White House has clamped down on any details.

The Reagans returned their redecorating allocation -- then $50,000 -- but accepted private donations for renovation. According to Anita McBride, former chief of staff for Laura Bush, the Bushes used some of the allowance for painting, beds and linens in his first term; they returned the $100K in the second term, but the White House Historical Association paid for new china.

No big changes in the Oval Office: President Obama has added only a few paintings, according to the first lady's office, and there is no plan to change the Bush-era decor, which includes a $61,000 sunburst rug paid for by private donations.

By The Reliable Source  |  March 30, 2009; 3:49 PM ET
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