US & Canada

Is the White House really a dump?

The White House is seen at dusk on the eve of a possible government shutdown as Congress battles out the budget in Washington, DC, September 30, 2013. Image copyright AFP
Image caption Is the White House really a dump?

Donald Trump has hit back at reports alleging he was unhappy with his new accommodation at the White House - home to US presidents in Washington DC.

According to Golf.com, Mr Trump has explained his frequent appearances at various golf courses across America by saying to fellow players: "That White House is a real dump."

It led Chelsea Clinton, who is more than a little familiar with the interior of the White House, to tweet: "Thank you to all the White House ushers, butlers, maids, chefs, florists, gardeners, plumbers, engineers & curators for all you do every day."

But Mr Trump later tweeted that the reports were "totally untrue" and blamed "fake news".

He added: "I love the White House, one of the most beautiful buildings (homes) I have ever seen."

So, is it really a dump?

Well, it certainly doesn't look like a dump in photographs released by Architectural Digest in July.

But seeing as there are 132 rooms in total, are the non-pictured ones in such good nick?

On the face of it, the public ones certainly look to be well maintained.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The Red Room, pictured last November
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Former US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle walking down the stairs to the Grand Foyer

In his 2008 book To Serve the President, author Bradley H Patterson estimated that the White House budget includes $1.6m (£1.2m) for restoration and repairs each year.

And it certainly would not be considered a dump to those living in the 30 million households across the US that have hazardous homes, according to a 2016 report by the Center for American Progress.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The White House library

Those hazards include "dilapidated structures, poor heating, damaged plumbing, gas leaks, or lead", said the report.

That means, if you take the average size of an American household, there could be almost 76 million of Mr Trump's citizens living in homes that could cause them "significant harm".

A question of taste?

If the current president is displeased by his new residence, it may be due to a clash of personal taste.

After all, Architectural Digest described the private rooms at the White House as "an oasis of civility and, yes, refined taste".

But how about Mr Trump's personal home? His penthouse in New York's Trump Towers certainly has a different aesthetic.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Donald Trump offered a glimpse inside his New York home during an interview with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

"At one level, [the decor is] aspirational, meant to project the wealth so many citizens can only dream of," author Peter York wrote in Politico. "But it also has important parallels - not with Italian Renaissance or French baroque, where its flourishes come from, but with something more recent. The best aesthetic descriptor of Trump's look, I'd argue, is dictator style."

According to Mr York, who has written a book called Dictator Style, the apartment screams, "I am tremendously rich and unthinkably powerful" - which is more than a little at odds with Washington's more understated style. After all, its "neoclassical public buildings" are supposed to "evoke stability and trustworthiness through their restraint", he wrote.

However, Mr Trump will almost certainly have put his own mark on the White House by now, as all presidents do.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Mr Trump appears to favour gold, at odds with Washington's more understated tastes

We know he swapped the red curtains for gold in the Oval Office, but what has happened behind the scenes is less clear. His wife, Melania, called in decorator Tham Kannalikham earlier this year, but what she will do to the Trumps' new apartment is not clear.

However, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, senior adviser to the First Lady, assured lifestyle website WWD: "Mrs Trump has a deep appreciation for the historical aspects of the White House and with Tham's traditional design and expertise, they are focusing on a seamless integration of elegance and comfort into where the President, the First Lady, and [their son] Barron will be spending their family time and calling their home."

And how much would a large-scale renovation cost?

The last time the White House could perhaps more legitimately be called "a dump" was back in the late 1940s, following years of depression and the Second World War.

According to historians, President Harry Truman walked into the building and found a place that was not only too small for his needs, but also had baths sinking into its floors - which not only creaked but also "swayed".

Image copyright Harry S. Truman Library & Museum
Image caption The picture of the north-east corner of the White House was taken in 1950
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The North Portico seen in September 2014

The repairs which began in 1948 cost $5.7m, according to several reports, and included a major extension. If you consider the annual upkeep, it gives you an idea of what a full-scale renovation would cost today.

In the UK, Buckingham Palace is about to undergo a 10-year, £369m renovation - although it is, of course, slightly larger - with 775 rooms.

Image copyright Harry Truman Museum and Archive
Image caption The State Dining Room during the renovation
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Mr Trump in the same dining room in 2017

The palace's last major renovation was back in the 1950s, so potentially the problems encountered at the Queen's official residence, like ageing cables, lead pipes, wiring and boilers, could be being experienced behind the glitzy public rooms at the White House. However it seems less likely, as the latter has been undergoing updates to make the building more energy efficient since 1993.

Over in France, the Palace of Versailles has been also been undergoing a major, €500m (£447m; $592m) renovation since 2003 - and there are still another three years left until it is complete.

So it seems likely any major renovation would run into the tens of millions - and what with Mr Trump's multi-billion dollar wall needing funding, it seems unlikely it will be top of the priority list.

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