My Brush with 41

As soon as Bush was elected President, the office of Mark Hampton, Inc. in NY was selected as the new interior designers for the White House, where I worked at the time.

The project was a rush because their new home obviously had to be ready fast.  Much to our surprise, it was threadbare and worn out, and the Reagan “California colors” of peach and yellow was not the Bushs’ “Barbara Blue.”

The project was given the code name Scouten, referring to the longtime White House butler, Rex Scouten. We were to use this for all reference so vendors and workrooms would not know.

One day in spring of the new administration, Mark told me I was going to Washington the next day — to the White House.  President Bush didn’t really “use” the Oval Office, except for visitors and photographs. He preferred using a quiet, small, and no-frills space adjacent to the Oval Office.

My task was to design a new desk for him. I was told he was very neat and liked everything in its place, or in a drawer, including a Dictaphone.

I flew to Washington and was met with Secret Service as soon as I deplaned. I was driven to the White House, dropped off at a portico door, and told to “just go in.”

It was a while before I was met and taken to the Oval Office. Completely alone, I crawled under the famous desk to measure the knee space, drawers, personal items, and space where the new desk would reside in his small office.

Afterward, Rex gave me a tour of the State Rooms and the private quarters on the second floor.

They arranged for me to walk across the street to Blair House, the official guest house, where Mark Hampton and Mario Buatta collaborated in the refurbishment and redecoration a few years earlier. I wandered around Blair House alone and, with a fair amount of guilt, tucked a few sheets of White House stationery and envelopes into my briefcase.

A few blocks away, I had a quiet lunch and wrote my mother a letter on the beautiful stationery.

I made sure I mailed it from DC before flying back to NY.