25 January 2009

Michael Smith and a Trashcan Makes The News

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The White House:  The Queen’s Bedroom under the Bush  Administration.  I’ll wager this bedroom is where Michelle’s mother will live.

Note:  Picture updated.

 

News of Michael S. Smith is everywhere these days.  And rightly so, being named by the Obamas to decorate the  private living quarters of the White House, is big, big news.  The appointment was first leaked by blogger The Peak of Chic, causing much excitement throughout the design blogosphere.  The official news came via domino magazine’s web site - how fitting for what is called the first high-tech presidency.   Who knows, maybe Obama downloads domino’s web site on his famous blackberry?  I can’t remember another White House designer creating such a stir.   Truthfully, I still don’t know which interior designer the Bushes used.  The choice of Smith was a surprise to me, a total surprise – though in hindsight he is a perfect fit.  His love and knowledge of antiques is legendary as is the way he puts together his interiors, warm, cozy and inviting despite the high price tag of the furnishings.  I had thought the Obamas would choose Sheila Bridges, an Afro-American designer from NYC.     I couldn’t have been more off-base.  As the days go by, the anticipation grows, and those first glimpses of Smith’s work for the Obamas will be highly sought after.  Unfortunately, the news this week concerning Smith was actually not all that great - in fact, it was terrible.  Read on.

 

 

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This decor by Smith would make a wonderful guest room in the White House.   Smith’s style – mixing grand and not so grand antiques in warm and cozy interiors is exactly why the Obama’s hired him.

 

Californian interior designer to the stars, Michael S. Smith, couldn’t afford the huge amount of press he’s received in the past few days.  Too bad it’s all been bad press.  After a career unblemished by any hint of misconduct, this week has been a public relations disaster for the genial designer.  Smith, riding high after being named the Obama’s interior decorator is now embroiled in the Wall Street scandal and the story couldn’t come at a worse time for him, the Obama’s and for The White House.

 

Michael Smith and Wall Street?  What?  It goes something like this:   The disgraced CEO of Merrill Lynch, John Thain, was fired this week (or resigned as he puts it) by the new owners of the once reputable stock firm.  Apparently, Thain was unceremoniously dumped because he hoodwinked Bank of America, the company that bailed out Merrill Lynch:  the merger was finalized after just two days of due diligence.  Bank of America execs have been less than pleased with Thain ever since the magnitude of Merrill Lynch’s losses became apparent – something Thain apparently tried to hide.   Hired just a few years ago to bring Merrill Lynch back to profitability, Thain tried to salvage the firm, firing thousands and cutting expenses for everyone except himself.  While his firm was suffering  unprecedented losses, he hired Michael Smith to decorate his office at a total cost of $1,220,000.   The Manhattan office includes Thain’s conference room and private dining room.  Smith’s invoice was splashed all over the news this week – in detail, leaked no doubt by a disgusted Bank of America official.  I can only imagine the sheer horror Smith must have felt having his exorbitant tab laid bare for everyone to leer at.  Business blogs have had a field day with Smith’s bill – and Thain will forever be remembered for his parchment covered trash can, for which Merrill Lynch paid Smith a princely $1,405!   The maligned trash can is surely destined to become the symbol of Wall Street greed, 21st century style.  

 

What is especially galling about the story is that while Thain was spending millions on redecorating his office, he insisted his employees curtail their own expenses on travel, entertainment and cars.  At the same time, he paid his private driver an $85,000 salary with a bonus of $18,000 and  $128,000 in over-time pay.  It’s interesting to compare budgets:  the Obamas hired Smith to design their White House living quarters for a paltry $100,000.  While everyone realized this sum was probably not realistic – contrast this with Thain’s $1,220,000 budget.  Even more telling, Thain paid over $100,000 for just three chairs!   How in the world is Smith going to work with the Obamas’ $100,000 limit?   In Elle Decor’s Margaret Russell’s interview with Matt Lauer about the White House commission, she brags that Smith is known for shopping at bargain places, like Target and Anthropologie.  Really?  The only thing I’ve ever seen Smith do that was budget friendly was to purchase these bedspreads, below, at Urban Outfitters, which he used for wall coverings, curtains and upholstery.  The cost of labor to install all the Indian bedspreads surely catapulted this budget into the stratosphere.  So much for cost cutting.

 

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Smith decorated this guest room using bedspreads from Urban Outfitters.

 

Smith’s public relations fiasco puts a damper on the jubilation that greeted the news of his White House commission.  It will be hard for the Obamas to justify hiring Smith while he is playing such a public role in the current excesses of Wall Street.   The leaked statement highlights the greed that these top CEO’s have and the cash it takes to fuel their lifestyles.    Thain’s personal life takes lots and lots of money to run and we have all paid for it.   While untold millions of people are facing financial doom, the ones responsible for the financial disaster  live lives that Kings would envy.   As Merrill Lynch faced collapse, the United States government, using tax payers money stepped in to stop the bleeding – averting their inevitable bankruptcy.  Using those tax payer funds, Thain made sure his buddies got their share – an estimated 3 to 4 billion dollars in bonuses.  Thain himself, perhaps in a rare moment of guilt, declined to take his promised $100 million bonus.  Nice of him, huh?

Thain and his wife Carmen live in a Park Avenue duplex worth $27.5 million.  Additionally, they own a country home that straddles two different towns – Harrison and Rye, New York.   His property taxes are over $150,000 a year to those two towns.  Purchased in 1995 for $3.7 million, the country home is now worth over $10 million and is on 10 acres of pricey real estate.  Included in the estate are beehives, a river, a stocked lake, a clay tennis court, several horse paddocks, and two swimming pools - along with a barn larger than neighboring houses.  The house is 97 years old and has 14 bedrooms and an underground heated garage.   Smith decorated both Thain houses, natch.

Though now out of a job, Thain will be busy in the coming months preparing a defense.  New York attorney general Andrew Cuomo is investigating the bonuses that Thain paid his cronies last December – just before the deal with Bank of America closed.  Bonuses at Merrill Lynch are normally paid in either January or February.  The timing of those ill-gotten bonuses, along with his decorating bills have made Thain public enemy #1.

Smith’s invoices, obtained first by CNBC news, show that Smith was hired for $837,000.  I have found two different lists of items ordered for the office, with some pieces appearing to either overlap or are misnamed.   Most prices are eye-popping.    The area rug for Thain’s conference room came in at $87,784.   Compare this with the $61,000 rug Laura Bush designed for her hubby’s Oval Office.  Obama is said to love that rug and will continue to use it – at least until he orders his own!

 

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The Oval Office rug that Laura Bush designed – Obama is said to be keeping it, for now.


Other items ordered by Smith for Thain’s office are listed below.   I went to 1st Dibs to see how Smith’s prices compared to those on 1st Dibs and what the furniture might look like.  Most prices on Thain’s invoice are at the top of heap, unbelievably high, some items I had to really search to find a comparably priced item.  It makes one wonder if all of Smith’s clients pay such prices.   Thain’s list is below.   Enjoy!

 

1.    Mahogany Pedestal Table -  $25,713

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On 1st Dibs, I found this Regency table from 1820 for $18,900.

 

2.   19th Century Credenza in Thain’s office -  $68,179, this must be a very nice credenza!

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1st Dibs had nothing in this price range for credenzas, the closest I could find is a 16th century credenza for $23,800.

 

3.  Pair of Guest Chairs $87,784 – seems quite extravagant for an office.

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Coming in higher on 1st Dibs are these George III Library Chairs, 1770, pair for $110,000.

 

4.  George IV Chair, this has also been reported as a desk - $18,468

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1st Dibs has this wonderful George IV chair, although it still needs fabric!   $4350.

 

5.    Commode on Legs at $35,115 – this item has caused much  amusement as people think it’s a toilet!

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On 1st Dibs I found this beautiful Louis XV Period Walnut Commode Raised on Cabriole Legs, c. 1760, France for $42,000. 

 

 

6.   Sofa for $15,000

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At George Smith, I found this sofa for just $10,000.   Thain’s sofa probably came from Smith’s own company.

 

7.   Six Chairs for his private dining room - $37,000 – rather pricey

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1st Dibs had this set of six, Chippendale Style chairs, from 1770 for $16,500 – a steal!

 

8.   Mirror for the dining room - $5,000 – this is actually reasonable for an antique.

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I found this on 1st Dibs, French 19th century Bird’s eye maple mirror, $5,000.

 

9.   Chandelier for the dining room - $13,000 – again, somewhat reasonable for an antique.

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1st Dibs had this beautiful chandelier, just slightly higher priced than Thain’s.

 

10.  Custom Coffee Table for $16,000 – seems pricey.   Probably came from Smith’s own company.

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1st Dibs has this antique coffee table with slate top, late 19th  century for just $9,750.’

 

11.  Regency Chairs - $24,000.

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1st Dibs has this almost perfect match, a pair of parcel gilt Regency period armchairs from England, Circa 1810 for $28,500.

 

Other items for Thain’s office includes:

6 Wall Sconces $2,741 – reasonable – again, wonder if these are from Smith’s line for Visual Comfort?

Rewiring of sconces $3,000 – reasonable.

Parchment Waste Can $1,405  – I can’t even comment on this.

Roman Shade Fabric $10,967.

Roman Shades $7,315 – reasonable for high end design.

Pendant Light Furniture $19,751 – not sure what this is???? Anyone know?

4 Pairs of Curtains  - $28,091.

40 yards of fabric for wall panels, $5,000 – actually not totally outrageous, but this is retail pricing.  Wonder if he used his own line of fabric?

Thain personally signed off on $30,000 in expenses that Smith incurred doing the job, in addition to the $800,000, presumably room and board while in NYC, I suppose.

I’ve added up all the items, plus Smith’s fee and I come out over the $1,220.00.  I’m not sure if Smith’s $800,000 fee includes these purchases or not.  Also – it’s possible these prices are retail and Thain was offered a discount.  It’s possible!!!!   These figures were originally made public on both CNBC and The Huffington Post.

 

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A Manhattan high-rise designed by Smith – this could possibly be what the Thain’s apartment looks like.

 

Wait, the news blitz on Smith is not over.  As if the coverage of Smith’s unfortunate association with Merrill Lynch wasn’t enough – there was even more press for the beleaguered  Smith.     An antique bed he purchased for the Obama White House showed up in the newspaper, leaked by the owner of the shop from where it was purchased.   The Providence Journal broke the story of the now sure-to-be famous bed.   “The bed is an antique tall post adapted to king size from bedposts fashioned from tiger maple in the early 19th century” reads the press release, but exactly who released the press release was not released.  Oy!  The bed was purchased at Leonards New England.  Leonards, a 75 year old landmark,  has two locations, one in Seekonk, Massachusetts and another in Westport.   Leonards’ stock is pure Michael Smith and I can surely see why he shops there.  The manager confirmed that Smith is a customer, as is Steven Spielberg (a Smith client), Julia Roberts and Bill Cosby.  I’m surprised Oprah is not a client, she loves Americana. 

Concerning THE bed, the owners, the Jenkins, father and son, AND the store manager all had different tales to tell.  One says they delivered the bed to a warehouse in Maryland that Smith is using to store Obama goodies.  The delivery men couldn’t see what else was in the warehouse that is headed for the White House because it was all tightly covered up.  Another story says Leonards delivered the bed directly to the back door of the White House.  And still another story confirms the bed is tagged for the master bedroom.  The elder Jenkins said the phone call from Smith confirming the White House sale was the call of a lifetime.  I’ll bet!  But still, it leaves me wondering what the privacy-loving Smith thinks about all this publicity surrounding the bed.  After all, Margaret Russell told Matt Lauer that Smith hasn’t yet given any interviews about the White House commission and “he won’t.”    Maybe someone should tell that to the Jenkins, but who can blame them for their excitement?

 

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Leonards, only in New England are shops this picturesque!  I wouldn’t mind moving in here!


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Is this photo shopped?  Apparently the bed was delivered the night before the Inauguration, but I didn’t think there was snow on the ground then.  

 

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The actual tiger maple bed the Obama’s bought from Leonards.  No surprise here – how many times have we seen Smith use beds similar to this?   I think the girls would love that carousal horse for their rooms!

 

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Classic English Tall Post bed in Mahogany found on Leonards’ web site – I can see Smith buying this bed for another White House bedroom– it’s gorgeous.

 

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On Leonards web site - 1880 English Oak – dog kennel Dresser – this would be a great piece for the playroom or private dining room, especially with the cubby for the new Obama puppy!

 

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How American does it get?  This Federal New York sideboard from the 1840’s from Leonards would be a nice piece in the White House private quarters.

 

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This estate in upstate New York, designed by Michael Smith and featured in November’s Elle Decor, reminds me of the type of furniture that Leonards carries.  I wonder if some of this was purchased there?   I hope Smith incorporates elements from this room in the White House, such as print curtains, cane furniture, tufted ottomans, and comfortable seating.

 

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More from the New York house.  Wouldn’t this be a wonderful look for the Obamas’ private dining room? 

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I am so curious as to whether the Obama’s will have a canopy over their new tiger maple bed.  Canopies are wonderful in large rooms, they become a room within a room and cozy up an oversized space.  I wonder if the First Lady perused this particular layout and felt a connection with this house and The White House?

 

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After all, the house IS white and three stories!!

 

Hopefully, the press on Michael Smith will die down this coming week.  Along with most of the design blogosphere, I can’t wait to see what Smith does to America’s house.  I can’t remember another White House makeover – since Jackie Kennedy’s -  which sparked so much interest.  Most likely, Smith isn’t too bothered by all the negative press as he is frantically finishing up his work for the Obamas.   And hopefully, there won’t be any more bad news, as long as he isn’t the interior designer for the Taliban!

119 comments:

  1. can't wait to see the 'new' look at the white house!

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  2. Great piece of investigative reporting! I too was wondering how on earth Michael Smith was going to be able to do anything with a $100,000 budget, although he does have access to warehouses of White House furniture and is able to borrow works of art from the National Galleries. I am sure he is donating his time and anything he buys will be charged at cost, don't you think?

    It's too bad Smith is associated with the greed and avarice of people like John Thain, but I doubt whether Smith questions how people attain their riches when he takes on a job, he just does the job he is hired for with the style he is known for - the very high end.

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  3. Being a designer to high end clients...I defend Michael Smith. He is doing his job......It is not his fault that this guy is a crook....after all he has done 2 or 3 houses for this client who at that point seemed to be on the up and up.
    I call this bad timing.

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  4. The budget is 100,000. They can add more than that of their own mone..they can redo exisiting furniture and there is a warehouse of it...artwork is often borrowed, and anything new is likely bought at cost...no labor on redos. They are not allowed to accept "gifts", unless they donate it to the WHitehouse. Chances that they are not doing everthing now and are given an annual budget for painting etc...

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  5. Joni - what Thain was doing was unethical - but I don't see how this relates to Smith. I certainly wouldn't see it as a poor reflection on you if one of your clients were under investigation. Smith charged a fee - and it doesn't seem clear what the details were - and the client agreed to them. Were his prices inflated? Perhaps. In addition, simply because what we have seen of Smith's work is very high end, that doesn't mean he's incapable of using a mix of products. I hope we do see a mix of high and low in the private quarters and I'm anxious to see Smith's work there regardless of the behavior of his other clients.

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  6. Joni, Maybe you need to go to NY...maybe Kentshire Galleries or to London to see what prices Antique dealers are charging. His prices are high , but they seem in line for what this particular market will bear.

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  7. You go girl !!!!! I am such a fan ! You are simply the BEST in this crazy blog world! vickydarnell

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  8. Interesting post, Joni. I've been reading about this here and there, thanks for putting it all in a nutshell. Terrible timing for Michael Smith to be associated with a Wall Street crook but maybe the limited budget at the White House will balance things out for him. It's certainly no fault of Smith's that a third-time client was willing to spend to such excess, but in our current economic climate, that level of spending will continue to be seen as offensive. That said, I can't wait to see what Smith does for the Obamas. Though one has to wonder now just how he's going to pull off so many rooms (for the President!) for so much less money than a ceo's office suite.

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  9. Too funny- when I first heard this story a couple of nights ago and heard of the infamous "commode on legs" I turned to my husband and said people are going to think that's a toilet!!
    Thain and all his compadres should be in prison. While I don't think Smith is at fault I think he will be viewed as "guilty by association" and I wouldn't be surprised if a very conscientious admin lets him go for that. Personally, I would love to see what he does at the White House.

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  10. Hi Joni~ I would love to see what Michael Smith will do with the White House, although doesn't he only have a $100,000 budget? That will leave him somewhat limited to small changes. Some small changes can be a BIG impact. Still, I can't wait to see what he does.

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  11. Joni - Is the $100,000 his entire budget? I understood it to mean that $100,000 is Smith's fee for the job, not for any of the materials, furniture or labor.

    Won't he simply be working on spaces in the private quarters in the White House?

    - Suzanne, the Farmer's Wife

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  12. My guess is the $100,000 is just the "budget"...I'll bet a lot of out of pocket expense will come into play as the project goes on.

    As for the bill on Thain's office/private dining room... WOOAHHH... $1.2 mil seems a little high..but..if Thain signed off and agreed..then so be it...by paying the bill, it makes it worth the money..I don't like how the media seems to be "associating" Smith with Thain in such a negative way..

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  13. You are correct - there was no snow in DC on or around Inauguration Day. That photo is not from this past week.

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  14. Have you been to Leonard's in person. Wowow.
    The Obama bed choice is a favorite of mine.
    mb from Dallas

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  15. This is all very interesting. Thanks for keeping us informed. It does not change the fact that Smith is so talented and perfect for the White House job. Can't wait to see what he does.

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  16. Hi Joni- thanks for this great post. I agree with the comments by all- designers do work for and are dictated to by clients. Obviously this guy- Thain- was a greedy maniac on a spending high in all areas of his life. We-as designers- can only stand by a look in amazement sometimes! Knowing your clients and adding that parchment trash can was all about the client-even if said client did not "KNOW" the price. While working with clients for over 20 years- I can say no matter how much a client spends- I have never lived like my clients- and never could. I think blatant Extravagance is going undercover- and for my clients taste without ostentation is the way we continue to go. I am sure you agree- somehow MS will get the job done with the 100k and it will be just right. I love your insights and always see the greatest pictures on your posts. I have bookmarked several that I return to time and time again- I am waiting to hear what Bushes do to their new Texas french ranch.
    I hope to make my posts half as interesting and entertaining as yours.

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  17. Great post, Joni....full of information! It will be interesting to see how it all plays out. To me, it is just POLITICS as usual and not surprised by it all especially during these difficult economic "free fall" times. I can't wait to see Michael's finished design work for the Obamas.....I know it will be lovely. I loved your last comment in your post...you are SO funny!!
    xoxo

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  18. While I adore Michael Smith, I have to say that it's very naive to think that a publicly traded company would approve of spending that kind of money on decorating. While he doesn't have a financial background, I imagine that he does have some considerable wealth of his own and should have some sense that a $1.2M job paid for by shareholders is fishy and that it could jeopardize his reputation were it to be known to the public (which of course it could easily be, as the company's business is by definition public). As designers, we should be conscious of who we are working with and how that reflects on us. It is foolish to think of it as just a paycheck.

    I do hope that the White House job is probably pro bono work, as suggested by another commenter. The publicity is worth $100,000+ and if he has any sense, he is not charging much, if anything.

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  19. Sorry, but I believe he participated in the greed that's brought this country to its knees!!! That wasn't Thain's personal bank account funding that decorating job, that was a "business" expense, that was ultimately paid for by us! To insinuate that he was just doing his job is ridiculous. Don't we all have a tendency to "throw caution to the wind" when someone else is paying for it? Well, that's the kind of thinking that got us here.

    Excellent post, Joni!!!!!

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  20. Just a minute and let me catch my breath, Joni! What a post! WOW! Enjoyed so much and look for followups as the White House redo, progresses....after all..you know how I love redo's.

    I also want to tell you how much I enjoyed your post about Des's makeover. I've "known" Des for several years through decor groups we belong to. I've always loved her school house home and absolutely love the changes she's made. Thanks for featuring Des's home!

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  21. I am fairly certain they CAN accept gifts, unless the Nancy Reagan decoration of the private quarters stopped that. Hers were from private funds.

    While this reporting is dead on, and I had already heard the Leonard's story from a friend whose sister in law is a client there, I draw the line at blaming Smith. We live in a free-market society and he is free to charge what he feels he can get. Thain is the criminal here and I hope the government flays him alive. I don't think Smith should be the scapegoat here, although I was just skimming the post, and as soon as I go get some more coffee I am going to revel in reading it.

    I too, thought they might give the nod to Sheila Bridges, but then again, while she can and does do elegant rooms, her style to me at least is a bit less formal than the private rooms at the Casa Blanca demand. Personally, I would have loved to see Charlotte Moss get at that Queens Room, which I detest. However, even Sally at Rooms to Go, could redecorate the White House rooms and get rid of Barbara Bush Beige as they painted every room in the private quarters except the Queen's room. That oval office needs to be done in about 10 shades of whites for contrast not that horrible monotone cream color.

    As usual though, Joni....you really did your homework. Back off for coffee and in depth reading.

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  22. Thain was responsible for the $20 BILLION that the company lost. We can all see how $1.2 mil can easily be spent on a high-end space full of antiques and custom work. The total budget for his office was probably (definitely) approved by the powers that be. Eliminating the office expense would not have saved Merrill. The decorating bill does not make him a crook - the bonus timing however...

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  23. Joni, all very fascinating. Smith is a fabulous desinger and he is of course known for being very high end. I do think we all have to make decisions in life that would reflect the what if's... What if what I do ends up being on national news, what if my actions hurt someone else, or appear unethical? Sometimes it is the trashcan! it could have been sivered or goldplated at that price. All that being said he is not responsible for Thain's actions, the American public is just sick of it all with so many laid off before and after the holidays. And yes, we are all paying the price!

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  24. You should call yourself The Design Detective! Why must there always be a seedy underside to so many things? It's so disheartening. I got caught up in the Enron Debacle while I was still in Houston. It really disillusioned me...to the point of almost semi-retiring. Great post...very informative. I'll be interested to see what transpires.

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  26. This is a hot topic and because it involves money, I think the Obamas should reconsider the choice of Mr. Smith. This economic climate calls for restraint and the decision to choose Mr. Smith would be under intense scrutiny. There are a plethora of designers with less drama who would jump at the chance to work on the White House.

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  27. What a post!! And you're right, there definitely was no snow here in DC the day before the inauguration so that picture is probably photo-shopped. I'm excited to see how the private quarters turn out but I'm guessing now that the administration may feel the need to make the details of all the expenses public now.

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  28. The $100.000.00 budget can be augmented by private funds on which there is no limit. The items purchased become part of the White House collection and not the personal property of the Obamas thereby neatly sidestepping the rule against accepting gifts.

    I also fail to see how Michael Smith is responsible for the actions of his client. He submitted a proposal it was accepted by the client and he delivered. End of story.

    This job was completed over a year ago when the financial meltdown was not evident and Mr. Thain was not being demonized by the press.

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  29. Mr. Smith clearly knew that Mr. Thain (actually - Mr.T's People)was far too busy to "pay attention" to the invoice details. He had no reason to be judicious about the pricing .
    Ahhh -- -how quickly things have changed.
    This was a great piece of Investigative Design Reporting ... . thanks for putting your Sherlock Holmes cap on! Judith

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  30. I am not a designer and cannot comment on Smith, but for a consumer who cares about the bottom line - which I hope exists at every level of expenditure - the highs here are alarming. I was a corporate exec however and I can say that in the publicly traded firm, we were very aware of every expenditure and our responsibilty to the shareholder was our firrst priority - not spending corporate funds or decorating our offices. Then I was hired by and equally large privately help concern and the abuses there were staggering. It was not so much a top down thing as it was a how-much-can-I-get away with thought process. Whenever it happens, however it happens, whoever pays for it, it is always a disappointment firstly in the lack of ethics, and secondly on the ledger.

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  31. It is very interesting times we are living in. It takes a lot of dedication, commitment and integrity to live and work in the public eye. If I was decorating the White House with a 100K budget (which is a very unrealistic figure), I would start by using what is on hand from the vast storehouse of furniture, of which I am sure there are some very beautiful pieces, and use the 100K budget to refinish, re upholster, buy new fabrics, window coverings, accessories and the like. I don't see how the 100K budget can be realized if the price of the bed is already 12K. Unless the budget MS has been given has grown. It seems that this will indeed be a very public commission for MS and that every little item will be talked about Ad infinitum and whoever's products he uses will stand to benefit from all the publicity.
    Good investigative Blogging Joni. I love your comparisions from 1st Dibs. In the end it is always 'the straw that breaks the camel's back' (excuse me for the pun). In this case I think it will be the parchment waste basket!

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  32. Joni, I thoroughly enjoyed this amazing and timely post. And I also enjoyed reading the various comments and arguments on both sides of the fence. Very interesting indeed. A little bit of politics and a lot of extraordinary design make for quite an intriguing post! It will be interesting to hear and see the outcome of both Thain's situation and Smith's White House design. Looking forward to more of your titillating posts!

    ~~ Victoria

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  33. J ..de Santa Fe, I agree. I think that Michael Smith clearly took advantage of the situation and kept the inflated invoices coming. The Obamas would be wise to steer clear of this controversy and choose a less controversal designer. Michael Smith is not the be all and end all designer. There are just so many hungry designers who are willing to work on the White House. Because this controversy involves money, in the economic climate, it should be avoided at all costs.

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  34. Careful... you might earn the first Pulitzer for blogging!

    In December 2008 it was announced that for the first time content published in online-only news sources would be considered.

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  35. Michael Smith is a wonderful designer and I applaud the Obama's taste in choosing him. I don't think he should be held in blame for a former client's excess. I once had a client who had no regard for the price of things, and while it was fun to have carte blanche on a design, I have to admit I was a wee bit bothered by the sheer financial abandon with which she approached the project. As I always do, however, I gave her a wide range of options and, in the end, it was her choices that drove up the cost. So, while a 1400 trashcan reflects more than a dash of lunacy, especially given the situation in which Merrill Lynch was mired, I do feel the lunatic in this particular scenario is Mr. Thain, not Michael Smith.

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  36. This is why I don't find the deco magazines terribly inspiring. It's obvious, once you start adding up the contents of the rooms, that these people are spending millions on pointless luxuries. And now they want bailout money that has to be borrowed from us and our children? Bankrupting the entire free world? Sorry, but I'm disgusted, both with the "Masters of the Universe" and the hangers-on like Smith who live off them, and by extension, off the rest of us.

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  37. That is not the Queen's bedroom in the White House as it is now. Check your research. It was redone.

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  38. http://whitehouse.c-span.org/Video/ByRoom/WHQueen.aspx
    it looks better, but still looks like ASS. You have the whole GSA warehouse and every museum in America at your disposal to "borrow" paintings from, and look at that wall to the right of the bed. Nothing.

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  39. This article about Laura Bush lists Kenneth Blasingame, Fort Worth, as her White House designer:

    http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/b/laura_bush/index.html

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  40. Joni,

    My first reaction, wow, what a horrible scandal for Michael Smith to get caught up in...but then I begin to think and find myself utterly disgusted by the greed and over indulgence on the parts of all the concerned parties. How is any of it justifiable? As much as I admire and love good design, there is no denying the large expenditure it takes to create a classy look, for example, authentic Swedish design is not going to come cheap. I think we all get caught up in wanting these beautiful looks and forget they are only material belongings. I feel a sense of personal shame when I read stories that illustrate unchecked greed and personal recklessness. Because maybe under different circumstances, it could be me.

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  41. Joni- I think that's the most fascintating and fun and debaucherous post I've ever read. I was juts drooling for more. Love it. What a great investigation you've done. I think it is utterly INSANE the amount of money these guys make and the amount thy waste. Poor taxpayers are left holding the bag. It is truly outrageous and it makes me impossibly angry that so many are out of work (me soon, quite possibly), while these guys line their own pockets whilst running their companies into the ground.

    To see Michal Smith's bills is truly shocking. I don't know what to think. I knew this excess came with a price tag and what the wealthy do with their money is not for me to say, generally. But that we are ALL paying for the demise of Merrill Lynch and these other NYC firms that have screwed us all. Makes me see Smith in a new light. But I guess they all get swept up in the game.

    Smith will have to go to garage sales to furnish the White House.

    Oh, I love a good scandal!

    GREAT post. I am voting this post of the year!

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  42. My favourite image in this post was the arial view of the oval office. Very cool. As long as I keep up with your blog, I'm on the pulse of design in America!
    Great post, as usual!

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  43. Wonderful post...I enjoyed reading it and everyone's comments. If there weren't any scandals we might not have anything to talk about, Ha!Ha!

    Have a nice day ;) ~Lisa

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  44. Joni, you are the best design detective out there! This was a great read. I always hear these scandals from the business/political side since my hubby is so up to date on all that happens in the financial world, but the design part of this was just too much. I heard about this, but didn't realize it was this guy, the new Obama designer. I too am disgusted by the greed and extravagance that happened there & can't even fathom that sort of budget in the real world that most of us live in.

    You did a nice recap of it all, once again!

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  45. Wow. This was the first I'd heard of all of this. Joni, you did your homework! I'm not sure how I feel about the whole thing: Definitely not Smith's fault for Thain's insane misuse of money but I also really don't understand how anyone can even propose that type of budget to a client unless that client said, "Please, I want to overpay for absolutely everthing, including accessories such as trashcans."

    To me, no design is worth that much money. But I guess, in the end as a designer, you give the client what he or she wants. I feel though, that designers do have a duty to look out for their clients' finances & to make sure their money goes as far as possible & to make budget-conscious decisions. These choices seem to throw budget to the wind & it's a bit sad.

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  46. Anon 12:04 pm:
    yes, the job was completed before the meltdown,but remember, Thain was HIRED to avoid a total meltdown by Merrill. He immediately instituted all sorts of spending cuts - for everyone but himself - what do you not understand about that? Allowing his designer to sell him a trash can that cost over $1k while his company was in the red is criminal.

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  47. I almost passed out when I saw how much money Thain spent on his house, its nuts! I'm sure that Smith's press will move more positive soon with all the work being done at the White House, I certainly cant wait to see what hes going to do there!

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  48. timely piece, joni. i would never criticize someone for spending their own money on decorating- it is theirs after all, and they can spend it as they see fit- but for a publicly held corporation, it seems a bit much. in mr. smith's defense, some clients do not want to buy something unless it is a 25k gold plated trashcan, whereas others want to make sure the trash it the biggest bargain on the market, and even then they want a discount. so in this case, mr. smith was just giving his clients what they wanted- the client approves all purchases in the end, so for all we know, mr. smith showed the client 40 budget bins, and thain rejected all of them as too cheap...

    that said, i do think there is a disconnect with hiring someone at mr. smith's end of the market to decorate the white house in these tight times. while i know he will stick within the 100k budget (for a project this scope, that's a pretty unrealistically low figure, btw), and i also know he will do an amazing job, but i think it would have sent a more in tune with the time message to hire someone with a reputation for incorporating budget finds into their interiors- you know someone more like me! ;-)

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  49. Joni, I'm depressed--yes, again! How disgusting that Thain would allow that kind of money to be spent with the problems the company was experiencing. I have thought Smith's decor was always beautiful, and now I know why I admire it. I guess if someone spends enough money, anything is possible! These prices, and Smith's fee seem so far out of line as to be obscene. However, as we know, I may not be a good judge, since I've never paid for an interior designer--I guess now we know why! laurie

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  50. Great sleuthing, Joni. I'm a news junkie and hadn't heard anything about the Smith/Thain debacle. Interesting.

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  51. Super slueth! This was a treat to read! Such great investigating.

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  52. Very interesting article. I wonder if there will be additional fallout. Great pictures, too. I love the space that could become the bedroom for Mrs. Obama's mother. BTW, Sheila Bridges would probably prefer to be called African American (Afro-American is so seventies).

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  53. This is all very fascinating and I had not heard of it yet. I think Thain was utterly irresponsible but I think that Smith was too. Often the designer guides the client in his/her choices and this was clearly over the top. There are beautiful antiques that can be found at MUCH better prices AND we all know Smith does NOT pay retail! It sounds like they both ripped off the shareholders.

    Good reporting Joni! I loved reading all of the opinions too.

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  54. Doesn't a CEO (Thain) have a board of directors to approve/reject the budget for his proposed office redo? The service provider (Smith) does the job he's hired to to within the constraints of the client's (or, um, taxpayer's) budget.

    Joni, this is fascinating design reporting. Thanks a million, no pun intended!!

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  55. Now, that's what I call a post! Great job Joni. I don't believe that Michael Smith should lose his White House gig because of this, but it seems odd that the Michelle Obama's office didn't have any idea of his recent client list and put two and two together. Obviously, the decision to hire Smith came very recently (I know a designer who was asked to submit her portfolio to Mrs. Obama's staff and only recently found out she didn't get the gig), so a little due diligence might have made him seem less than ideal, perception wise.

    As a designer, or any service provider, really, the finances of one's clients are always a tricky thing to deal with. Of course, if you know the fees are being paid with ill-gotten gains (drug money, for instance), then it's much easier to take the high road. In this case, however, one assumes that Mr. Thain had an approved budget he could draw from (obscene, maybe, but approved) and he did so.

    This reminds me of the Tyco exec who had the $6,000 shower curtain and $15,000 umbrella stand in his Nantucket home, several years ago. Anyone remember that? The decorator - Seldom Scene Interiors (how apropos) went in seclusion and left the country till the furor died down. Now, in that case, the exec used the business money to pay for his home decorations, which was not part of his compensation package, so it was a clear mis-appropriation of funds. In the Thain case, that's not as clear.

    Still, perception is everything and this isn't what the Obamas need right at the beginning of the "Change" administration.


    Linda (Merrill-no-not-THAT-Merrill!)Well, possibly a relation to THAT Merrill, but generations ago!

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  56. Oh Joni! You are not only a great blog decor sleuth...but entertaining toboot! I really like the pulitzer idea for you!

    WOW. Yuck and wow... all rolled into one big salami sandwich.

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  57. The greed of all concerned is sickening. Im so tired of everyone ripping everyone else off. If it was Mr Thains own money...it would be a very different story, alas, this is not true.

    Your so good, I love to come over and read your blog. I feel like I am getting schooled by one of the best gals out there.

    Thanks so much for putting your ALL into each post.

    I love ya at the beach!
    Lisa
    coastal nest

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  58. I do agree with Patricia Grey in refurbishing what is there in the stores, especially these days, when time is not at spending outrageous amount in public. In private nock yourself out!
    Madam Kennedy use to have delightful test if I’m not mistaking.
    In the world of interior design there is a lot of those “washing machine” decorators who just convey the Landry in the name of exclusive priceless what ever rugs second end cheap desk or doodle of promising artist known by the decorator “only”
    This profession is one of the best camouflages for thief and conman we all know that, since art is subjective. That ‘s make our honesty in jeopardy each time such scandal appear
    What is always amazed me is that this people are most of the time worshiped by the press who looove expensive regular advertising worldwide,
    I ve been working so often here is Kuwait on site of poor client literally robed and left alone by famous designer who, until today, are still on each issues of Florida design and interior digest, smiley as ever.
    I just wish that Obama will not make such mistake .

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  59. Joni!! Brillant posting -- and many thanks for sticking up for the REAL people! Thain knew exactly what he was doing when Smith submitted the bills. Those execs (and many more like tham!) should be stripped of all their wealth -- and sent on the streets to live! And more of these "so-much-unnatural-greed-amongst-abject-need" stories are on the way -- can't you just feel it?! Folks at Thain's level had better learn the value of living quietly! LOL! "The peasants are revolting" -- to quote the famous King of Id comic strip!

    Jan at Rosemary Cottage -- waiting to see the results of Smith's design too!

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  60. I love Smith's work, but have been wondering more and more if the Obabmas should just live with it for now...with minimal changes...really minimal.

    I look at the bed, and think, aren't there really nice beds there already?

    Everyone seems to be cutting back, and it would be nice for them to set an example.

    Just a thought...

    As usual, your post is amazing, and thorough...thanks Joni!

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  61. Wow, What a mess. It's difficult not to let the slurry affect my view on Smith, because even though he was 'just doing his job' I just wish that the socially responsible higher ground would have prevailed over the temptation of lots of money to be made from a morally bankrupted sot named Thain.
    There are lots of places to make money -- money that isn't tainted -
    Oy.
    Add super sleuth to your long list of talents! Great post, Joni!

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  62. Well researched post Joni,
    You are more like a professional journalist than just a blogger. And the photo of the moving truck in front of the white house does look photo shopped. Did you notice the straight line where the snow meets the pavement? Still an interesting picture.
    It took me HOURS last night and this morning to do finish my post, but I also finally got to adding you to my list of favorite blogs. Hope you're well.

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  63. Great post, as usual. Maybe the President Obama should include within his stimulus package proposal a $10,000 redecorating allowance for all U.S. taxpayers! It's interesting to me that some believe that $100,000 is a paltry sum for redecorating the personal quarters of the President. I mean, how much is enough?? My opinion is that the Obama's should defer redecorating until after the economy improves for everyone and that BofA should show Ken Lewis the door too.

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  64. Out of control! Fabulous post, I gobbled up every single word.

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  65. Brilliant post! The White House should see it:)

    Sharon

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  66. Joni...your mission, should you choose to accept it.....
    Take a Smith room or look that you love and translate it in to a design using mass market and/or resonably priced antiques.
    This is your mission, should you choose to accept it!
    PS - I know you are up to it and THE ONE to accomplish this mission!
    Good Luck!!
    DCL Browne

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  67. While Thain is awful, why isn't anyone calling out Smith for charging hugely inflated prices
    ($1,405 trash can)? While Thain more than took advantage of his company, so did Smith. It's obscene to charge that amount of money for trash cans and other furniture.

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  68. What a post! Loved every moment of it. I do think that one pic was photo shopped. And I do wonder if that would really be their bed. I can't imagine Michelle going for that light and curved headboard. LOL. I guess we'll have to wait and see. The whole scandal is such a shame. It seems there is always something nowadays.

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  69. Joni:
    Yes, Thain showed no character at all and many believe he violated the trust of his employ by spending 1.2M on redoing his office. I'm glad our new president isn't redoing the Oval Office and will keep what Bush had.
    Yes, there is a treasure trove of furniture and furnishing for Mr.Smith to select from in the WH storage and art from the National Gallery.I hope these examples will speak to the greed that's been unleashed in the corporate world. I'm sure you suspect the photo was fake. We haven't had snow all year and deliveries are not received in the front of the WH.I went to the mall for the swearing in and it was cold and sunny most of the day...It was Great....Excellent Post Joni!!!I have to read in more than once...Thanks... Fay

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  70. Hi Joni, I just put a link to this post on the Calculated Risk blog, in comments. The financial people over there do not quite grasp how big these decorating numbers are. It's very public-spirited of you to put this stuff where we can all see it. I hope it helps in the prosecution of these criminals.

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  71. I thought your post was very well done.

    It is a small sampling of what has happened on Wall Street.

    So for all the schmucks who keep going to work and doing the best they can and wisely contributing to their kid's college funds and their own 401k's, here's to you. For it is finally coming out why you are losing all the money that took you years to make for the above. Corporate excess and greedy mismanagement of funds. Fourteen hundred dollar trashcans.

    I don't think Smith was doing anything besides capitalizing on the greed. He sets his rate and people pay. I just think he shouldn't be as busy as he is. And I'm sure he will decorate the White House just for the publicity. And set his rate even higher.

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  72. Joni I always walk from your blog with a bit of information! I so love the red chairs in the dining room! Thanks for another great post! xoxo

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  73. Fabulous post!! I really enjoyed all the photos and information so much!!

    :)

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  74. Joni! SUCH A GREAT POST! I have been sitting here obsessing about it all morning. When the economy really affects one personally, it is literally nauseating to see this kind of greed at the expense of all of the very hardworking people trying to put their kids through college and save for retirement. Half of ours is down the toilet.

    And I have read that Thain personally signed for each and every purchase on his behalf.

    Thanks for the in depth info, Joni. We can always count on you.

    (P.S. I linked your article to a little "throne" that Thain might want to consider!)

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  75. Fascinating! I was riveted to the entire post. And these comments were almost as entertaining!

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  76. Wow...your compliment about my barn lighting choice meant the world to me!! Thank you.

    As usual, I love your blog posts. They are as inspirational as they are entertaining!!

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  77. CNN Update (26 January 2008). Following comments from http://dealbook.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/01/26/thain-speaks-out-in-defense-of-himself/?hp

    MARIA BARTIROMO: John, I wanna ask you more about the– the– environment that we’re in. But I’ve gotta ask you– first about the office. You spent more than $1 million renovating your office; is this true?

    JOHN THAIN: Well, first of all, it– it is true. This was a year ago or actually a little bit more than a year ago in a very differ– different– ec– economic environment and a very different outlook for Merrill and the financial services industry. It was my office. It was two conference rooms and it was a reception area. But it is clear to me in today’s world that it was a mistake. I apologize for spending that money on those– on those things. And I will make it right. I will reimburse– the company for all of those costs.

    MARIA BARTIROMO: Why did you need to renovate the office? What was wrong with Stan O’Neil’s (PH) office?

    JOHN THAIN: Well– his office was very different– than– the– the general décor of– Merrill’s offices. It really would have been– very difficult– for– me to use it in the form that it was in. And– you know, I– it needed to be renovated no matter what. It would have been better for me to simply– I should have– simply paid for it myself (UNINTEL).

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  78. Yes -- he's paying back the $1.2 million -- I wonder if he'll take it outta petty cash?! I suppose he and his wife had better repair their social standing before the High-and-Mighty-Folks turn their backs on them or freeze them out! LOL! Even one of the commentators on CNN's business news show called Thain "delusional!" LOL!

    Jan at Rosemary Cottage

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  79. $3000 for rewiring a pair of sconces is reasonable? No wonder we are in a financial crisis.

    I know electricians that will have those things rewired and shinning brighter than ever for about $100 and a six pack.

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  80. When you deal with people with that kind of money they don't care what they spend..They have such a distorted view of worth that this is a great example of a person with little self worth...They think that a big price makes them more important....Their worlds are distorted..they think peolple will be impressed and it draws attention to them in which they are craving....Rare antiques are works of art....That is fine..But crazy is crazy...And he is crazy Thain that is...!! By todays standards as hard as money is to come by ethically...100,000 is a lot...Even though it will go very fast...
    especially when decorating.... Did any of this make sense ???

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  81. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  82. I agree w/Michelle above. These are horrible times for many people. Did anyone watch 60 minutes this week? I would love for the Obama's to skip the redecorating of the white house. It is gorgeous, full of antiques and serviceable. What a message they would send to Americans.

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  83. I agree on skipping the $$ for decorating. The White House is an elegant place that the new first family can be proud of, and yes, they need to set an example...budgeting starts at home.

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  84. While I would agree that Thain's using company money even before the financial crisis was irresponsible, I also do not believe that this in any way reflects negatively on Smith. As others have already said, he was hired to do a job, and he delivered. More power to him that he was able to land a client who could afford to spend that much on a single office. It's not Smith's fault that the client paid for it inappropriately, or that he later got busted for his indiscretions.

    As to the prices of individual items, most of these are really not much out of line at all with the norm in the very high end market we're talking about. I've seen many reproductions or other brand new pieces at prices that rival some of these antiques, and antiques are almost always more valuable. Yes, they're certainly high - but that's what Smith does. These things really do often cost that much more than most people imagine.

    With respect to the trash can, if that were a piece of sculpture or decorative object, the odds are it would cost at least 5x that, if not substantially more for something the same size. A good floor lamp can easily come in at that price or more. But when everything else is superb and flawlessly perfect, why should the trashcan not fit in as well? One of the hallmarks of a really top designer is the ability to coordinate every detail of the design beautifully, yes, down to the trashcans.

    I also do not understand why so many people seem to believe that just because the masses cannot afford these prices, that means that those who can should not make purchases like these if that is what they value and want to do. I cannot afford prices like this myself (nor have any of my clients to date been able to either), but I am delighted for those who can - and I'd sure as heck be even happier if they were hiring me to provide them for them!

    The reality, whether any of us likes to face it or not, is that some people can afford more than others - and that doesn't make either end of the spectrum wrong.

    And frankly, that's why most of us in the AEC industry and building trades have jobs at all - because other people *do* have enough money to hire us to provide them things that often do go well beyond the budgets of others, including our own.

    There is also certainly a market for designers at lower price ranges - but that's not the market Smith generally serves. He will do the White House either with added money from the Obamas, or find a way to make it happen at the modest 100K budget because, let's fact it, that's a plum commission, even without the high price tag of the Thain job or similar commissions. The prestige factor alone will be invaluable for him, even if he loses money on the job.

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  85. Let's say that Bunny Williams was the designer selected, as I would have done were I living in the White House. Would her fees or the quality of her furnishings have been any lower than Mr Smith's?
    Anyone who's ever been to one of Charlotte Moss's shops would not need to search very far for a thousand dollar scrap bin.
    Michael Smith being linked with a greedy CEO is unfortunate, but that association oughtn't to bar him from working with the Obamas, who've got every right to redo their quarters. They're not squatters,as some have implied- they are entitled to those traditional perks as much as any other Presidential family.

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  86. I saw John Thain on CNN yesterday announcing his lack of judgment in the office decorating debacle. Sez he's paying back all the funds (1.2 million) used in the redecoration. Here's my question.

    Who gets custody of the parchment wastebasket? The chairs, rug, etc. BofA or Thain?

    You are on the rise as investigative star, Joni. Looking forward to the answer!

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  87. No question that Thain was irresponsible. $3000 to rewire some sconces--even really nice sconces--seems like a lot of money to me, but maybe it's not if you're spending somebody else's money. And, sure, MS might have pulled back a bit if he knew that we'd all be going ovet his invoices with a fine-tooth comb, but then, as Mr. Thain points out, this was all done a year ago, back when everything at Merrill Lynch was all rosy. Oooh, right. Oh, well, too late now. What's past is past.

    Anyway, while MS, unlike Thain, didn't do anything technically unethical, having the whole thing laid out bare on the blogs--great job, Joni--may leave a let-them-eat-cake aftertaste that may not sit will with the hoi polloi all pumped up for "Change", and public perception (and mis-perception, as in indignation over the $37K "toilet") being reality and all, it would be a shame, but not a complete surprise if MS ends up playing the Stefan Boudin role in all this, swept under the $87K rug & working without public credit, after all.

    That's if he's lucky. If he's unlucky, and there's enough heat over this, he could end up cast as Cinna the poet, the first victim of mob prejudice & ignorance in Julius Caesar. Which would be a shame, not only for him but for whoever might otherwise be next in line for First Decorator. I mean, who will want to bat clean up after this? Who wants all of his old invoices to be made public?

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  88. Joni,

    Great post as usual. I too was shocked that they chose Michael Smith. His style does not really fit what I would think the Obamas would choose based on the First Lady's fashion choices. I thought someone with a hipper, edgier look but still traditional like Celerie Kimble would fit the Obamas. I had also thought about Sheila Bridges b/c she does traditional with a twist, is African American,and I believe did the interior design for Clinton's offices in NYC.

    I do not think Thain should reflect on Smith. It is Thain who acted irresponsibly. Is Michael supposed to refuse such a job? No!

    Also, I think it is highly unethical of the antiques dealers to reveal such info. to the press.

    As usual, you are a wealth of information.

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  89. Joni,

    Great post as usual. I too was shocked that they chose Michael Smith. His style does not really fit what I would think the Obamas would choose based on the First Lady's fashion choices. I thought someone with a hipper, edgier look but still traditional like Celerie Kimble would fit the Obamas. I had also thought about Sheila Bridges b/c she does traditional with a twist, is African American,and I believe did the interior design for Clinton's offices in NYC.

    I do not think Thain should reflect on Smith. It is Thain who acted irresponsibly. Is Michael supposed to refuse such a job? No!

    Also, I think it is highly unethical of the antiques dealers to reveal such info. to the press.

    As usual, you are a wealth of information.

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  90. I've always loved Michael Smith's interiors, Joni. I hope this does die down because I hate to see it spoil the excitement of seeing what the Obamas choose for their White House rooms.

    I feel terrible for Smith that he became embroiled in that nightmare involving Merrill Lynch. I also feel sorry for all of those loyal employees who had to deal with corporate greed of that maginitude. But hopefully the thing with Smith will blow over.

    I remember reading how some of my favorite designers got embroiled with that London antiques scandal by association with someone who was considered one of the most reputable dealers in the world. It blew over in terms of the press, but it made me think twice about anything I buy from anyone. I have a rule of thumb, though, and I follow it with any aquitition, either high or low on the food chain. But those prices are just out of the stratsosphere! Is it really necessary for an office??? I've got a dumpy foot stool like one I saw advertised by a dealer on a particular website, and it was twelve times the price of mine. Methinks I ought to offer mine for sale. ;-)

    Thanks for sharing...

    Sheila

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  91. Make that acquisition. I hate typos!

    Sheila

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  92. Make that acquisition. I hate typos!

    Sheila

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  93. Excellent post. I always wondered, when looking at "over the top, money is no object" homes featured in decorating magazines, where the owners got their money to pay for it all. Now I wonder "how" they got their money. Will interior designers now need to "vet" potential clients? Will decorating magazines need to "vet" the owners of the homes/rooms they feature? By the way, when John Thain re-did his office in early 2008, Merrill Lynch was already in trouble. You should google his estate in Rye, NY. It is so large that it is actually in three towns.

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  94. The thing that is really shocking to me is that Smith charged his client an $800,000 fee (plus $30,000 in expenses) on a job with a budget of around $400,000 in furniture (1.2 M - his ridiculous fee). Even by celebrity decorator standards that fee is totally out of line.

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  95. Joni--This is terrific and even-handed reporting and investigation. The price comparisons are priceless-- most of us have little idea. It doesn't seem, from my observations that the Obama's are very worried about spending (They set a new record with inaugural celebrating.) and not worried about hanging with people tainted with impropriety. (Among other friends and associates, Geithner has been confirmed.) That said, as some of this stuff is stranger than fiction, you would be perfect for writing an Interior Designer Detective Novel! --Mimsy

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  96. I smell kick-back.

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  97. Your posts are so informative, beautifully illustrated. When I read your pieces I feel as though I just sat down with a really good magazine.
    I think this is your calling, now head over to Vanity Fair or Elle Decor!

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  98. Hello, what an interesting post and an incredible blog you have here. My hubby was telling me about Thain the other day, now I know who the designer is and it is bad timing for Smith. I agree the Urban Outfitters Room probably ended up costing a fortune, but isnt it just gorgeous? as are your other phptographs.

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  99. Even if it were free, now is not the time to redecorate. I would frame and place prominently a few pieces made by the children and leave it at that.

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  100. What a reporter you are, Joni! Congrats on your big media mentions - very well deserved!! xoxo

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  101. I hope that our current first lady will be as gracious as Jackie Kennedy and actually let us see the finished rooms.

    I'll stick with my $18.95 trash can until I can find my grape basket. :)

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  102. This post was fascinating, Joni, as are all of these comments.

    I must differ with those who think President Obama should not be spending money on decorating in these economic times. What we NEED is for people with money to be spending it (that's the whole goal of a stimulus package - to get money into people's hands so that they spend it and get the economy going again). Think of the painters, seamstresses, upholsterers, etc. who will be employed by the redoing of rooms at the White House.

    Now, this is not at all meant to justify Michael Thain's spending on his offices, using a troubled corporation's money. I find his behavior despicable.

    I watched a wonderful show on the History Channel last week called The White House Behind Closed Doors. In it Laura Bush takes Leigh and Leslie Keno from Antiques Roadshow on a tour of the White House's private quarters as well as some of the public rooms. Mrs. Bush told them that she had the wall lighting installed inside the canopy bed in the Queens Room because her mother-in-law complained that it was too dark to read in there! I thought that was funny. I actually like the Queens Room as it is now, though I agree with the guy that said the walls needed more art. I also think the lamps on the bedside tables could be more interesting.

    My hat is ever off to you, Joni, for being so very entertaining AND informative! Keep up the great work.

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  103. Very juicy, Miss Joni....you get the scoop and how!

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  104. As the blogger makes clear, all the "scoop" and "reporting" and "investigating" were done by news organizations: CNBC and HuffingtonPost, among others.

    What this blog adds is the comparison of the Smith-purchased items to items presently on 1stDibs. I still am unclear what the comparison is supposed to show. Some Smith items cost more than the comparables, some cost less. Some are reasonable, some sound unreasonable. What's the overall point?

    And is the comparison accurate? It's based on 1stDibs inventory at only a single moment in time. Are these particular 1stDibs items the best ones to use for comparison, or just the most convenient for someone doing a one-shot comparison?

    And how much we know about the items Smith purchased, beyond a three- or four- or five-word description? How much information was NOT included in those descriptions? Do we know about the items' individual histories? Their condition? Do we have actual photographs of the Smith items, so we can tell whether they are in fact comparable to the 1stDibs comparables?

    I just can't judge how accurate or fair the comparison is, let alone figure out what the comparison is supposed to tell us.

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  105. I personally think that $100K is too excessive, esp if it's taxpayer dollars. If it's the Obama's personal money, then I'd like to see them spend 1 million for economic stimulation!

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  106. Alica, every incoming First Family has the right to re-decorate the White House to their own choosing. Even the Obamas. $100,000 is not going to break the bank. However, I hope they do not use Michael Smith.

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  107. In addition to there not being snow on the ground in DC that week, the photo of the moving van in front of the White House is an obvious fake for a couple more reasons.

    As a former WH staffer (pre-Bush!!!), I know the layout of the place well. First, that fake photo is from the perspective of the North front of the White House facing Pennsylvania Avenue. There is not a straight driveway like that in front of the WH. Second, deliveries/moving vans always go to the South/back entrance to the White House...think of the rounded Truman Balcony side of the White House. It is also important to note that Pennsylvania Ave in front of the White House is blocked to traffic with the exception of police and Secret Service vehicles.

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  108. Joni,
    Were you a journalist in a previous life? You are my new favorite author!

    Don't most people want a
    "good deal" on furniture even when their budgets can afford more? Why must Michael Smith (and others) charge such prices for items that can be bought at a better price? I try to go the extra mile to find items that are "more reasonable" as you did with finding like items on 1st Dibs.

    You go girl...can't wait to read your next novelleta!

    Blessings...

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  109. Does anyone remember the French Revolution?

    I think we are long overdue for one of our own.

    With the country well into a financial catastrophe it galls me that people would say...."well $100,000 just isn't enough money".

    Puhleeze! If Obama (who I voted for) we really interested in changing Washington business as usual he would for go any expenditure to update the private quarters.

    How many soup kitchens and homeless shelter could use $100,000 right about now?

    To think they would even consider a designer associated with this latest scandal tells me that Obama is more of the same.

    Send them all to the gallows.....In the meantime....anyone want some cake?

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  110. Rather unfortunate time for all that bad press for Smith, but the excesses of those Wall Street Execs is appalling...

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  111. I have read that Thain signed off personally, not his assistant or secretary, on each piece of furniture. In 2007 Thain received $83.1 million in compensation. So that office is chump change to him. Glad he plans to pay for it himself, especially as he will no longer be using it. I wonder what happens to the curtains, furniture etc.?

    I had thought that Darryl Carter would be a top choice for the Obamas. He is the consummate Washingtonian with a well known aesthetic of mixing the modern with the antique in a new traditional look. To me he seems like such an obvious choice for a vibrant, young and modern family. He is also African American. In fact, he now has a furniture line with Thomasville.

    I'm sure tha MS could afford to comp the WH job. It's almost like fashion designers handing out gowns for the Oscars. And you know their has to be warehouses of stuff for him to work with.

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  112. Wow! What a juicy read! Such a shame that even designers get seduced by the gross overspending that has been going on throughout the head offices of Wall Street for years now.. what materialistic egos they have surrounding themselves like kings... The only thing one can hope is that the profit Smith made off of the Thain job is helping cover some of the cost of the Obama's redo.

    What a fantastic job you've done covering this story...it reads more like a great detective novel then a blog post!

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  113. With all your investigating, you couldn't figure out what Pendant light furniture is? Whatever lady, I thought you followed Interior Design. Most of the Merrill office pieces came from Christie's and Sotheby's 6-12 months before the story broke. Finding the actual pieces purchased and images of them is very easy if you are familiar with the auction house web sites.

    The images you are using from first dibs are mostly hideous and if you truly follow Michael Smith, you would know they are poor examples. Great rhetoric captions, too! You're such a card!

    The only reason this is a problem is because Merrill Lynch was part of the bailout. American capitalists have the right to surround themselves in beauty and pay premiums.

    Nice half-a-story, you blogger.

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  114. Hi Anon- thanks for the comment, i guess? ha!! yeah - I was just trying to show people examples of what Smith bought Thain, since most of American thought he bought a toilet, even the news media reported it as such. If you do know Michael, as I think you might - ask him to join us on the Skirted Roundtable! We would love to have him. God, would we ever. haha!! and trust me, I couldn't care less how much anyone spends on their office. btw What IS pendant light furniture? ha!

    thanks again,
    JOni

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  115. Think Royere, think wall fixtures, think lighting, and I imagine it would match the parchment wastebasket.

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