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First Lady Airs Obama Design Dreams at Lunch: D.C. Scene

National Design Award Winners Lunch
G. Wayne Clough, secretary of the Smithsonian, Michelle Obama, and Caroline Baumann, director of the Cooper-Hewitt Museum. Photographer: Joyce N. Boghosian/Smithsonian via Bloomberg

Innovative designers filled the East Room of the White House today for lunch.

Michelle Obama said the president was envious that she got to host the affair, because “really, deep down, he would have been an architect had he been as creative as all of you.”

The occasion was the National Design Awards, an initiative of the White House Millennium Council. The Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum has organized the event since 2000, and the first lady is currently the honorary patron.

Recipients this year included James Wines, founder and president of SITE, a New York-based architectural studio; architect Michael Sorkin; TED, a nonprofit organization devoted to “ideas worth spreading;” and media design firm Local Projects.

The award also went to Studio Gang Architects, a Chicago-based firm; graphic designer Paula Scher; fashion designer Behnaz Sarafpour; interior design firm Aidlin Darling Design; Margie Ruddick, a landscape architect known for her work in New York’s Queens Plaza; and NewDealDesign, a multidisciplinary firm.

Obama said the winners not only create beauty and serenity through their work, but “a more active and participatory society.”

Twelve teenagers involved in today’s Teen Design Fair were invited to join the first lady and the winners for the lunch. She told the young people to learn from the artists’ penchant for risk-taking, and from her husband.

Obama’s Loss

“He lost his first race for Congress,” she said. “By a lot. A whole lot. It wasn’t even close,” she said as the audience giggled. “He learned from that experience. He went on to a senate seat and a few other things.”

Lunch was served on tables covered by black-and-white tablecloths with geometrical shapes. Color was provided by autumnal flowers. Small jars of honey from the White House garden were positioned behind the place cards.

Obama, who wore a silk dress in rich burgundy, was joined onstage before the meal by G. Wayne Clough, the secretary of the Smithsonian, who recently announced he will be stepping down.

“On the bright side we will have him for at least another year,” she said of her friend.

Clough will celebrate the awards 14th anniversary with a gala ceremony on Oct. 17 in New York.

(Stephanie Green is a writer and photographer for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are her own.)

Muse highlights include Lewis Lapham’s podcast, Jeremy Gerard on theater

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