The White House Historical Association is a private nonprofit educational institution that funds the majority of conservation work, preservation and acquisition of new items at the executive mansion.
Sikes announced the news of his selection on Instagram with a photo of FLOTUS in a long fuchsia coat walking out of the White House: “This is an honor of a lifetime and I am both humbled and thrilled. To create beauty has always been my passion and I’ve also come to realize it’s my purpose. Thank you to The First lady, her team and to those who came before her and those still to come.”
Sikes is well known in interior design circles and is in the AD100, Architectural Digest’s annual list of top interior design talents. “He’s a solid choice, his style is classic and beautiful,” said Amy Astley, global editorial director of Architectural Digest. “It’s not about trendy, it’s about quality. He loves American history.”
Astley added: “He kind of reveres what the White House stands for. He knows the history of decorating there and the importance of being asked to do this.”
The design community has eagerly been awaiting news of who would be the next White House decorator. Although the Bidens have not yet formally selected anyone to do design work in the White House public rooms or private residence, Sikes is the first design professional they have publicly announced they are working with since moving into the White House. The statement from the first lady’s office also said, “While most First Ladies immediately come in and make changes to the areas where they spend the most time, Dr. Biden had not focused on this to date, between her travel across the country, teaching, and her issue portfolio.
The Bidens used New York designer Victoria Hagan when they were living in the vice president’s official residence. That home had an apple green sunroom, a dining room in sapphire blue and a forest green library, all settings with lots of cozy seating and art on loan from the National Gallery, as well as from Delaware artists. “I wanted it to feel warm and comfortable,” Jill Biden told The Washington Post in 2017 as they were packing up to move out. “I didn’t want people to walk through the front door and feel like they can’t sit on the sofa.”
Sikes is a seasoned designer who grew up in the Midwest and works with A-list clients including Reese Witherspoon. He told Elle Decor in 2019 that his design heroes were the late Mark Hampton, for his “timeless, all-American sensibility,” and Bunny Williams, and that he had learned a lot as an executive at Banana Republic. Sikes has designed rooms for the prestigious Kips Bay Decorator Show House and has his own furniture, fabric and lighting lines, among others. He declined to comment for this article.
One of his signature looks is crisp blue and white, with lots of breezy fabrics featuring stripes, gingham and prints, plus blue-and-white porcelains. Sikes has written two books for Rizzoli: “Beautiful” and “More Beautiful.”
On Saturday, the design world was buzzing on social media and elsewhere about the choice of Sikes for the coveted White House design gig. “I do think it’s very on-brand for the Bidens,” said Emily Eerdmans, a New York design historian. “Mark is always about making beauty accessible. I would describe his style as very American and influenced by the high points of American 20th-century design, including Jackie Kennedy and Billy Baldwin. He is very much inspired by bringing a sportiness to elegance.”
Los Angeles designer Michael S. Smith, who decorated throughout the White House for the Obamas, said, “I am happy for Mark. For me, designing the First lady’s office was a really great experience.”
In his book “Designing History,” Smith wrote: “To be honest, the East Wing offices never receive much public focus.” Smith created Michele Obama’s formal office to be a multipurpose place where she could do Twitter chats and host meetings with staff. After painting it in layers of pale terra-cotta topped with glaze and adding white shutters that could filter sunlight for photo shoots, he added sculpture and paintings, including a Mark Rothko on loan from the National Gallery. “Michele Obama didn’t have a traditional desk, she had a long table and chairs,” Smith says. “It worked better for her. This is really a working office.”
Not much is known about the look of Melania Trump’s office. In her book “Melania and Me,” Stephanie Winston Wolkoff described Trump’s East Wing office as being painted in one of the first lady’s favorite colors, Farrow & Ball’s Middleton Pink, which she chose in consultation with her designer, Tham Kannalikham.
Michael LaRosa, Jill Biden’s press secretary, confirmed that the walls in the first lady’s office are now painted white. In other words, a blank slate as Sikes begins his transformation for a new first lady’s taste and style.