East Room

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The East Room on the state floor of the White House looking southeast. The unique Steinway & Sons grand piano was designed in 1938 by Eric Gugler with advice from President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Awadagin Pratt performs Johann Sebastian Bach’s Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 582 on a piano at the White House Evening of Classical Music on November 4, 2009. In addition from 11:22 to 11:27, he salutes United States President Barack Obama with a few bars of "Hail to the Chief".

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The East Room is the largest room in the White House, the home of the President of the United States. It is used for receptions, press conferences, ceremonies, concerts, and banquets. The room is "not quite 80 feet by 37 feet" and the ceiling is "over 20 feet high."[1][2]

The White House's oldest possession, the Lansdowne portrait depicting George Washington, painted by Gilbert Stuart in 1797, was rescued from the 1814 fire, and now hangs in the East Room with a companion portrait of Martha Washington painted by Eliphalet F. Andrews in 1878.

History and design[edit]

White House State Floor showing the location of the East Room.

In the earliest floor plans, the room is labeled as the "Public Audience Hall." Many thought the title sounded too similar to a throne room, and too regal for a new republic. The East Room was among the last rooms on the State Floor to be finished and used. Abigail Adams hung laundry to dry there. During the Jefferson administration, the room was partitioned and the southern end used for Meriwether Lewis's bedchamber and office.[3]

In 1814–1815, following the burning of the White House, the East Room received new door frames and inlaid mahogany doors that remain in the room today. New finished plaster work in the form of a frieze of anthemion (a flowerlike, traditional Greek decorative pattern) was installed. This work was directed by the architect to represent how the house appeared before and immediately after the 1814 fire.

In 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt engaged the architectural firm of McKim, Meade & White to renovate and expand the White House. As the East Room had not been decorated until 1829, the architects took some liberties, devising a grand Beaux-Arts style reception hall. The room was panelled based on the 1780 Louis XVI style salon de famille in the Château de Compiègne and painted cream white. Three large Bohemian crystal chandeliers, an oak parquet floor and a carved and gilded suite of banquettes and console tables completed the room.

In 1938, working with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, staff architect Eric Gugler designed a concert grand piano built by Steinway & Sons. The piano is decorated with a gilded frieze illustrating American dance: alternating European style waltzes with western cowboy, African American and Native American dance. The piano is supported by three large gilded eagles in the Art Moderne style.

Yolanda Adams performs "How Great Thou Art" in the East Room at the White House's Celebration of Music from the Civil Rights Movement in 2010.

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During the Truman White House reconstruction of 1949–1952, the East Room panelling, plaster ceiling and furnishings were dismantled, numbered, and stored. However, damage to the original woodwork and plasterwork required that both be replaced. New panelling was carved, but simpler and with considerably less presence. A simpler crown molding and ceiling medallions were also installed. While the feeling was similar, the robust architectural effect was diminished. The size of the large chandeliers was reduced by several inches and outfitted with internal illumination for softer lighting. Red marble mantels were installed during the Truman renovation.

During the Kennedy restoration in 1961-1962, interior designer Stéphane Boudin recommended that the mantels be faux painted to appear as white marble, unifying the look of the room. Boudin also oversaw the design of new draperies, not installed until the Johnson administration. Made of a custom-manufactured gold silk lampas, the drapery was hung in straight panels without valances from the carved and gilded 1902 wooden cornices. The Kennedys installed a small moveable stage for the room; the Johnsons had a larger temporary stage with Corinthian pilasters matching the room's architecture built. This allowed for small theatrical events to be performed as entertainment following state dinners.

During the Clinton administration, the faux marble finish was removed from the mantels, revealing the red marble, and new Aubusson-style carpets were woven to protect the parquet floors. Laura Bush installed new curtains, following the Kennedy fabric but with deeper swagged valances than those selected by Nancy Reagan in 1982. Hers were the second curtains to follow the Kennedy fabric for the East Room.


McKim, Mead, and White renovation of the East Room shown in 1904. A robust Beaux Arts style replaced a series of Victorian interiors.
The East Room in a stereograph view made during the administration of President Andrew Johnson.

The East Room is presently in the design phase of a refurbishment by the Committee for the Preservation of the White House and White House curator William Allman. Refurbishment of the White House's historic rooms happens on a regular basis. Input from the current first family, along with reference to historical documents and sometimes new research help guide the decisions of the committee.


  1. ^ "The East Room," whitehousemuseum.org, accessed 5 August 2013.
  2. ^ "White House Residence First Floor," whitehousemuseum.org, accessed 5 August 2013.
  3. ^ Seale, William (1986). The President's House. White House Historical Association and the National Geographic Society. ISBN 0-912308-28-1. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Abbott, James A. A Frenchman in Camelot: The Decoration of the Kennedy White House by Stéphane Boudin. Boscobel Restoration Inc.: 1995. ISBN 0-9646659-0-5.
  • Abbott James A., and Elaine M. Rice. Designing Camelot: The Kennedy White House Restoration. Van Nostrand Reinhold: 1998. ISBN 0-442-02532-7.
  • Clinton, Hillary Rodham. An Invitation to the White House: At Home with History. Simon & Schuster: 2000. ISBN 0-684-85799-5.
  • Garrett, Wendell. Our Changing White House. Northeastern University Press: 1995. ISBN 1-55553-222-5.
  • Monkman, Betty C. The White House: The Historic Furnishing & First Families. Abbeville Press: 2000. ISBN 0-7892-0624-2.
  • Seale, William. The President's House. White House Historical Association and the National Geographic Society: 1986. ISBN 0-912308-28-1.
  • Seale, William, The White House: The History of an American Idea. White House Historical Association: 1992, 2001. ISBN 0-912308-85-0.
  • West, J.B. with Mary Lynn Kotz. Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies. Coward, McCann & Geoghegan: 1973. SBN 698-10546-X.
  • Wolff, Perry. A Tour of the White House with Mrs. John F. Kennedy. Doubleday & Company: 1962.
  • The White House: An Historic Guide. White House Historical Association and the National Geographic Society: 2001. ISBN 0-912308-79-6.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 38°53′52″N 77°02′11″W / 38.89778°N 77.03639°W / 38.89778; -77.03639