"Because really, deep down, he would have been an architect had he been as talented and creative as all of you," she said.
The president has said previously he'd thought of architecture as a career path.
"I expected to be more creative than I turned out, so I turned to politics instead," he said in June 2011 during a speech at the Pritzker Prize ceremony.
During her speech to the winners of the design awards, the first lady touted the benefits of perseverance, pointing to the president's first congressional race, where he lost to Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) in a 2000 primary for Illinois's first congressional district.
"But he learned from that experience and went on to win a Senate seat four years later and a few other things."
The National Design Awards were conceived by the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. They honor achievement in American design.
In addition to the reception at the White House, winners will take part in an official awards ceremony and gala.