The Legacy of Jackie O's Decorating Style

The Legacy of Jackie O's Decorating Style

Catrin Morris
May 3, 2011

Watching The Kennedys Miniseries has given me Jackie O fever (despite her portrayal by Katie Holmes, who to me will forever be Joey from Dawson's Creek not the First Lady of Style). When John and Jackie Kennedy moved into the White House in 1961, Jackie was unhappy with the way their new home was decorated. Like the 20th century administrations before his, Truman's White House was full of uninspired contemporary furnishings and haphazard antique reproductions.

According to the White House Museum, the new First Lady's appreciation of antiques and fine art prompted her to "not merely redecorate but to restore the White House to a grander, more authentic period look appropriate to its role in American life."

Jackie O oversaw the creation of the White House Historical Association to help publicize the heritage of the President's infamous house. She helped procure antiques and artwork that was owned by previous Presidents and installed wallpaper panels in several rooms, which depict scenes of American landscapes and history. The White House was declared a museum to help preserve it and a fine arts committee was established to accept gifts of antique furniture for the White House. According to the Field Museum, Jackie O took great pains to ensure the public understood that her mission was not simply a matter of personal decorating taste but an effort to honor American history and craftsmanship: "It would be sacrilege to merely redecorate it—a word I hate. It must be restored, and that has nothing to do with decoration. That is a question of scholarship."

While some of Jackie O's decor may seem stodgy or old-fashioned today, her respect for history and her eye for color, layout and timeless beauty are unmistakable. Of course, she didn't do it alone. But she did have enough style and savvy to know that help was need--and which experts should be called in to help. In addition to Dorothy Mae "Sister" Parish and Henry DuPont, a well-connected collector of Americana, Jackie enlisted the guidance of Stéphane Boudin, a Parisian designer of the House of Jansen.

Shown above:

1) East Sitting Hall. The makeover of the East Sitting Hall is like a crash course in interior decorating. Jackie removed the heavy green drapes that had been (inexplicably!) shrouding a massive and magnificent arched window. Together, the chandelier, table, vase and new window treatments beautifully complement the geometric symmetry of the window's stunning panels. The once stodgy and poorly laid out room was made softer, more elegant and far more inviting.

2) Master bedroom. Jackie chose similar dusty blues and creams to decorate the Master bedroom, where she slept. The beautiful gilt mirror above the dresser is a perfect example of Jackie's decorating style: Historically relevant, refined, and formal but also delicate and understated. This room reminds me of spreads in Traditional Home, except this is the real deal, with no reproductions.

3) JFK's bedroom. Watching the Kennedys miniseries, with it's prurient focus on JFK's alleged extramarital dalliances, I can't help but chuckle at the (unlikely) idea of him bringing the likes of Marilyn Monroe back to this incredibly juvenile and boyish room!

4) Yellow Oval Room. This room was converted from a dowdy study into a bright, colorful and airy sitting room.

5) East Bedroom. Jackie O let her domestic and maternal side dictate the design of her daughter Caroline's bedroom. John Jr.'s room is as traditionally boyish as this is girlish!

Images: White House Museum

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