Michael Smith once picked a fight with Barack Obama. Smith, the First Family’s interior designer, argued that red curtains were the perfect choice for the Oval Office. Obama disagreed. Presidents, of late, had gone with yellow or blue. Smith dug in, and others chimed in. Was this about fabric, or something else?
“Barn red,” Smith called his curtains. Suddenly, they sounded pastoral—no echoes of Belle Watling or Buckingham Palace. Then, flanking the curtains, the designer added two sunny paintings of Cape Cod barns by Edward Hopper, a favorite of the president’s. They belonged on the walls, at the dawn of the Obama administration, because of their Americana calmness and playful shapes.
Smith often connects to people through places. For example, he is from Pasadena, and the president is from Honolulu. The two men are roughly the same age. The