With the passing of former first lady Nancy Reagan—who died in her Los Angeles home on Sunday at the age of 94—eulogies abound about her love and devotion for husband Ronnie, her “Just Say No” initiative, her near-obsession with red dresses. But she’s also famed for leaving her mark on the White House in a literal way: through her signature sense of home decor.
Granted, not all of her decorating decisions for 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. were met with rave reviews. Some were controversial or just plain awkward—like her asking the Carters to move out early so she could start her overhaul pronto, or the extravagant amounts of cash she blew through, smack in the middle of a recession. Still, you can’t argue with the fact that the results were, pure, unadulterated NR.
Here are a few of her most memorable decisions decorating the White House, both good and bad (depending on your tastes):
Her plans to knock down a wall in the Lincoln bedroom
Knocking down a whole wall in this historic retreat seems almost sacrilege—but it served as notice to all that Reagan had guts and a steel will. It also suggests she was ahead of her time. After all, open floor plans are all the rage these days. Why shouldn’t the White House join in?
Her $210,399 china set
Reagan’s influx of a fancy 4,370-piece tableware set also drew a ton of heat, but to her credit, they were a private donation—not taxpayer dollars. And some considered it a necessity. According to the New York Times, before the Reagans’ arrival, state dinners were served up on a miscellaneous hodgepodge of plates, since no one set was large enough to handle all the company. In fact, these plates remained a popular choice with subsequent first ladies such as Laura Bush.
Nancy Reagan’s infamous china remained a popular choice for state dinners long after she was gone.
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During Reagan’s reign, crazy-patterned wallpaper plastered the White House walls. Some were florals, while her master bedroom featured hand-painted Chinese birds (see pic up top). But later first families—especially the Clintons—were less entranced by the wall whimsy and had it replaced. According to their own designer Kaki Hockersmith: “It had lots of all kinds of birds flying and sweeping around. … It was not a calming atmosphere.”
Her obsession with knickknacks
Reagan loved her tchotchkes, which is why the Reagan White House had possibly unrivaled amounts of them. They included Battersea boxes, blue-and-white porcelain, and jade. And candy jars stocked with jelly beans, of course.
Sure, Reagan’s tastes may have seemed lavish, but she also made sure to include creature comforts from back home in California. In addition to bringing in tons of framed photos of family to clutter every surface (including Ronald’s desk), “they replaced many antiques with 20th-century overstuffed sofas,” White House curator Clement Conger once told The Washington Post. Conger complained that they were “not correct for the room, and, as everybody knows, are too low and hard to get out of.”
Nancy Reagan turned the White House into a home by bringing in many family photos.
Pete Souza/White House/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images