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May 06, 1989 - Image 36

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-05-06

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

The primary suite sitting room
in the Blair-Lee House features a
crystal chandelier and the type of
elaborate drapery treatment for
which Buatta is known.

8 ar HaAse Rebor

,

W

hen Mario Buatta and
Mark Hampton, two of
the country's pre-eminent
interior designers, were
chosen to redo Blair House, in
Washington, D.C., they worked with
a set budget and a set of instructions.
With a $5.5 million budget — not
an extravagant amount to redecorate
the 112 rooms — they were asked to
be as imaginative as possible while
creating a feeling of cohesiveness
and without altering the overall
historic ambiance.
Located diagonally across from the
White House on Pennsylvania Ave-
nue, Blair House is owned by the U.S.
Department of State and operated by
that department's chief of protocol.
Often referred to as the president's
"guest house," it is the place where
heads of state stay during their visit
to the nation's capital. Although called
Blair House, there are actually four
houses.
Blair House itself is the oldest, built
in 1824 by Dr. Joseph Lovell. In 1836,
it was bought by Francis Preston
Blair, editor of the Washington Globe
(which subsequently became the
Congressional Record). Just before
the Civil War, Lee House was built
next to Blair House, a wedding pre-

36

HOME

sent for a Blair daughter and her
husband, a Lee, of the Lee family of
Virginia.
In 1942, the U.S. government
bought Blair House and Blair-Lee
House (the renamed Lee House),
fully furnished (no less!), for $142,000,
to use as guest quarters. From 1948
to 1952, however President Harry S.
Truman and his family lived there
while the White House was being
renovated. Under President Richard
Nixon, the government bought two
Victorian-era houses located around
the corner from Blair House on Jack-
son Place. Thus, the current Blair
House "complex" was formed
totalling 70,000 square feet and run-
ning three-fourths of a city block long.
In 1962, First Lady Jacqueline
Kennedy oversaw a redecoration of
Blair House, in which each room was
done by a different interior designer.
Since then, though, the furnishing
had become "shabby, because they
never had the funds" to maintain
them, according to Mario Buatta.
"They'd go out and beg local depart-
ment stores for furniture, for uphol-
stery fabric, for whatever."
Buatta, 53, is a tall, stocky man
who has been tagged the "Prince of
Chintz" for his signature decorating

Interior designer Mario
Buatta gives a behind-
the•scenes look at the
recent $14 million
renovation of the
country's historic
official "guest house:'

BY BARBARA PASH

During the renovations on the
White House, the Truman Family
lived in Blair House. The Truman
Study was used by President Harry
S. Truman as an office. Interior
design by Mario Buatta. Photos
courtesy Mario Buatta Inc., New York.

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