Find Out Why Michael S. Smith is Laughing All the Way to the Bank

This is another in the series of interior designers that I have loved and have inspired me since the 1980’s when I first started out in this line of work.

Michael S. Smith

A lot of you may now know the name because he was hired by the Obamas to be their decorator at the White House.

Okay. I researched this because I was curious. And quite frankly, [at the risk of sounding like a catty bitch], I was quite shocked because to me, the oval office after Michael got a hold of it looks more like the lobby at the Ramada, rather than the elegant office of the president of the United States. And elegant doesn’t have to mean pretentious, but this room is phenomenally bland, IMO. It bears very little if any resemblance to the rest of Michael’s extraordinary work.

However, I still ADORE the bulk of Michael Smith’s work. I’m going to chock it up to political BS. Or something like that. If you have a good chunk of time and are interested, there is a fascinating post, very well-written by Joni Webb of the Cote de Texas Blog which gives a superb assessment of the situation. She also posts every iteration of the Oval Office since Roosevelt and it’s extremely entertaining.

If I needed to come up with a sentence or phrase to describe the bulk of Michael’s work, I would be hard pressed. His work is like a color that’s difficult to describe. He’s traditional, but never insipid. [oval office excluded] He’s masculine but with a soft touch. He’s bold and quiet, elegant and always, I think in his best work, oozing with an elegant high-level style that few can match. And yes, of course, these designs come with a high price tag. Very high. If you have to ask, you can’t afford his services or the priceless antiques and art he so often specifies. His banker adores him.

I hope I get to meet Michael S Smith one day. He seems to be of the jovial sort.


However, and you knew this was coming—The main reason that I chose Michael S. Smith to hi-light this month is because of his love of Chinoiserie. He often uses fine Asian antiques, art, porcelain— especially blue and white porcelain in almost all of his work.  Oh, man do I love that fretwork chair in his office!


Michael’s first book





Michael S. Smith-bedroomThis is one of Michael’s bedrooms featuring his fabric from his Jasper Line of home textiles and furnishings.



Michael S. Smith copy



Love the apple matting in this more rustic dining room. It’s difficult to find and VERY expensive, but you can get a similar look with thick jute, like we used in the two sun rooms in my portfolio.



michael smith book cover

This is Michael’s second book – Houses.


Chinoiserie screen and end table. It’s all pretty befriggin’ amazing isn’t it?


And now, for the oval office. I’m sorry. It looks like Mr. and Mrs. Obama took a trip to Ethan Allen. Not that there’s anything wrong with Ethan Allen, but this is supposed to be the work of one of the living legends of interior design, Michael S. Smith! The desk is pretty awesome you say? Yes, indeed it is… That is the Resolute Desk which was a gift made to president Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880 by Queen Victoria. Most of the presidents since then have used the desk. [although it was not brought into the oval office until Jackie Kennedy brought it in.]

And forgive me… but what IS that wildly over-grown bush thing just plopped on the mantel like a really bad toupee?

Obviously, it must’ve been a parting gift from the previous president. :]


Don’t forget to sign up for a chance to win the vases. The random drawing will be December 3, 2014.

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10 Responses

    1. Hi Patty,
      What a seriously gorgeous place! Pendants are very cool. No, I’ve not seen anything like that. You might try calling the hotel? Perhaps others have asked as well and someone will have an answer for you.

  1. Thanks for your lovely comment Wendy! To expand on your thoughts. I heard that Obama did like Bush’s rug so why couldn’t they use that? That was probably the most expensive thing in the room, but it doesn’t look it. And Bush had those same chairs which looked far more stylish in a striking blue stripe. The pillows look they’re from target and are two small for those very large sofas.

    Oh, and I’ve heard that the wallpaper is verrry expensive and hand-painted. I envision a gorgeous, but subtle almost grisaille mural. There are some fabulously talented artists out there. Why does it have to change? That would be so befitting of the architecture too!

    And yes, I agree with you about Michelle’s sense of style and love of color. But, if you hire MSS, isn’t the idea to get something pretty frigging awesome?

    But alas, we’ll probably never know unless someone writes a tell-all book. ;]

  2. I also adore Michael Smith’s work and completely agree that the White House is impossibly bland and definitely not up to snuff.

    However, in his partial defense, I believe he was required to work with just items that were already in the White House’s collection, or mostly so, and added very little new, if anything.

    That said, I have a hard time believing there weren’t some more interesting choices available, but we also don’t know how much of this came down to the Obamas’ own tastes. Which would seem weird given Michelle’s great sense of clothing style and love of color, but you never know.

  3. I agree. I guess that he just did their bidding? It’s boring and predictable. I know that that wallpaper was pretty pricey because it was hand painted. I am sorry…but. If you are paying a lot for hand painted wallpaper – make it something that’s interesting and difficult to re-create.

    As a decorative artist, I could have done that same stripe very quickly right on the wall…for a lot less $ than they paid for that wallpaper.


    1. Oh wow! I just thought it was Clarence House or something. I wish that there was more art up. Or some fabulous Chinoiserie panels or screens. And there aren’t any real accessories. Quite frankly, that is one of the biggest problems. Most rooms are bland if not styled properly. Maybe they are afraid that the visiting heads of state will walk off with the porcelains. haha!

  4. Michael is definitely one of my favorites! His rooms never date! I have his second book and reference it often. Not sure what happened with the oval office…I was so excited when I heard he had been selected by the Obamas. Always enjoy your posts!

    1. Thanks for sending me that article Carla. Very interesting. The rug bugs me too. It’s a huge sea of beige with the hallmark quotes around the edges. And it clashes a bit with the sofas. Maybe someone forgot to get a CFA or a strikeoff!

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Hi, I’m Laurel, and Laurel Home is the website and blog for Laurel Bern Interiors.
I’ve been creating new-traditional interiors since 1988. The blog is where I share all.

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