The Bushes Have Renovated Too, Changed the Mondale Art and Settled into Admiral's House

updated 01/25/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/25/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

At the same time new tenants moved into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue a year ago, the house at 34th Street and Massachusetts Avenue also changed hands. Out went the Mondales; in came the Bushes. As Vice-President, George Bush gets not only a $79,125 salary but a mansion with seven naval stewards to fetch and carry. The perks have clearly improved since John Nance Garner, the crotchety Texan who held the office from 1933 to 1941, said, "Being Vice-President isn't worth a pitcher of warm spit."

Even the affluent Bush took a while to adjust to the 16-room Admiral's House, which was built in 1893 for Navy brass and since 1974 has been the Second Family's residence. With their five children all grown up and gone, George and wife Barbara moved in a year ago this week with their 8-year-old cocker spaniel, C. Fred (named for a family friend), as their only live-in dependent.

C. Fred adjusted quickly enough (taking over the newly reupholstered armchair in the living room), but making the place homey wasn't that simple for his owners. They had no desire to retain the large collection of contemporary art assembled on loan by Joan and Fritz Mondale. "I'm not too big on modern art," explains George. That left Barbara with the task of redecorating the Victorian house to their tastes.

To refurbish the first floor for the 1,000 visitors who pass through each week, she spent $187,500, mostly on rugs, drapes and furniture. The money was donated by friends like Joan Fleischman Tobin (margarine) and Mrs. Earle Craig, wife of a Texas oilman. In charge of the job was New York decorator Mark Hampton. The public living room now features Chinese chintz sofas and green-and-salmon-covered chairs. Chinese lamps symbolize George's 13 months as envoy to Peking, and on the foyer wall is an embroidered mandarin coat that is Barbara's favorite memento of that posting. Other walls are hung with landscapes of cottages and sailboats by American Impressionists like Childe Hassam and Robert Spencer. Barbara borrowed these from museums.

Upstairs, the Bushes' private quarters are unpretentious. "We have a living room of our own furniture," says Barbara, "which looks pretty shabby right now. Off our bedroom George has a study, and I have a funny little office in the third floor with a treadmill where I run every day. The whole house rocks when I'm using it." (George jogs outdoors but, especially since reports of the Libyan hit squads, he keeps to secret, secluded areas.)

The Bushes entertain several times a week. The President and Nancy have been to dinner once and ate marinated chicken breasts and Grand Marnier mousse after Barbara had pretested the recipes on friends. "The Reagans had curry when we went there," Barbara notes. What has truly surprised her is "the sense of unity and genuine warmth" that has developed between the couples despite the sometimes bitter political warfare between Bush and Reagan during the 1980 primaries. "After fighting against them for so many years, I am a total convert," Barbara says.

Do the Bushes still have dreams of moving three miles downtown (if, for example, Reagan does not run for a second term)? They are carefully noncommittal. "This house just sort of talks to us," says Barbara. "I feel very much at homeā€”and I'm not so sure that would be true at the White House." Her husband gazes out their bedroom window at the Capitol and the Washington Monument. "It's the best view in town," he says. "I like this neighborhood."

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