News & Politics

The Resolute Desk Is Ugly and the President Should Get a New One

Can we afford four more years of having to look at this hideous piece of furniture?

President Joe Biden signs the Presidential Memorandum on Women’s Health Research, Monday, November 13, 2023, in the Oval Office. Official White House photograph by Erin Scott.

The job of being President of the United States comes with many perks. The Resolute Desk is not among them.

Queen Victoria is the author of this monstrosity. The HMS Resolute was a British ship that Americans rescued in the Arctic in 1854, then returned to its home country. After the craft was decommissioned, the Queen had its white oak and mahogany timbers transformed into an outrageously heavy, ornately carved desk, which—we can only assume as some kind of practical joke on American hicks—she sent to the White House in 1880. Presidents have been using it ever since, conducting the People’s Business on a piece of wood that makes Rosslyn Chapel look like an Apple Store in comparison. Thanks for nothing, your majesty!

Image via the Library of Congress.

The Resolute Desk didn’t made it into the first or second Oval Offices when they were built in the early 20th century. For a few blessed years in the 1950s, it was stashed in the complex’s broadcast room. At that point, some hero should have broken it up with a sledgehammer, or simply taken it to Goodwill. Alas, no one stepped up, and during John F. Kennedy’s administration, Jackie Kennedy had the hulking hunk of horrible hauled into the President’s workspace. After that, sanity only occasionally prevailed. Lyndon Johnson brought in his own desk. Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford used a different ugly desk that later got fobbed off on the Senate.

Other presidents wanted this white elephant in their lives. Jimmy Carter got the secretaire back from the Smithsonian, which had exhibited it after Kennedy’s assassination. Ronald Reagan used the thing. George H.W. Bush worked on it for a few months but eventually brought in another desk, apparently a better perch from which to announce that he’d destroyed a teenager’s life to score a dumb political point. Bill Clinton brought Resolute back for some reason. George W. Bush pointed at it. Barack Obama made people mad by plonking his feet on it. Donald Trump displayed Goya products on it. Joe Biden uses it, but he removed Trump’s Diet Coke button. T.I. once made a video where a naked Melania Trump lookalike dances atop a replica of the desk, and all I could think about was: Why did somebody bother to make a replica of that godawful desk?

Maybe because you can charge out the wazoo for one. Here’s a replica for $9,000. Design Toscano, the bizarre-décor company you may remember from SkyMall catalogs, makes one for a little less, though it’s hard to imagine that anyone hell bent on owning a replica of the Resolute Desk cares about saving a few bucks. Say you’re the type of person who wants to live in a pretend White House, for instance—where else are you going to sign your make-believe bills?

This fall, Americans will choose a tall senior citizen with five letters in his last name to lead them. The contest is sure to be bruising, and whoever wins could help heal the republic by working behind a piece of furniture that doesn’t look like what’s left over after a tree vomits. Mid-century modern, clean and persuasive, cocobolo—the world’s most powerful person has better options than this gross desk!

Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute,, and Washington City Paper. He lives in Del Ray.