The production design of House of Cards is extensive and deliberate. According to a source who worked on the show, production designer Steve Arnold wanted to make the set for the White House, Capitol Hill and other recognizable locales as accurate as possible. To accomplish this, he visited notable settings like the White House to ensure that all details were accounted for in set design. The art department spent thousands of dollars on making even minute details like doorknobs remain as close to the originals as possible. Accordingly, the furnishings are somewhat cold and model home-esque, perhaps because that’s how the actual White House looks; art imitates reality.
A lot of the budget for the first season of House of Cards was spent constructing the sets to be exact replicas of locations in Washington, D.C. Each room is built to 150% scale to allow more room for the camera and equipment.
Beyond fidelity, it’s clear that other, more thematic motivations are at play. The sterile mise-en-scene also can be interpreted as a character reflection. Frank and Claire do not have much of a life outside of the office, so their home contains no personal effects. Their life is their work and vice versa, so there's no time to shop for knick knacks at the local craft fair. In fact, it's almost comical to see them in the kitchen at all, even just to get a glass of water. You almost imagine that they don't drink water or eat food but just subsist on a diet of clandestine cigarettes and power plays.
Ultimately, the show's manicured, impersonal environs suggest something larger about the state of Washington, D.C., politics: something rotten underlies the pristine facade. Like their surroundings, the Frank Underwoods and Doug Stampers who pace the halls of the nation's capital exhibit a refined, polished exterior -- one that belies less honorable motivations dwelling beneath the surface. The careful attention paid to realistically portraying the political spaces of Washington, D.C., strongly suggests that, in this case, artistic form follows function, both physically and thematically.