Melania's move-in nods to tradition

Story highlights

  • Kate Andersen Brower: First lady and her son are finally moving into the White House
  • Perhaps Barron Trump's presence will add a certain lightness, Brower says

Kate Andersen Brower is a CNN contributor and the author of "First Women: The Grace and Power of America's Modern First Ladies" and "The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House." Unless otherwise noted, facts in this piece reflect research from those works. The opinions expressed here are hers.

(CNN)After nearly five months, Melania Trump is doing what every first lady since Abigail Adams has done (with the notable exception of Anna Harrison, whose husband, President William Henry Harrison, died weeks after taking office). She is moving into the White House.

Kate Brower
In a tweet last night the first lady wrote, "Looking forward to the memories we'll make in our new home! #Movingday" with a photo of two candles lit overlooking the South Lawn, the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial. It was a nod to tradition from a presidential family that has so far bucked it at every turn. As with virtually everything about the Trumps, they have upended the traditional move-in and Melania decided to keep her 11-year-old Barron in New York, where he could finish out the school year.
Barron will be the first young son to live in the White House since John F. Kennedy Jr., who was a newborn when the Kennedys moved in in 1961. Caroline Kennedy was only 3 years old and she and her brother were the youngest children to live in the White House since Theodore Roosevelt's large brood famously wreaked havoc there at the turn of the 20th century.
    The Kennedys knew the importance of that image of a happy family in the White House, and that it would be wise from an optics perspective for them to show the family together. While Barron will be commuting to the private St. Andrew's Episcopal School in Maryland, he will likely add that certain lightness to the White House that only a child can bring.
    When he arrived on Sunday aboard Marine One with his parents and lots of luggage, Barron wore a T-shirt reading "The Expert" (now already sold out). Melania Trump's parents, Viktor and Amalija Knavs, were also on Marine One, which raises the question of whether the first lady's parents will play a similar role to Michelle Obama's mother, Marian Robinson, who lived in a suite on the third floor. Having their grandmother around provided additional stability to Sasha and Malia Obama, who were 7 and 10 when they moved in.
    The Obamas followed tradition and moved the day of the inauguration. By the week before, much of their furniture had already been shipped to the White House and was stored in the China Room on the ground floor so it could be moved quickly upstairs after the Bushes moved out. "We want[ed] to keep it out of the sight of the existing family," said Chief Usher Stephen Rochon, who ran the White House residence from 2007 to 2011. "Not that they didn't know it was there, but we didn't want them to feel that we were trying to move them out." The Trumps were in no such rush and have approached the move at a much slower pace than any previous first family.
    The new first family is not allowed to change historic state and ground floors but they have lots of leeway to alter the second and third floor living quarters once they move in. First ladies are traditionally very involved in the redecoration of the White House.
    Most famously, Jackie Kennedy made it her mission to make the White House "the most perfect" house in the country. Nancy Reagan and her interior decorator, Ted Graber, labored over the redecoration of the second and third floors. Melania hired interior designer Tham Kannalikham, who began her career at Ralph Lauren Home in New York.
    Unlike Michael Smith, the Obamas' interior decorator, Kannalikham had the rare luxury of five months with no first lady in the White House to be looking over her shoulder at every design decision.
    Often, for privacy reasons, the changes to the private residence aren't immediately revealed, but are seen at the end of the administration. Before the Obamas left, for example, Architectural Digest published an article showcasing Smith's efforts.
    Now that Melania and Barron have moved in, the residence staff is likely breathing a sigh of relief. The Kennedy's social secretary, Letitia Baldrige, remembered the happy mood the children brought with them to the imposing space. Jackie set up a nursery school in the third-floor solarium for Caroline and her friends. Caroline's ballet class sometimes practiced on the South Lawn, delighting the staff and "fluttering like little pink birds in their pink leotards, tulle tutus, and ballet slippers," Baldrige recalled.
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    One of the few things we know about Barron Trump is that he likes to play golf, like his dad. Maybe we will get a glimpse into their family life with a father/son game. It would certainly be a wise thing to do given the tumult of this White House.