Mr. Smith Goes To Washington

Michael S. Smith

Michael S. Smith Selected as White House Decorator

By Lynn Sweet
The Chicago Sun-Times
January 13, 2009

Release from Obama transition office...

The Presidential Transition Office announced details today regarding the selection of a White House decorator- a tradition and customary decision for new First Families.

Michael Smith has been chosen by Michelle Obama to help make The White House residence their home. A native of California, Smith studied interior design at the Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles and continued his studies in London. He returned to California to open a home furnishings store and launched his own design firm in l990. Michael Smith serves on the Board of Trustees for the Otis College of Art and Design. He takes particular pride in his family-focused clientele and approach.

"Laura Bush has been a wonderful steward of The White House and created a beautiful residence for her family. I look forward to adding our own touch to the East Wing and creating a living space where our family feels comfortable, happy and settled. Michael shares my vision for creating a family friendly feel to our new home and incorporating some new perspectives from some of America's greatest artists and designers," said Michelle Obama.

"I am delighted to work with the Obamas as they bring their own energy and style to the residence at The White House," said decorator Michael Smith. "The family's casual style, their interest in bringing 20th Century American artists to the forefront and utilizing affordable brands and products will serve as our guiding principles as we make the residence feel like their home."

Michael S. Smith / Elements of Style

Michael S. Smith / Elements of Style

Michael S. Smith / Elements of Style

Michael S. Smith / Elements of Style

Michael S. Smith / Elements of Style

Michael S. Smith, Inc.

Architectural Digest


Washington Spaces

Apartment Therapy


Coco + Kelley

Elements of Style

Vanity Fair

Annie Leibovitz

President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and their daughters, Sasha and Malia, sit for a family portrait in the Green Room of the White House, September 1, 2009. Official White House Photo by Annie Leibovitz.

New York Magazine : Home Decorating With the Obamas

At a time when people are having trouble holding on to their houses, Barack and Michelle Obama have sensibly decided not to use taxpayers’ money to renovate theirs. New presidents are allotted $100,000 to overhaul the White House residence and the Oval Office, and the Obamas hired Hollywood decorator Michael S. Smith (known, per his site, for mixing “Old World classicism with very contemporary settings”). But the First Couple isn’t spending that money. They “are not using public funds or accepting donations of goods for redecorating their private quarters,” says Camille Johnston, director of communications for the First Lady. Nor is the couple, who reported $4.2 million in household income in 2007 tax returns, using money from the White House Historical Association, a privately funded foundation that paid for a $74,000 set of china shortly before Laura Bush left town.

Michelle Obama Gives Nod to West Coast Decorator

By Terri Sapienza
The Washington Post
January 15, 2009

Michael S. Smith, who was announced Tuesday as the new White House decorator, is a native of California whose style is steeped in European tradition.

Smith was one of three finalists in the designer selection process, according to Katie McCormick Lelyveld, spokeswoman for Michelle Obama. The Obamas selected him to redesign the private quarters, she says, "because he had a similar vision of what they were looking for."

His interiors reflect a well-traveled look that includes the use of fine fabrics and rare antiques and a combination of different time periods, cultures and price points. His designs are known for being comfortable yet sophisticated, classic yet modern, filled with priceless pieces yet inviting and livable.

"He takes classic modern and he makes it usable to people today," says Key Hall, chief executive of the fabric house Cowtan & Tout. "His homes are very inviting and very livable."

Based in Santa Monica, Smith, 44, works on residential and commercial properties around the world. He was named one of Architectural Digest's top 100 designers in 2002 and 2004 and was Elle Decor's designer of the year in 2003. His long list of celebrity clients includes Cindy Crawford, Steven Spielberg, Rupert Murdoch, Dustin Hoffman and Michelle Pfeiffer.

In addition to his interior design business, Smith is involved in a number of commercial ventures, including his furniture and fabric lines called Jasper; a fabric and leather collection with Cowtan & Tout; bath collections with Kohler's Kallista brand; a collection of tile at Ann Sacks; and licensing agreements with Visual Comfort Lighting, the Mansour Modern rug company, Samuel and Sons Passementerie and Agraria Home Fragrances.

Speculation about who would be named White House decorator had been rippling through the design world for weeks. For a time, it was rumored that Chicago designer Nate Berkus, who appears frequently on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," would get the nod. District designer Darryl Carter has also been mentioned. Just recently, and seemingly out of nowhere, Smith began getting attention. Although he has no obvious connection to the Obamas, one theory advanced to explain his choice is that someone from the designer's high-profile client list made an introduction.

With so much design talent in Washington and Chicago, the California designer was an unexpected choice to some. "I was a little surprised, I have to say," says L.A. designer Kathryn Ireland. "But Michael is a good choice, because he does beautiful rooms. His rooms are flawlessly produced, and his eye for detail is exceptional."

But to others, the selection of Smith is not surprising.

"I think there are many qualified people, but he really stands out as being one of the top designers of our time," says Margaret Russell, the editor of Elle Decor magazine. "He's an extremely versatile designer, and he's someone who doesn't inflict his personal style on his clients. He's a good fit. . . . I think he'll help the Obamas make a lovely statement about what change is, while respecting the history of the White House and bringing a fresh look to it."

Warrenton designer Barry Dixon says he has been a big fan of Smith's for years. "He has a really wonderful understanding of the history of aesthetics and decoration and the past, and he designs comfortable, present-day interiors. It's one of his talents among many. . . . He takes serious things, and in his hands they don't appear overly serious, but they are still reverent to our aesthetic history."

Raised in Newport Beach, Smith studied interior design at the Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles and decorative arts at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

He may have won over the Obamas with his experience in family-friendly interiors.

"He works really well with families," Russell says. "I think especially for the Obamas' daughters, it would be a nice thing. I've seen him interact with the children of clients, and he's part of the family."

Smith has already been exploring "a variety of different outlets, kid-friendly everyday retail stores" for the bedrooms of 10-year-old Malia and 7-year-old Sasha, Lelyveld says. "Their primary focus is that when the girls get to their home, that they see their things, and they feel comfortable."

Another plus: Smith shares Michelle Obama's penchant for mixing high and low. She made a practice of wearing designer clothes one evening and a dress from J. Crew or Gap the next. Smith likes mixing rare antiques with custom-made and retail pieces in his interiors. It's a way "of taking the formality and stiffness out of very grand rooms," he says in his latest book, "Houses" (Rizzoli, 2008).

For a home in Santa Barbara that's featured in the book, Smith writes, he bought 200 Indian bedspreads from Urban Outfitters, "chopped them up and put them on the walls and ceiling and used them as curtains and upholstery in the pool house." In the same home, he filled rooms with French, Italian and Indian furnishings.

"One of the secrets of good decorating is not to be afraid to be simple," Smith writes in the book. "Sometimes all you need is a jute rug from Pottery Barn."

Smith and the Obamas might share more than a love of mingling high and low. According to news reports, the first dog will be either a Portuguese water dog or a Labradoodle. Smith has dogs, too. And they just happen to be Labradoodles.

Pete Souza / The White House

March 15, 2009 : The Obama family was introduced to a prospective family dog at a secret greet on a Sunday. After spending about an hour with him, the family decided he was the one. Here, the dog ran alongside the President in an East Wing hallway. The dog returned to his trainer while the Obama’s embarked on their first international trip. I had to keep these photos secret until a few weeks later, when the dog was brought ‘home’ to the White House and introduced to the world as Bo.