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Making the White House a ‘home’

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President Ronald Reagan and his wife, Nancy, dine on TV trays in the president's private White House study. Source: Ronald Reagan Library

Leading a nation is tough work. When the president of the United States goes to his private residence at the end of the day, he undoubtedly yearns for the comforts of “home.” But what does that home look like?

The second floor of the White House is the first family’s residence, where their bedrooms and private sitting rooms are located. This level has 16 rooms — including the Lincoln bedroom — one main corridor and 6 bathrooms. Every first family conducts minor redecorating and restoration work when they move into the White House.

Privacy preferences

Some presidents have been less private than others when it comes to the private residence. The Clintons, for example, hosted official events there, and first lady Laura Bush allowed documentary crews to film her White House home.

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, on the other hand, have worked to ensure the family space is for family only. Journalist Jodi Kantor, whose book The Obamas was released in August, has been in the White House dozens of times but has never been to the family’s private quarters.

“I can’t even name a journalist who has ever been up there under the Obama watch,” she told Chicago Magazine. “The Obama attitude with the private quarters is, ‘This is Sasha and Malia’s home.’ ”

What is known about the Obamas’ D.C. home is that they entrusted its décor to California-based interior designer Michael S. Smith, whose celebrity clients include Steven Spielberg, Dustin Hoffman and Rupert Murdoch. Smith has remained tight-lipped about the Obamas’ specific style, noting only that “the couple’s interest in bringing 20th-century American artists to the forefront and utilizing affordable brands and products” would serve as his work’s guiding principles.

While no formal pictures of the rooms in the private quarters have been released in the past four years, much is known about changes the Obamas have made on the White House grounds. Michelle Obama’s kitchen garden has been widely publicized, and first daughters Malia and Sasha are enjoying a wooden swing set — complete with tree house, tire swing and climbing wall — installed for them on the South Lawn.

Presidential administrations have all left their marks on the White House. Some of the most notable updates thorough the years:

Presidential pool

President Gerald Ford takes his first swim in the newly installed White House pool in 1975. Source: Gerald Ford Library

In 1933, citizens raised money to build a White House swimming pool for President Franklin Roosevelt, who suffered from the crippling disease, poliomyelitis.

Roosevelt used the pool, located inside the west gallery between the White House and the West Wing, multiple times each day. In later years, President Harry Truman swam in it frequently. President John F. Kennedy liked the pool so much that he made a habit of stopping by at lunch, stripping down for a swim and sneaking back to his private quarters for a nap wearing nothing but a robe.

In 1970, the increasing demand for TV news coverage created the need for a media workspace within the White House. President Richard Nixon had the pool filled in and called for the construction of a press room in its place.

With no indoor pool available, President Gerald Ford decided to have an in-ground pool constructed on the White House grounds in 1975; he swam daily when in town, and his son, Jack, took scuba lessons in the pool. President Jimmy Carter’s young daughter, Amy Carter, and first lady Barbara Bush both used the pool on a regular basis.

Pitch perfect

President Truman created a horseshoe pitch just off the Oval Office, but it was removed later. President George H.W. Bush had a new one constructed near the White House swimming pool. He introduced several world leaders to the sport, including Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and Queen Elizabeth II of England.

Bowling and golf

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden on the White House putting green. Source: Pete Souza via Time.com

Bowling lanes were first built in the ground floor of the West Wing as a birthday gift for President Truman in 1947. Truman didn’t care for bowling himself but allowed his staff to start a league. These were moved to the Old Executive Office Building in 1955 to make way for a mimeograph room.

In 1969, President and Mrs. Nixon, both avid bowlers, had a new one-lane alley built in an underground workspace area below the driveway leading to the North Portico.

President Dwight Eisenhower had a putting green installed at the White House in 1954. President Bill Clinton had the putting green moved to its current location, just outside the Oval Office door, in 1995. The two greens have been well-used over the years, helping to perfect the putts of Presidents Ford, Johnson, Nixon, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and Obama.

Getting the run around

President Clinton had a running track installed on the South Lawn of the White House. Much to the dismay of the Secret Service, Clinton preferred jogging around the streets of Washington, DC — often disrupting traffic — rather than running the secure White House path. The track has since been removed.

Child’s play

President Jimmy Carter watches his daughter Amy and grandson Jason play in Amy’s tree house on the South Lawn. Source: Jimmy Carter Library

The Obamas aren’t the first presidential parents who’ve added White House play structures for the benefit of their children. First lady Jacqueline Kennedy had a trampoline built into the ground so that Caroline and John Jr. were not visible to pedestrians as the pair bounced into the air. President Carter helped design and build a tree house for daughter Amy on the White House grounds.

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