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Video: White House mum on Oval Office makeover cost

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    >>> a lot of people like to redo their home offices, but when yours is the most famous office in the world, the oval office , any makeover is going to get a lot of scrutiny. savannah guthrie is back this morning with a new look at president obama 's workplace.

    >> reporter: most presidents do redecorate their offices when they are inaugurated. president obama decided to wait a little while. at first he said he liked the way president bush had it decorat decorated. but now it seems it's time for a change .

    >> good evening.

    >> reporter: on tuesday night, it wasn't just what president obama said that got noticed, but where he said it, an oval office that just got a makeover. while the president and first family were away vacationing on martha's vineyard, workers were putting in new wallpaper, a pair of new sofas, two chairs reupholstered, new brightly coloreded lamps and a coffee table and the centerpiece of the famously oval room, a carpet with famous quotes.

    >> during our discussions --

    >> reporter: new presidents traditionally redecorate their office to make them their own.

    >> we want you to see the new rug, it's a tradition for each president.

    >> reporter: president bush had his wife laura design his oval office rug. he talked about it often. historians say president obama 's choices fit his personality.

    >> the fact that obama is the president for whom words matter so much, makes this rug the most personal of the changes that he's made in the white house .

    >> reporter: but mum's the word from the white house on how much the redesign cost, although officials say it was comparable to what presidents clinton and bush had spent and downplayed just how extreme a makeover this really is.

    >> each president puts his stay up on the office . none of the modest changes that were done inside the oval office were done at any taxpayer expense.

    >> reporter: and the white house points out the new items were made in america. and these oval office redecorations were paid for by donations to the presidential inauguration committee.

    >>> margaret russell , the editor-in-chief at architectural digest mag sheeazinmagazine.

    >> michael's not talking about this project and he won't. you know, he's incredibly discreet about his clients. but they have been in the office now for several months and every president does come in and put his own imprint on the oval office . it was expected.

    >> it's modern.

    >> it is modern.

    >> it is very, very different. and that is one reason why there's been a little bit of scrutiny, in fact i would say bad reviews. and one was talking about the discussion about the scrutiny, one actually compared it to a law office in a strip mall . okay, now i know you're not a designer.

    >> that's just mean.

    >> okay, it is. but what do you think? i mean give us an idea about what he was going for and what the ideas of this room.

    >> i think the ideas are really stronger and i think the room reflects the president who i think is a very modern looking president. but he always has one foot in the past, and one foot in the future. i think that he's very cognizant of the legacy and the foundation of that office . so this office actually has a lot that's been there for a long time. what we saw in the speech last night with the curtains hanging behind the president, those were the same curtains from the president bush . the biggest change is that extraordinary rug that was made in america and has the presidential seal and quotes from four presidents and martin luther king jr . around the edge of it. words mean a great deal to this president. that i think is my favorite thing in the room.

    >> you also like the fact that everything in the office is american made. there's a specific point and that's kind of a first.

    >> i think it's really important, it's surprising to me that in the past everything wasn't american made and it is now. and the design industry has been really hard hit by the economy. so whether it's good or bad reviews if there's more attention paid to design because of this, then i think michael smith has done a good thing. he's focused on very small family owned companies and i think their businesses will get a boost from this exposure.

    >> no taxpayer money was used to remodel this office . you're someone who understands this profession. how much do you think it actually cost?

    >> i have no idea, i know the rug was donated. i think people probably did things at cost just for the honor of being included in that office .

    >> hundreds of thousands?

    >> it's not for me to say.

    >> i guess we're going to have to have the white house cough up that number.

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Interactive: Inside the White House

Photos: Life inside the White House

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  1. Peeking through the Palm Room

    NBC's Brian Williams looks out onto the Rose Garden from the West Wing's Palm Room. He was preparing for the president's arrival and the start of a day spent reporting a behind-the-scenes documentary at the White House. (Antoine Sanfuentes / NBC News) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Love's commanding courtside manner

    Reggie Love is the "body man" for Barack Obama -- the guy who makes sure the president has his Honest Tea and MET-Rx protein bars. The former Duke University basketball player is known to spar on the court with the commander in chief. "Can I, can I just point out, I am on my backside all the time during these games," the president tells NBC’s Brian Williams. "They're showing me no respect on the court. Partly because they know that when I beat them, I might do a little trash talking… As Reggie put it, you don't want to lose to Barack Obama. You'll hear about it for a while." (Antoine Sanfuentes / NBC News) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Keeping the Oval Office tidy

    A White House worker runs a vacuum over the carpet of the Oval Office. Embroidered into the fibers is the presidential seal. To the right is the president's desk. (Antoine Sanfuentes / NBC News) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. With an office next to Obama's, candor is critical

    Former newspaper reporter David Axelrod is President Obama's senior adviser. Axelrod crafts responses for the emergencies of the day, reviews every speech, and studies each policy position. His office, barely the size of a service elevator, is the closest to the Oval Office. "Is that good or bad because the Oval is right here?" asked NBC’s Brian Williams. "Well, I can see him when I need to see him," said Axelrod, "And he comes by quite bit and pops in … You know, I've had a few conversations since I’ve been here that probably he didn’t necessarily want to have. But he invites candor, he invites honesty." (Antoine Sanfuentes / NBC News) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Soldier turned White House 'ROTUS'

    Receptionist Darienne Page oversees the comings-and-goings in the West Wing, a job that involves everything from serving coffee to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair to collecting BlackBerries at the door of the secure Roosevelt Room. She was previously an Army sergeant stationed in Iraq. "There's a lot going on, and I just kind of sit here and manage it all -- whether it’s getting water or coffee for some of the guests or making sure that people aren’t going any place that they don’t need to be." (Antoine Sanfuentes / NBC News) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Biden tells Obama: 'I'm not changing my brand'

    The former senator from Delaware is famous for speaking his mind and stirring the pot. "I'm not going to change," he joked with NBC’s Brian Williams. "When the president asked me to do this, I said, 'Look, two things aren’t going to change: I'm not wearing any funny hats, and I'm not changing my brand.'" Shortly after taking office, Biden was charged with overseeing the distribution of $787 billion in stimulus funds and heading up the White House's "middle class task force." (Antoine Sanfuentes / NBC News) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. 'Your guys used the jaw of life to save my two boys'

    This customized fireman's hat sits in the Vice President Joe Biden's office. He credits fire and rescue workers for responding quickly to the car crash that killed his wife and daughter while critically injuring his two sons. He recently spoke at the International Association of Firefighters conference, telling the audience, "You know, I told you before, I owe you all. I owe the firefighters in my state. I will not bore you again, but my mom remembers and knows full hand, since she helped me raise my children when your guys used the jaw of life to save my two boys." (Antoine Sanfuentes / NBC News) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Understanding the first couple

    Valerie Jarrett, a longtime friend of the Obamas, oversees the Office of Public Liaison and Intergovernmental Affairs -- working as the principal contact for groups needing to connect with the president. She assists with the hiring of top staffers and often serves as a sounding board for the commander in chief. Jarrett tells NBC's Brian Williams that the current White House team understands the first couple. "I think we have a great combination of people who have been part of the Obamas' life for the last 20 years … folks who worked on the campaign trail and had an opportunity to see both of them out on the campaign trail and understand what really are the priorities of this administration." (Antoine Sanfuentes / NBC News) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. 'Barack Whisperer' talks job excitement

    During the campaign, Robert Gibbs was called the "Barack Whisperer" for his uncanny ability to anticipate how his boss would want to handle a given situation with the press. Now, as presidential spokesman, the Alabama native takes to the podium for daily White House press briefings. "If you don’t get a little excited about that," Gibbs told NBC’s Brian Williams of his job and responsibilities, "it’s time to write a letter to the president and go work somewhere else." (Antoine Sanfuentes / NBC News) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. A low-profile general and his high-level chatter

    Gen. Jim Jones serves as the filter between the president and the military, but has done so with a low White House profile. "I don't think that in order to satisfy everybody's view of the national security adviser to the president that I have to be hovering around him all the time," said the former Marine Corps commandant. Asked by NBC's Brian Williams what Americans would think of the daily intelligence chatter that comes through his office, Jones said, "I think they'd be reassured, they'd be confident that we are doing everything humanly possible to make sure that this very complex … variety of asymmetric threats that has really changed the national security landscape is being dealt with." (Antoine Sanfuentes / NBC News) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. The Rose Garden's straight lines

    National Park Service employees meticulously care for the White House's 18 acres off Pennsylvania Avenue. Perfect straight lines are routinely mowed onto the lawns -- including this patch of Rose Garden grass. (Antoine Sanfuentes / NBC News) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. A father and a husband

    Even though President Obama is consumed with the work of the White House, he tells NBC's Brian Williams that his role as a father and a husband makes him a better leader: "And I've got two young ladies who are laughing and screaming and wrestling with the dog. And I've got a wife who's trying to make sure that I keep my head on straight. And you know, we've got soccer games and ... parent teacher conferences. And so, that keeps you grounded." (Antoine Sanfuentes / NBC News) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Spoiled pooch and his presidential caretakers

    Bo, a Portuguese water dog given to the first family by Sen. Ted Kennedy, is "kind of crazy," according to first lady Michelle Obama. President Obama tells NBC's Brian Williams that "the nice thing is the girls just love him to death and the truth is all the staff loves him too. Our biggest problem is that he gets spoiled by the staff." (Antoine Sanfuentes / NBC News) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Obama waits on his official candy

    A White House steward holds a box of official presidential M&Ms in the West Wing. Each president gets his own box, showcasing his own, unique signature. Obama is still waiting for his personalized packaging, so for now, he has to make do with the standard-issue box. (Antoine Sanfuentes / NBC News) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. First lady enjoys living 'above the shop'

    This self-described "mom in chief" is a Harvard-educated lawyer and former vice president of the University of Chicago Medical Center. Obama says their new home has brought her family closer, telling NBC’s Brian Williams, "When you come off a two-year campaign that's pretty grueling -- life, a normal life, even in the White House -- is a welcome respite and we've never lived above the shop before and it's been great … Barack and I usually work out together. We have an opportunity to go to all the kids' activities, to schedule things around the girls' activities. It's just been a blessing in so many ways." (Antoine Sanfuentes / NBC News) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. 'Rahmbo' as West Wing wrangler

    A former senior adviser to President Bill Clinton and congressman from Illinois, Rahm Emanuel is known for his fiery temperament and willful determination. Nicknamed "Rahmbo," he worked as an investment banker for three years before being elected to the House of Representatives -- earning some $16 million handling mergers and acquisitions. Asked by NBC’s Brian Williams if President Barack Obama has "all the intelligence of Bill Clinton and more mental discipline," Emanuel refused to get into specifics: "I’m not going to get into … I’m not going to do that. They're totally different presidencies at different times. And it's an honor to work for both of them." (Antoine Sanfuentes / NBC News) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Keeping tabs on the president

    NBC's Athena Jones observes President Obama in the Oval Office, sending notes on his activities to colleagues via her BlackBerry. This slideshow is part of a special NBC documentary -- "Inside the Obama White House" -- that airs Tues. and Weds. at 9 p.m. ET. (Antoine Sanfuentes / NBC News) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: NBC's Brian Williams looks out onto the Rose Garden from the West Wing's Palm Room. He was preparing for the president's arrival and the start of a day spent reporting a behind-the-scenes documentary at the White House
    Antoine Sanfuentes / NBC News
    Above: Slideshow (17) Life inside the White House
  2. Pete Souza / The White House
    Slideshow (32) Inside Obama's White House
  3. Image: First Lady Michelle Obama Travels to China - Day 1
    Feng Li / Getty Images
    Slideshow (61) The first daughters
  4. Barack Obama Holds Election Night Gathering In Chicago's Grant Park
    Joe Raedle / Getty Images
    Slideshow (26) First sons and daughters


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