Hillary's House

DAVID LETTERMAN WAS CLEARLY NOT impressed. After viewing pictures of the freshly renovated White House private quarters last week, he concluded that the only thing new in the Lincoln Bedroom was the deep fryer by the bed. Hey, Dave, could we show a little respect here? Bill and Hillary didn't make snide comments about your new digs (and for sure they cost a whole lot more than the $396,429.46 in private donations used to spiff up the White House).

And this isn't the Lincoln Bedroom; it's the Lincoln Sitting Room. Big difference. The Lincoln Bedroom is for famous friends-of-Bill-and-Hill like Barbra Streisand (not you, Dave), and it looks just like it did in the last few administrations. The Lincoln Sitting Room is next to the bedroom and it's one of several historically significant rooms, including the Oval Office, redone by Little Rock decorator Kaki Hockersmith with the advice and consent of the Clintons. The First Lady took this project every bit as seriously as her health-care plan. According to her press secretary, she read 40 books on the White House to make sure every new frill and furbelow was accurate. Her husband checked out fabric swatches. (Bill, do you think the country is ready-for red and green cut velvet?)

Clinton wanted the Oval Office "to be more dynamic, to show more energy," Hockersmith says. She interpreted that as strong blues and deep golds. In the Treaty Room, the Clintons were after the look of a private club--antiques mixed with mementos like photos of two Clinton heroes, John F. Kennedy and Winston Churchill.

To a generation raised to revere white walls and minimalist decor, it may all look a tad overdone. But Victoriana experts are thrilled. "This decor refers to a period in our decorative-arts history that is one of the least understood," says Catherine Hoover Voorsanger, an assistant curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The late 19th century was an intensely creative time for furniture designers and craftsmen. What looks like a melange -was actually an attempt to create a new sense of esthetics, combining designs taken from nature (flowers, leaves, vines) with motifs from around the world, especially Japan and the Middle East. Perfect for an administration big on ecology and multiculturalism.

Even though these rooms are part of the private quarters (and therefore not on the official White House tour), the Clintons apparently felt the need to give the public a peek by letting in a few selected reporters last week. "It's a material expression of presidential style," says Carl Anthony, a Washington historian. Nancy Reagan's redo (botanical prints, chinoiserie wall coverings, Battersea boxes) rated an 18-page spread in Architectural Digest. The Bushes (old-money pale-green walls) took ABC on a tour. Hockersmith says she hopes the Clintons will show voters what she's done with the third-floor family quarters as well. "It's much more 20th century," she says, "with light colors, bright pastels, coordinating floral prints and stripes." Something for everyone. That's Clinton style--in politics and decorating.