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Recreating the Oval Office at the George W. Bush Presidential Center

Rena Hardeman and Judy Pesek in the recreated Oval Office. Photo courtesy of Rena Hardeman.

Designers aren’t typically excited about the opportunity to replicate spaces. But when former first lady Laura Bush asked Gensler to replicate the Oval Office within the new George W. Bush Presidential Center, we were thrilled.

Opening today in a ceremony attended by all living presidents of the United States, the Center is located on the Southern Methodist University campus in Dallas, Texas. Gensler provided all furniture, fixtures and equipment design for the interiors, including the honor of replicating the Oval Office as it existed during President George W. Bush’s two terms in office. Our design extends through the George W. Bush Foundation Offices, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), an auditorium, and a 112-seat restaurant. My colleague Rena Hardeman joined me in leading the Oval Office design team— that’s Rena and me in the photo above.

Gensler's Judy Pesek. Photo courtesy of Rena Hardeman.

One of the most unique elements of the Center is its full-scale, interactive Oval Office exhibit. Visitors are able to visit the Oval Office and walk on a replica of the original rug emblazoned with its Presidential Seal. Visitors can also recline in one of the two federal stripe chairs originating from the Federal Period, which accommodated President Bush and various heads of state during President Bush’s two terms in office. To my mind, the biggest thrill is the chance to be photographed sitting behind the Resolute desk in the same chair that President Bush used himself. That’s where I’m sitting in the image above.

President Bush’s original Oval Office was furnished to residential standards, but our replica had to withstand the visitors that the Center expects to receive each year—and they anticipate 500,000 visitors in the first year alone. We were lucky to be able to work closely over a year and a half period with the rug, fabric and furniture vendors we needed to accomplish our task—a perfect replica of the historic interiors. Many of the original vendors who outfitted the Oval Office for President Bush were able to work with us to achieve our goal—a replica that even seasoned Secret Service officers have a hard time distinguishing from the original.

A special challenge was recreating the tufted Edward Fields’ rug that was created in his facility in College Point, New York. The original rug was designed by Mrs. Bush herself. When we designed the replica, Edward Fields had been acquired by Tai Ping carpets, and they were still creating one-of-a-kind custom rugs. Without the benefit of seeing the original rug, we had to recreate it working from photographs and initial artwork on file at Edward Fields/Tai Ping. We went through more than five mock-ups before getting it just right.

Ron Skipper, Judy Pesek, Rena Hardeman and Dr. Michael Savoie at the opening of the Center. Photo courtesy of Rena Hardeman.

One of the furniture manufacturers we partnered with was Kittinger Furniture, which is based in Buffalo, New York. Kittinger has created furniture for the White House and for other presidential libraries. They do extraordinary work, and their finishes are some of the finest I’ve seen. The hand-carved legs and arms of the Federal Stripe chairs and the intricate inlay detail of the Pembroke tables next to the sofas and card tables on either side of the fireplace are worth special mention.

Design team members Jenna Young and Kelly Moore. Photo courtesy of Rena Hardeman.

Reaction to the space has been overwhelming. Members of George W. Bush’s original administration who were in the Oval Office on a daily basis and who have visited the Oval Office Exhibit have used terms like, “incredible,” “uncanny,” and “exact in every detail” to describe the replica.

The dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Center is being held today and will be attended by all five living presidents and their wives. The Center will open to the public on May 1, 2013.

Judy Pesek is the co-regional managing principal of Gensler’s southcentral region and a founding member of the firm’s Workplace Taskforce. An interiors dynamo, Judy lends her considerable workplace expertise as an adjunct professor at UT Austin and as a regular contributor to D-CEO magazine in Dallas. Contact her at judy_pesek@gensler.com.


Reader Comments (8)

Tremendous, beautiful work!!! Something for you to be very proud of! Best Wishes
04.26.2013 | Unregistered CommenterDan Keener
Hi, I really admire your work... here's a question. The set of six armchairs in the Oval Office have unusual split cane backrests. I believe the chairs can be described as American Classic in design. Can you tell me about them? Their provenance/history - what's their story? (They seem to have been overlooked by every publication, post, web article etc... I just can't find any information on them anywhere, which is a bit spooky!)

Best Regards
Doug Shaw
05.21.2013 | Unregistered CommenterDouglas Shaw

Thanks for your comment. Honestly, we received very little to no information on the provenance of any of the pieces. We have scant information on the dates the items were purchased by the White House but not a lot of other information. One of the best places to look is the White House Curator's Office.

That being said, here is the information that I have:

Cane Back Chairs: Mahogany and Cane
Originals were made in 1902 by a Boston Company, A.H. Davenport. They were purchased new in 1902. They are an interpretation of the Late Federal style 1810-1825. They were first used in the Oval Office in 1930.
06.11.2013 | Registered CommenterRena Hardeman
I was wondering if there is a particular name or style for the designed alcove's above the bookshelves?
08.25.2013 | Unregistered CommenterJon Holland
At the young age of 15, Bill Clinton and several more of his classmates had a very rare opportunity in which the boys would get to meet the 35th President of the United States, John F. Kennedy. That day would set the course for young Bill. That day as Bill Clinton came in direct contact with the President a legacy was decided. William Jefferson Clinton would one day become our Nations 42nd President.

Growing up as the black sheep of the family so to speak, I was the kind of kid that had big dreams but dreams left undecided always lay dormat. I recall the moment that I read the account of a young boy that met the 35th President of the United States that would also sit in our Nations highest office. The dream that I once had to be someone of importance. A leader in the truest sence. Someone that would be an asset to our country began to stir in me again but the final decision didn't take place until I had the opportunity to visit the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas Texas on May 9, 2014. As I sat in the chair of the President a decision was final. In 2018, I would run for a seat in the Texas State House of Representatives.

- Larry M. Keatts, Jr
Could you please tell me the manufacturer of the Resolute Desk replica in the Bush Library oval office. Is it the same manufacturer that made the original one for Queen Victoria to give to the United State, or just a very good replica made by another artist?
10.10.2014 | Unregistered CommenterWayne Arrington
Dear Mr. President,

As a little boy on a city bus one day, a fellow passenger spoke out due to my overly talkative behavior. "He's going to grow up to be successful, perhaps even the President." That is a very profound statement to make over someone's life especially a child! In our society, we need to instill success into our kids. We need to see these kids as tomorrow's leaders. President's are not born, they are created by loving parents that take the time to invest in them. I didn't grow up to be a U.S President, but I did grow up to respect those that God has allowed to hold this valuable office.

Mr. President, I'm the author of two books that were published by Amazon. One of those books is a juvenile fiction called, "Washington's Diary." The book is a fictional diary of thirty U.S. President's. There is somewhat of a twist that will keep you reading. Also, in the book I have included thirty literal Presidential quotations. There is also an assignment for kids to do. In the back of the book there is a page called, "Author's Letter To The President." I have written a personal letter to you Mr. President. - L.M. Keatts, Author
05.2.2015 | Unregistered CommenterL.M. Keatts
The letter addressed in Mr. Keatts book, Washington's Diary, is to the 43rd President of the United States, George W. Bush. The book is well written and will even make you wonder if perhaps there's more truth than fiction.
05.2.2015 | Unregistered CommenterWilliam Preston

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