Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson is requesting that the order for a $31,000 dining set be canceled, according to a statement provided exclusively to CNN by longtime adviser Armstrong Williams.
“I was as surprised as anyone to find out that a $31,000 dining set had been ordered,” Carson said in the statement. “I have requested that the order be canceled. We will find another solution for the furniture replacement.”
Carson also said his wife, Candy Carson, had “asked if used furniture was an option,” the first time there’s been an indication that she was involved in the process. “My wife also looked at catalogs and wanted to be sure that the color of the chair fabric of any set that was chosen matched the rest of the decor,” he wrote.
“I made it known that I was not happy about the prices being charged and that my preference would be to find something more reasonable,” he added.
The $31,000 dining set includes a table, sideboard, breakfront — all in mahogany — and 10 mahogany chairs with a blue velvet finish, according to the company that sold the furniture to the agency and purchase documents obtained by CNN.
The table and two base pedestals cost more than $4,000. The pedestals are described as having “hand applied ebonized inlay with bell flowers topped by hand carved scrolls and a fluted column.”
Eight Regent dining side chairs from the David Phoenix Collection total $7,920 ($990 a piece) and are described as “stately … with rich exposed wood detailing the back and a graciously sculpted leg.” Two additional armchairs are a bit more expensive — $1,050 each.
But it’s the Jefferson sideboard, wood top and breakfront deck base from the Alexa Hampton Collection that really racked up the charges. The three pieces total $13,579. “Crafted of crotch mahogany, satin wood and quartered mahogany borders, carved teardrop and dentil molding on crown,” reads the description reviewed by CNN.
Evelyn Sebree, the owner of Sebree and Associates, an interior design firm that sold the set to HUD, said the agency was looking for something “traditional” and that she worked online with her contact at HUD to sort through their options.
“They said they were looking for dining furniture for the secretary’s office because a new secretary was coming in and the current furniture was old and it was raggedy,” Sebree said.
HUD was not set to receive delivery of the furniture until May, after which Sebree had expected to receive payment, she said.
Senior White House aides are furious about the series of negative stories on spending at HUD and have taken a more hands-on role in trying to stem the tide, sources with knowledge of the situation tell CNN.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican, has asked HUD for records relating to office furnishings since the beginning of 2017.
In his letter, Carson said the previous dining room set was worn and needed to be replaced.
“The secretary’s dining room is used for business luncheons with a wide variety of people and groups. The furniture is 30 to 50 years old and is very worn. It has also been characterized as unsafe,” he wrote. “I did not request new furniture, but asked if it could be remediated. I was subsequently told that it was beyond repair and needed to be replaced.
Meanwhile, Obama-era HUD Secretary Julian Castro told CNN in an interview that he “never felt as though we needed to replace the table or chairs.”