Wednesday, May 14, 2014

White House Family Kitchen

I read a book called Upstairs at the White House every few years.  The book is written by the chief usher--an archaic name for the employee who is the head of the household duties--who was there from FDR to Nixon.  If you like American history this is a really interesting and fun read., "Upstairs Downstairs US Style"

Inside the bookcovers are some images of different versions of one room in the White House.  Reading the book, I got a sense for how the White House evolves with each new president and first lady who lives there., "The White House Makeover"

As I've thought more and more about classic kitchens, I've wanted to see how the family kitchen at the White House evolved.  It is a smaller space on the corner of the 2nd floor, and was originally a bedroom or sitting room, depending on the presidential family:, Margaret Truman's bedroom 1952

When the Kennedy family moved in, Jackie used the last of her allotted money from the government to install this kitchen to go with a private dining room.  Before then, there was no way to prepare food and dine upstairs, and created a problem for private entertaining.  According to JB West, Jackie installed white and stainless steel finishes.  I had imagined something like white and stainless steel kitchens of today--Jackie being so fashionable and trend-setting:

Turns out, this 1961 kitchen feels pretty 1960s.  The Kennedys had small dinner parties most nights at the White House, with food made by their French chef, Rene Verdon.  JB West had to smooth hurt feelings when the original chef at the White House found out they were being paid less than Verdon!  In this picture below, Verdon is with butler John Ficklin in the new kitchen in 1961:, "Family Kitchen"

You can see that the kitchen didn't change much with the Johnsons.  Here is Lady Bird Johnson in the family kitchen in 1966:, "Family Kitchen"

But the Nixons changed that.  They added wood cabinets, an island, and patterned curtains.  Here is President Nixon's last lunch being prepared in 1974., "Family Kitchen"

You can see the changes better in this photo with Ford.  Looks like the Fords kept what the Nixons had updated.  Here is Gerald Ford making an English muffin in 1974:, "Family Kitchen"

The Reagans or Bushes (looks too late 80s to be the Reagans to me) took down the curtains and put up patterned wallpaper as you can see in this photo from 1992:, "Family Kitchen"

There doesn't seem to be any recent pictures of this kitchen are on the internet.  But, as a tribute to the current first family, whom I have more respect for in general after reading Upstairs at the White House, here is Michelle and Sasha preparing food at the DC Central Kitchen for 9/11 tribute on 9/11/2011:

First Lady Michelle Obama and daughter Sasha Obama participate in a service event  at DC Central Kitchen, "First Family Pays Tribute to 9/11 Victims Joining Service Project"

According to an article written in 3/29/2009, the Obamas declined the government allotment of $100,000 for updates to the White House and hired Michael S. Smith as interior designer with their own money.  Admirable.  

Three cheers for the ever-evolving American kitchen!


  1. I remember seeing a tv mini series years ago called "Backstairs at the White House" which was about the White House staff. It was fascinating, and I learned a lot of history. This sounds like a great book. Thanks for sharing the changes made to this White House kitchen. Always interesting to see the parts of the White House not available on the public tour! Great post.

    1. I enjoyed the memoir by JB West so much that I found out about "Backstairs at the White House". The mini series is based on a domestic employee's memoir similar to West's.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.