Laura Bush 'dismayed' at Hillary Clinton's frayed carpets

FOR eight years she was the female power in the White House, a hands-on first lady who brought her lawyer's mind to weighty matters of state and was never afraid to muscle in on her husband's job of running the country.

But running a household, it seems, was another matter for Hillary Clinton.

A new book reveals how Laura Bush was left dumbfounded by her predecessor's garish taste in home decor and distinctly unimpressed with her housekeeping skills after taking over the White House in 2000.

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Laura Bush: An Intimate Portrait of the First Lady - the first book to be written with her co-operation - reveals that the wife of the US president believes Mrs Clinton did not keep good house during her time at the White House.

During a tour of the property on 18 December, 2000 - just after the Supreme Court ruled, following the disputed election, that George Bush would be Bill Clinton's replacement - the outgoing first lady gave Mrs Bush a tour of the United States' most famous home.

"The incoming first lady was dismayed at what she saw: not only were carpets and furnishings fraying and in disrepair in the west wing and public areas, the Oval Office was done in loud colours - red, blue, and gold", one account of the book divulged yesterday.

"The east wing was cut up into small offices and had exposed electrical conduits. Many of the furnishings looked dated."

Perhaps with memories of Mr Clinton's infamous extra-curricular activities fresh in her mind, Mrs Bush also noted that " the Lincoln bedroom looked worn out".

Mrs Bush - a mousy former librarian noted for her homely, traditional style - ordered that 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue be redecorated in more muted, sober tones.

It is not the first time the Clintons' housekeeping abilities have been called into question.

A congressional investigation in 2001 found that many White House items were missing, broken or damaged when the Bush family moved in, courtesy of a "vandalism spree" by departing Clinton staffers. Outgoing staff glued their desk drawers shut, ripped phone lines from the walls, left offices untidy, removed the "W" keys from computer keyboards and left pictures depicting Mr Bush as a chimpanzee scattered about the building.

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Written by Ron Kessler, a former Washington Post and Wall Street Journal reporter, the publication paints a flattering picture of Mrs Bush, lauding her as "in a class by herself" while taking a string of unsubtle jabs at her predecessor.

In contrast to Mrs Clinton's hard-nosed approach to life at the White House, the book portrays Mrs Bush as a wife who was frequently left feeling deeply hurt by hostile coverage of her husband's administration.

At one point, it says, she conducted a month-long boycott of interviews in protest.

It also reveals that she conceived twin daughters Barbara and Jenna after taking fertility drugs, and details how she once became upset at being labelled a "bad mom" in a newspaper article.

"She handles it calmly, but I can tell things like that do upset her," Nancy Weiss, a Bush family friend, told Kessler.

Mrs Bush was also disgusted by the manner in which Newsweek reported that a Koran had been flushed down a toilet at the US detention centre at Guantanamo Bay and reportedly told friends: "I don't want Newsweek around the house," believing that the magazine - whose revelation prompted Muslim riots - had acted in an "irresponsible" fashion.

Yet for all her prim reputation, Mrs Bush has recently adopted a higher profile.

While her husband's ratings continue to sag, Mrs Bush, according to a CNN/USA Today poll published in February, enjoys the approval of 82 per cent of voters.

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Last month she also gave a rare television interview to CNN's Larry King in which she confirmed that she had a considerable influence on White House personnel decisions.

The new book asserts that Mrs Bush on one occasion vetoed the appointment of one contender for a senior political post within the administration.

The design expert's view?


THE overall look reminds me of the upstairs of a pioneers' saloon bar, Wild West bordello, just missing a few late-19th-century ladies of the night languishing about. Not a look that I think is appropriate for the White House.

It's Victoriana without any charm; am I allowed to say nouveau riche, or will there be cannonballs sent to Leith?

The use of colour is crude and unsophisticated, but it didn't need be like that. The use of the rug [left] is somewhat "brave", incorporating gold, terracotta and shades of blue. You could get away with it, but it has to be so carefully done; for example if you lightened all the other room elements up and used texture instead of pattern and had a central seating group which would have given the room structure.

Instead, they've gone for pinkish walls (why?), a riot of pattern (florals and stripes) and incorporated every colour in the rug in all these other elements on furniture in an inexplicable lay-out (has everyone fallen out?)

The room is finished off with really dark, heavy curtains and, just out of shot, the pice de rsistance, what looks like a lone stripey La-Z-Boy. Dear me, it just gives me a headache... but maybe they supply their guests with Nurofen.

The other room [right]: I can't even comment on the carpet; just won't go there! White walls with dark red curtains again - just so lacking in sophistication, so hard on the eye and so much competing pattern. Headache No2.

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I have got to say I am quite gobsmacked, I always thought of the Clintons as being quite sophisticated and charming (despite his shenanigans) but clearly intelligent people.

• Paul Douglas is an interior designer with Room Interior Design, based in Edinburgh.