The Oval Office is the official office of the President of the United States. Created in 1909 as part of an overall expansion of the West Wing of the White House during the administration of William Howard Taft, the office was inspired by the elliptical Blue Room. The room features three large south-facing windows behind the president's desk and a fireplace at the north end of the room.
The Oval Office has four doors: the east door opens to the Rose Garden; the west door leads to a private smaller study and dining room; the northwest door opens onto the main corridor of the West Wing; and the northeast door opens to the office of the president's secretary.
The president's working office moved from the main residence to the newly constructed West Wing in 1902. At first the president had a rectangular office in the West Wing located just west of the present Cabinet Room. The first Oval Office in the West Wing was designed by Nathan C. Wyeth and constructed in 1909, during the administration of Taft. That office was centered east to west on the south side of the West Wing, much as the oval rooms in the White House residence are. President Taft intended the Oval Office to be the center of his administration. By locating it in the center of the West Wing, he could be more involved with the day-to-day operation of his presidency. The Taft Oval Office had simple Georgian Revival trim, and was likely the most colorful in history; the walls were covered in a vibrant green seagrass. A post card from late in 1909 shown on the right shows Taft's Oval Office.
On December 24, 1929, during the Herbert Hoover administration, a fire damaged the West Wing, requiring substantial rebuilding. President Hoover rebuilt the Oval Office in the same location, upgrading the quality of trim and having the first air conditioning installed. Dissatisfied with the size and layout of the West Wing, President Franklin D. Roosevelt engaged a staff architect, Eric Gugler, to redesign the West Wing with the Oval Office placed in the southeast corner, offering more privacy and easier access to the residence. President Roosevelt worked closely with Eric Gugler and devised a room architecturally grander than the previous two rooms, with more robust Georgian details: doors topped with substantial pediment hoods, bookcases set into niches, a deep bracketed crown molding, and a ceiling medallion of the presidential seal. In small ways hints of Art Moderne can be seen, especially in the representation of the eagle in the ceiling medallion. Roosevelt and Gugler worked closely together, often over breakfast, with Gugler sketching the president's ideas. One notion resulting from these sketches that has become fixed in the layout of the room's furniture, is that of two high back chairs in front of the fireplace. The public sees this most often with the president seated on the left, and a visiting head of state on the right. This allowed President Roosevelt to be seated, with his guests at the same level, deemphasizing his inability to stand on his own accord.
A tradition evolved in the latter part of the twentieth century of each new administration redecorating the office to the President's liking. A new administration usually selects an oval carpet, new drapery, the paintings on the walls, and some furniture. Most incoming presidents continue using the rug of their predecessor until their new one is installed. The retired carpet very often is then moved to the presidential library of the president for whom it was made. The redecoration of the Oval Office is usually coordinated by the First Lady's office in the East Wing, working with an interior designer and the White House Curator. Art may be selected from the White House collection, or may be borrowed for the length of an administration. President Clinton borrowed a bronze sculpture of The Thinker by Auguste Rodin from a museum. President George W. Bush has borrowed two oil paintings, A Charge to Keep by W.H.D. Koerner (owned by Bush), and Rio Grande by Tom Lea (on loan from the El Paso Museum of Art). Sometimes the look of one administration's Oval Office evolves over time. President George W. Bush at first had the two highback Martha Washington style "lolling chairs" in front of the fireplace upholstered in shades of tan, sage and melon. Media reports referring to the new fabric's melon color as "pink" caused him to request a new fabric replacing the melon with a medium blue.
The desk used by many presidents in the Oval Office is a large partners' desk called the Resolute desk, so named because it was built from the timbers of the British frigate HMS Resolute. The desk was a gift of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom to President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880. Most recent presidents have hung a portrait of George Washington over the mantel on the north end of the room. A tradition of displaying potted Swedish ivy (Plectranthus australis) atop the mantel goes back to the Kennedy administration, and the current plants were rooted from the original plant. A series of bronze sculptures of horses and Western themes by Frederic Remington (1861-1909) are often displayed in the room. A large case clock, commonly called a grandfather clock, built in Boston by John and Thomas Seymour, c. 1795-1805, stands in the northeast portion of the room.
Though some presidents have chosen to do day to day work in a smaller study just west of the Oval Office, most use the actual Oval Office for work and meetings. Traffic from the large numbers of staff, visitors, and pets over time takes its toll. There have been four sets of flooring in the Oval Office. The original floor was made of cork installed over soft wood; however, President Eisenhower was an avid golfer and damaged the floor with his golf spikes. President Johnson had the floor replaced in the mid-1960s with wood-grain linoleum. In 1982, embarrassed by the linoleum floor, President Reagan had the floor replaced with white pine and oak in a cross parquet pattern similar in design to Eric Gugler's 1933 sketch which was never installed. In August 2005, the floor was replaced again under George W. Bush, in nearly the same pattern as the Reagan floor but replacing the soft white pine with walnut.
In the late 1980s a comprehensive assessment of the entire house, including the Oval Office, was made as part of the National Park Service's Historic American Building Survey (HABS). Detailed photographs and measured drawings were made documenting the interior and exterior and showing even slight imperfections. A checklist of materials and methods was generated for future conservation and restoration.