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14 Secret Ways Jackie Kennedy Made the White House Her Own

In 1961, when John F. and Jaqueline Kennedy moved into the White House, Jackie was less than impressed by the decor and furnishings and immediately set about renovating, but the first priority was making the family's living space feel like home—including creating her own private sanctuary in the White House's grand Master Bedroom (you know, the one where Lincoln actually slept).

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The White House, Washington DCturtix/Shutterstock

The private residence at the White House

The second floor of the White House is where the first family lives. It includes a kitchen, a dining room, and bedrooms (including the famous Lincoln Bedroom, which is named for Abraham Lincoln, but wasn’t where he slept), according to the White House Museum. The second-floor ceilings are a little over between 11 and 12 feet high. Starting with the family’s bedrooms, Jackie set about renovating the second floor first; as a young wife and a new mom, she wanted to make the White House her family’s “home.”

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family kitchenRobert Knudsen/Courtesy JFK Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

The family kitchen

In 1961, Jackie Kennedy converted what had once been a guest room (known as the “Prince of Wales” suite) into a private kitchen and dining room for the first family’s private use. The suite’s sitting room became the family kitchen. Jackie, who once famously said, “If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do matters very much,” must have felt it important to have the family together for meals. That said, the chef she hired was Rene Verdon (third from left), a sophisticated French American chef, whom it’s difficult to imagine preparing pizza and chicken tenders!

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private dining roomRobert Knudsen/Courtesy JFK Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

Private dining room for the first family

The rest of the Prince of Wales suite was made into a private dining room for the first family. In one photo, you can see a place setting from 1961. In the other photo, taken in 1963, you can see the antique wallpaper Jackie chose, which depicts scenes from the American Revolution. As the story goes, according to the White House Museum, Betty Ford disliked the battle scenes and had them removed to make the walls a bright yellow.

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caroline's roomRobert Knudsen/Courtesy JFK Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

Caroline’s room

By the time the Kennedy’s had moved into the White House, three-year-old Caroline was already a lover of horses and was often photographed riding her pony around the White House grounds. Jackie decorated her daughter’s room to reflect Caroline’s love of horses, with a hobbyhorse, as well as a painting by Grandma Moses depicting a country scene, complete with horses! Don’t miss this collection of rarely seen photos of Jackie Kennedy.

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john john's nurseryRobert Knudsen/Courtesy JFK Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

John-John’s nursery

John Jr. was just born just two weeks after his father was elected president, so his room in the White House began as a nursery. Jackie decorated it minimally as if she were waiting to see what sort of things her son would like as she got to know him. Here’s the real reason Princess Diana met John Kennedy, Jr.

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the president's bedroomRobert Knudsen/Courtesy JFK Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

The President’s bedroom

President Kennedy had his own sleeping space for when work went late. Jackie decorated this room based on her husband’s preferences. This room is used today as the Living Room for the private residence. Find out the real reason that Jackie married John.

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jackie's private spaceRobert Knudsen/Courtesy JFK Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

Jackie’s own private space

Although the White House’s Master Bedroom (the one where Lincoln actually slept) was officially the bedroom of Mr. and Mrs. John F. Kennedy, this was the room in which Jackie created her own private sanctuary. Although she frequently made changes to the decor of this room while she lived in the White House, in this 1962 photo, the room’s been decorated with the help of designer Dorothy Mae “Sister” Parish, who had helped Jackie decorate the Kennedy home in Georgetown. Sister’s task here was helping make Jackie feel “at home.”

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detail of jackie's bedRobert Knudsen/Courtesy JFK Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

Detail of Jackie’s bed

Although the “Master Bedroom” became Jackie’s own private sanctuary, she made sure her husband was welcome to sleep there when he was able (the duties of the presidency can make that tricky, particularly since Jackie was also the mother of two young children and needed to keep her own schedule accordingly). To make John comfortable, Jackie maintained her bed as two twin beds pushed together. Hers had a softer mattress than John’s because John had a bad back and preferred a hard mattress. Here’s how John’s back problems shaped one of Jackie’s most iconic footwear habits.

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sitting area in jackies roomRobert Knudsen/Courtesy JFK Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

Sitting area in Jackie’s room

This 1962 photo of the sitting area in Jackie’s room shows details that Sister helped her with, such as the Chinese porcelain and the draperies which have a daisy motif. If you look carefully, you can see one of the “hidden” closets along the right-hand side. The closet doors were in this room were built to blend right into the walls, rather than to appear as doors. These strange White House jobs are well-paid- apply and experience the building for yourself.

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dressing roomRobert Knudsen/Courtesy JFK Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

Jackie’s dressing room

Most first ladies have used the dressing room, which is just off the Master Bedroom that Jackie used as her private space, as a study or sitting area. That is what Jackie used it for. Prior to the Kennedys, the Wilsons made it their private dining room, according to the White House Museum, and Florence Harding used it to store clothes. This room connects to the master bathroom, which is a large full bathroom with a separate tub and shower stall.

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corridor to jackie's roomRobert Knudsen/Courtesy JFK Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

Corridor leading to Jackie’s room

This stately corridor leading to Jackie’s private sanctuary appears to be all business, but upon opening the door, you’re greeted with the warmth and comfort that Jackie made sure characterized her space.

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sun parlorRobert Knudsen/Courtesy JFK Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

The sun parlor

This room, also known as the Solarium, was added to the White House in the early 20th century by William Howard Taft in the form of a “Sleeping Porch” to give the first family a cool place to sleep on hot nights, according to the White House Museum. It got an upgrade in 1927 for Grace Coolidge, who liked to call it the “Sky Parlor.” In 1952, the Trumans added a kitchenette. Jackie turned this room into a school room for Caroline, and the Johnsons also used it as a “teen room” for their daughters.

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west sitting hallRobert Knudsen/Courtesy JFK Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

West sitting hall

Just like her own private bedroom sanctuary, Jacqueline Kennedy wished for the West Sitting Hall (one of the private residence’s common sitting areas) to remind her of her home in Georgetown. Sister Parish helped her to achieve that look, painting everything off-white, installing bookcases, and creating an informal sitting area near the window, according to Architectural Digest. Don’t miss these rare photos of John and Jackie Kennedy.

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east sitting hallRobert Knudsen/Courtesy JFK Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

East sitting hall

The East Sitting Hall is a perfect example of how Jackie used a “light” touch to make a space feel more welcoming. She simply had the heavy green draperies removed, replacing them with green window scarves that let in so much more light, and made the window into a focal point by facing the chairs in the direction of the light. Next, find out little-known facts about John and Jackie Kennedy’s wedding.

Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York–based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest and in a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. Lauren is also an author of crime fiction, and her first full-length manuscript, "The Trust Game," was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.