A pol­ished look

At the White House, first lady Me­la­nia Trump’s decor is a monochro­matic salute to the na­tion

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY JADA YUAN

First lady Me­la­nia Trump’s White House Christ­mas decor is a monochro­matic salute to the coun­try.

Me­la­nia Trump’s theme for this year’s White House Christ­mas dec­o­ra­tions is “The Spirit of Amer­ica,” and judg­ing from the dis­play at the tra­di­tional me­dia pre­view Mon­day morn­ing, that spirit is monochro­matic.

White pa­per stars hang from the ceil­ing of the East Colon­nade, a pas­sage­way that has been trans­formed by arches lined with clear plas­tic pan­els printed with white line draw­ings of more than 60 ex­am­ples of Amer­i­can ar­chi­tec­ture and in­no­va­tion. They spring from the ground like an aus­tere gar­den of blue­prints.

They are the least con­tro­ver­sial dec­o­ra­tions to adorn the colon­nade in the first lady’s ten­ure as Christ­mas-dec­o­ra­tor-in-chief.

Trump did not show up for a photo op, as she did in 2017, when the lav­ish pre­sen­ta­tion also in­cluded bal­let dancers twirling to the Nutcracker Suite played by the Marine Band. In­stead, as she’s done be­fore, she re­leased a video of her­self filmed dur­ing her fi­nal walk­through on Sun­day af­ter re­turn­ing from Thanks­giv­ing in Palm Beach, Fla. In it, she’s look­ing at an ad­vent cal­en­dar in the shape of the White House, ad­just­ing rib­bons, and sprin­kling fake snow on trees in the Grand Foyer and Cross Hall, which was filled with ever­greens cov­ered in white lights or gold paint.

Gone from the colon­nade were last year’s (“creepy” or chic, de­pend­ing on who you asked) blood red trees made of branches of cran­ber­ries. Trump’s crit­ics had said they looked like they were straight out of “The Hand­maid’s Tale” or “The Shin­ing.”

“A lot of peo­ple said it looks like Christ­mas in hell,” said Jimmy Fal­lon in a mono­logue last year. “Then Me­la­nia said, ‘Ex­actly.’ ”

Seth Mey­ers satir­i­cally re­ported that the first lady had done all the dec­o­rat­ing her­self, in­clud­ing trees that lit up to read, “Save me.”

“We are in [the] 21st cen­tury and ev­ery­body has a dif­fer­ent taste. I think they look fan­tas­tic,” the first lady said with a laugh in re­but­tal dur­ing a 2018 ap­pear­ance a Lib­erty Univer­sity in Vir­ginia. “I hope ev­ery­body will come over and visit it. In real life, they look even more beau­ti­ful.”

Dur­ing her first White House Christ­mas in 2017, she had lined that colon­nade with abun­dant sprays of white branches, which could have been seen as a win­ter won­der­land — or, when lit from be­low, a gath­er­ing of skele­tons. As Stephen Col­bert put it then, “Gahh, what hol­i­day is that for? Saint Gor­lon’s Feast of Hu­man Bones?”

What­ever tastes view­ers have, the first

lady’s de­vo­tion to Christ­mas dec­o­rat­ing can­not be quib­bled with.

This year she be­gan prepa­ra­tions as early as July, ac­cord­ing to an In­sta­gram post that showed her look­ing at an ar­ray of flow­ers and fab­ric swatches. This is within the nor­mal hol­i­day decor prepa­ra­tion time for first ladies, but most other first ladies have not trum­peted that fact. The Trumps have also had fewer state din­ners than their pre­de­ces­sors. Such events are usu­ally an op­por­tu­nity for first fam­i­lies to show off their style. That leaves the Christ­mas dec­o­ra­tions as the pre­em­i­nent ex­pres­sion of Me­la­nia Trump’s tastes.

Those tastes this time around proved to be pretty and pol­ished, if say­ing very little be­yond gen­er­al­iza­tions about patriotism.

The decor was meant to be “a trib­ute to the tra­di­tions, cus­toms, and his­tory that make our Na­tion great,” ac­cord­ing to a news re­lease.

“This Christ­mas sea­son I want to honor those who have shaped our coun­try and made it the place we are proud to call home,” the first lady said in the re­lease. “When I travel the coun­try, I am in­spired by the hard work­ing peo­ple and fam­i­lies that I meet. No matter which state they call home, many Amer­i­cans share a strong set of val­ues and deep ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the tra­di­tions and his­tory of our great na­tion.”

Trump also thanked the more than 225 vol­un­teers from all 50 states who’d done the dec­o­rat­ing, called the White House “the Peo­ple’s House,” and wished ev­ery­one a merry Christ­mas and a happy new year.

(One of Pres­i­dent Trump’s cam­paign prom­ises had been to cel­e­brate Christ­mas proudly and es­chew po­lit­i­cally cor­rect ex­pres­sions like “sea­son’s greet­ings” and “happy hol­i­days.”)

There was a tree at the en­trance of the East Wing dec­o­rated with gold stars that had been placed on it by mem­bers of Gold Star fam­i­lies, who have lost an im­me­di­ate rel­a­tive in mil­i­tary ser­vice. The of­fi­cial Christ­mas tree, an 181/2-foot Dou­glas fir from a Penn­syl­va­nia farm that Trump had wel­comed to the White House as part of an­other tra­di­tion last week, reached to the ceil­ing of the Blue Room and had the name and flo­ral em­blem of each state scat­tered through­out its branches.

A feast of fake food, in­clud­ing a glis­ten­ing tur­key and a plate of re­al­is­tic-look­ing green beans, sat atop a ta­ble in the China Room, “il­lus­trat­ing the joys of fam­ily com­ing to­gether at the hol­i­days,” ac­cord­ing to the news re­lease.

Gilded ea­gles topped some of the 58 Christ­mas trees, and else­where, in the Red Room, there were trees made out of play­ing cards that had the first lady’s and the pres­i­dent’s seals, as well as their sig­na­tures, as an homage to child­hood games played at this time of year.

An or­na­ment spelled out “Be Best” in Scrab­ble let­ters, a nod to Trump’s sig­na­ture plat­form, which has three rather vague aims, re­volv­ing around “well-be­ing,” on­line safety, and rais­ing aware­ness about opi­oid abuse.

Trump’s decor seemed to veer from pre­vi­ous first ladies, who of­ten had a home­spun ap­proach. Michelle Obama’s ginger­bread White House of­ten had a replica of the fam­ily dog, Bo. Me­la­nia Trump’s was an homage to great Amer­i­can land­marks such as the Golden Gate Bridge, Mount Rush­more and the Gate­way Arch in St. Louis, made of 200 pounds of ginger­bread, and lots of royal ic­ing by the White House pas­try team.

The first lady did again have her sig­na­ture wreaths, green­ery with red bows, hung from ev­ery win­dow in the White House — in­clud­ing those on the ginger­bread White House. And for the fam­ily’s or­na­ment she chose a metal U. S. flag that looked as if it were rip­pling in the wind.

Bron­son van Wyck, a well known New York event plan­ner and au­thor sighed when de­scrib­ing the Trumps’ Christ­mas dec­o­ra­tions: “They look like some­thing you could find at any shop­ping mall, and maybe that was the goal. And if that was the goal, then no prob­lem.”

Van Wyck, who has worked for first fam­i­lies from both po­lit­i­cal par­ties, said he un­der­stood that Me­la­nia Trump is un­der a mi­cro­scope and how hard that can be. But it was also hard for some­one from his van­tage not to hope for more am­bi­tion and vi­sion.

“Look, it’s not what Mrs. Kennedy would have done, or Mrs. Rea­gan. You could get a great artist in there, you could get a great ar­chi­tect, you could get a great de­signer, you could get . . . some­one who’s got a point of view. . . . These dec­o­ra­tions were just there.”

PHO­TOS BY JABIN BOTSFORD/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

TOP: White pa­per stars hang from the ceil­ing of the East Colon­nade at the White House. ABOVE: Trees made out of play­ing cards in the Red Room are a nod to games played by chil­dren at this time of year.

PHO­TOS BY JABIN BOTSFORD/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

TOP: The of­fi­cial White House Christ­mas tree, an 181/2-foot Dou­glas fir, has a place of honor in the Blue Room. ABOVE: The first lady’s “Be Best” ini­tia­tive is evoked in the dec­o­ra­tions in the Red Room.

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