Here I have gone and violated my self-imposed rule, yet again, of not posting pictures for the Interiors series that include people–much less famous people! I’m not going to tell you to pretend that Ronald and Nancy Reagan, shown at the right side of this photo, aren’t there, but they aren’t the reason I posted the picture. This is an extremely rare photograph of the master bedroom in the upstairs residence section of the White House–the part where the President of the United States actually lives, as opposed to the historic museum/showpiece rooms like the Map Room and the State Dining Room. I say this photo is rare because the public almost never sees this part of the White House. You can’t get to it on the tour, for instance, and most first families are understandably shy about releasing for public consumption pictures of the digs where they actually live and sleep. There are also security reasons why it’s not a good idea to have photographic layouts of the President’s bedroom. So, for the White House to have released this photo, it’s pretty unusual.
This picture was taken on November 18, 1981, after Ronald Reagan had been in office about ten months. He looks fine here, but he was still recovering from the very serious wound he received in an assassination attempt back in March. The occasion of this photo was the recent remodeling of the residence and the decoration of this room specifically for the Reagans. A President can have the residence arranged or redecorated however he or she wants. If this is what Mrs. Reagan wanted, forgive me, but I don’t really share her taste. The wallpaper is white with a green bird motif. The gold mirror above the fireplace is more Louis XIV style than Federalist, which is what you’d expect in the White House. The carpet is a light salmon color, evidently matching some detail in the upholstery of the chairs. Overall the room has a nice airy look. It’s much less Western or Californian in style than you would expect from the Reagans, who lived in southern California for most of their adult lives and famously owned a ranch house in a Western style. President Reagan fancied himself as sort of a casual cowboy, sometimes photographed on horseback or wearing Western clothes and hats. That image may simply have been for public consumption.
Still, this room is interesting both for its style and its period. Interior decoration in 1981 was coming out of the horrific ’70s style that we associate with Earth tones (yellow, brown, orange) and over-the-top furnishings, even in homes of the wealthy, and moving toward a more artistically conservative style. That was entirely appropriate for the Reagan era which was a return to conservatism in many parts of American life. For that reason, this photo well encapsulates its historical period.