In this image provided by The White House, President Joe...

In this image provided by The White House, President Joe Biden speaks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the phone from his private residence in Wilmington, Del., Dec. 30, 2021. Biden's sprawling home outside downtown Wilmington, has a special place in his heart. When he met special prosecutor Robert Hur to talk about the sensitive documents he’d improperly kept after his vice presidency, Biden told Hur three times he is a “frustrated architect.” Credit: AP/Adam Schultz

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden was returning from church a week ago when he stepped out of his armored SUV onto the driveway of his Wilmington, Delaware, home on an important mission: He wanted to inspect the landscaping.

The sprawling home on a manmade pond, three miles or five kilometers from downtown, has a special place — some might call it an obsession — in his heart.

When he met special prosecutor Robert Hur to talk about the sensitive documents he’d improperly kept after his vice presidency, Biden offered a confession. Three times over the five hours, Biden told Hur he is a “frustrated architect.”

He allowed that his wife, Jill, once offered to send him to architecture school if he’d only stop running for the Senate. It was not to be. But he still seems to have architectural design in his blood. And he's mused privately about redesigning elements of the home after his presidency.

The house is central in the controversy over Biden's handling of classified documents. FBI agents and the president's lawyers identified at least 28 items there that contained classified information or markings from his time as vice president. Hur this past week defended his assessment that there was not sufficient evidence to charge Biden with willfully retaining the classified information.

In a transcript of Hur's interview, conducted in the fall and released on the day a House committee heard the special counsel's testimony, Biden lays out in meticulous detail the specifications of his home, prompting Hur to comment on his “photographic” recall even as he had questioned the president's memory on other fronts.

When Biden hopped out to inspect the landscaping, the area had just been replanted after a roughly yearlong project by the Secret Service to improve security at the president's compound. The work included new fencing and vehicle barriers, bulletproof windows and extensive modifications to the home demanded by the agency to make it more secure.

Satellite imagery from last year showed construction crews had dismantled the second-floor balcony and the sunroom overlooking the pond as part of the renovations to the south side of the 7,000-square-foot (650-square-meter) home and the grounds.

Ceiling fans from the sunroom were stored in Biden's cluttered garage alongside his beloved Corvette in January 2023, when FBI agents spent nearly 13 hours doing a top-to-bottom search of the house looking for classified documents.

Referred to by Biden aides as the “lake house,” the home has been at the center of Biden’s life since he moved there in 1998. It has been the scene of meetings with aides and the occasional lawmaker for decades and the site of the makeshift basement studio from which he ran much of his 2020 presidential campaign during the pandemic.

Biden regularly spends his weekends at the Wilmington house, often staying from Friday to Monday. One bonus: It's a quick hop to the Philadelphia area, the Democratic base in a critical swing state as Biden campaigns for reelection.

His Wilmington visits are something of a continuation of the commuting schedule he kept as vice president. During his three-decade Senate tenure before that, Biden commuted from Delaware to Washington daily on Amtrak.

The Delaware home is more than a gathering spot for members of his family and a few of his close friends or a respite from the prying eyes of the White House. Biden aides say he feels grounded in Wilmington, where his interactions with parishioners at church, his neighbors and even his gardener often form the basis of policy questions he asks his team when he gets back to Washington.

The construction project, which was under way when FBI agents searched his home, lasted more than a year, much to Biden's chagrin.

“The FBI knows my house better than I do,” Biden quipped to Hur. A month earlier, he complained to reporters that, “I have no home to go to” during the construction.

Aides said Biden was exasperated with the pace of the renovations — a common experience for many homeowners — and being unable to go there to see the changes for months at a time made the process even more stressful. He wants to reverse some of those changes out of office.

The home was carefully laid out by the president after he and his wife purchased the property in 1996.

“I mean, I’m a frustrated architect, and if you went through, you probably saw all those significant number of house plans that I’ve drawn," Biden told Hur, referring to one set of drawers opened by investigators.

Biden did some of the work on the home himself, sometimes with the help of his sons Hunter and the late Beau, and his brother Jimmy. The other changes he supervised with a careful eye for detail.

“There’s so damn many different contractors I’ve used," he said, mentioning roofers, among others. "They busted their ass for three years to build the house."

Biden furnished the home with a plenty of sentimental items, from the desk he used while serving in the Senate to knickknacks picked up over decades in public life. He's got dozens of three-by-two photographs of moments from his years in office.

“I have them hanging on the walls all over the downstairs, the television room, and some in the library,” Biden told Hur.

A cottage at the top of the driveway now serves as a secure operations center for Secret Service agents and military officials. But it was home to Biden's mother before she died in 2010 at age 92.

In subsequent years, as vice president, Biden collected $2,200 a month in rent payments for the guest house from the Secret Service.

Biden's wood-paneled library is a particular point of pride in the home, with its chandelier and overstuffed leather sofas. It was there that investigators found his personal notebooks documenting key meetings from his time as vice president.

“I just wanted you to know I picked out the walnut tree that got cut down,” Biden told investigators. Some of that walnut ended up inside the home. “I picked out the craftsman to come do this — this room cost one third of the entirety of my entire home. Swear to God.”

“It looks like it," Hur replied. "It’s very impressive.”

Pointing to seven different pieces of molding photographed by the FBI in the room, he added, “I got a little carried away.”

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Get the latest news and more great videos at NewsdayTV Credit: Newsday

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