State Dining Room of the White House
The State Dining Room is the larger of two dining rooms on the State Floor of the Executive Residence of the White House, the home of the President of the United States in Washington, D.C. It is used for receptions, luncheons, larger formal dinners, and state dinners for visiting heads of state on state visits. The room seats 140 and measures approximately 48 by 36 feet (15 by 11 m).
Originally office space, the State Dining Room received its name during the presidency of James Monroe, at which time it was first extensively furnished. The room was refurbished during several administrations in the early to mid 1800s, and gasified in 1853. Doors were cut through the west wall in 1877. The State Dining Room underwent a major expansion and renovation in 1902, transforming it from a Victorian dining room into a "baronial" dining hall of the early 19th century—complete with stuffed animal heads on the walls and dark oak paneling. The room stayed in this form until the White House's complete reconstruction in 1952.
The 1952 rebuilding of the White House retained much of the 1902 renovation, although much of the "baronial" furnishings were removed and the walls were painted celadon green. Another major refurbishment from 1961 to 1963 changed the room even further, more closely approximating an Empire style room with elements from a wide range of other periods. Incremental changes to the room were made throughout the 1970s and 1980s, with major refurbishments of the furnishings in 1998 and 2015.
- 1 Early history
- 2 1902 Roosevelt renovation
- 3 1952 Truman reconstruction
- 4 Kennedy renovation
- 5 Clinton renovation
- 6 Obama renovation
- 7 References
- 8 Bibliography
- 9 Further reading
- 10 External links
The Jefferson office
The northern third of what is now the State Dining Room was originally the western part of the Cross Hall. Two flights of stairs (one against the north wall, one against the south wall) led from the State Floor to the Second Floor. A single, central stair then led up to the Third Floor (then an attic). Not completed when the White House was occupied in 1800, the Grand Stairs were probably finished by architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe in 1803 or shortly thereafter. To the south of the Grand Stair was a small room, designated by Hoban for use as a Cabinet Room or President's Library.
President Thomas Jefferson used the State Dining Room as his primary office from 1801 to 1809. The room was only sparsely furnished at this time, with only a desk and chairs. He also kept his gardening tools in the room, and an assortment of potted plants. The floor was covered with canvas, painted green.
Jefferson's successor, James Madison, wanted the room to be a dining room. A large dining table and chairs, capable of seating at least 40, were placed here, and paintings of George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson were hung on the walls. The Washington image was a copy of the Lansdowne portrait, a full-length, life-size figure of the first President painted by Gilbert Stuart in 1796. A silver service and a blue-and-gold china service purchased from the Lowestoft Porcelain Factory in England were used for dining. The canvas flooring was removed, and an ingrain carpet (a form of inexpensive, flatwoven carpet installed. Otherwise, the room remained only sparsely furnished.
Transformation into the State Dining Room
The White House was burned on August 24, 1814, by the British Army during the War of 1812. The Landsdowne copy was saved from destruction by doorman Jean Pierre Sioussat and White house gardener Tom Magraw, who cut it from its elaborate frame and spirited it away from the White House just minutes before British troops arrived.
The White House was reconstructed in 1817, after which the Cabinet Room/Presidential Library was called the State Dining Room. The reconstruction added an extensive chimney breast to the fireplace in the room's west wall.
The State Dining Room was extensively furnished at this time. President James Monroe, rather than First Lady Elizabeth Monroe (who was in fragile physical health), was primarily responsible for making decorative decisions for the White House. Monroe decided to have the walls of the State Dining Room covered in green silk. Two Italian Carrara marble mantels, featuring Neoclassical caryatids on either side, were also bought by Monroe and installed over the two fireplaces in this room.
One of Monroe's most important purchases were several ornamental ormolu (or bronze doré) pieces to furnish the State Dining Room. The surtout de table, also known as a plateau, was a richly detailed centerpiece used to hold fruit, desserts, savories, or liqueurs. They usually made of gold-gilt bronze or brass, but silver or porcelain ones were also common. The centerpiece usually stood on small legs, and its floor was often mirrored. It had a finely wrought rim, usually depicting fruit, leaves, vines, animals, bacchantes, or putti. The plateau often came in sections, so it could be expanded or reduced as needed. The centerpice often had slots in the rim or floor where removable statuettes, candelabra, or pedestals on which small serving plates could be inserted. crafted by Deniére et Matelin in France, was 14 feet (4.3 m) long when fully extended. The piece had seven sections, each 24 inches (61 cm) long, which could be removed or inserted as needed to adjust the length. It had a mirrored floor, and garlands of fruit and flowers formed the rim. Seventeen bacchantes (personifications of the female servants of Bacchus, the ancient Roman god of wine) standing on orbs, their outstretched arms holding candleholders, could be inserted into small rectangular pedestals at equidistant points around the centerpiece. Although surtout de table were common in elegant English and French dining rooms, few Americans had seen them and the piece deeply impressed those who saw it. Other ormulu items included three pedestals for crystal vases (one large, two small), consisting of the Three Graces holding up a basket; three porcelain vases in the Etruscan style and ornamented with festoons of flowers; and a pair of pedestal stands, or trepieds, consisting of sphinxes sitting on slender legs, their upraised wings supporting a shallow bowl.
Monroe also ordered the White House's first tableware and dinnerware. These included 72 silver place settings, which included an unknown number of serving dishes, platters, tureens, chafing dishes, and other items. These were manufactured by Jacques Henri Fauconnier of Paris.[a] Thirty-six vermeil (gold-gilt silver) flatware settings, manufactured by J. B. Boitin of Paris, were also purchased.[b] A thirty-setting gilt porcelain china service was also purchased, although its design and manufacturer are not known as no pieces are known to exist today. A few items of the accompanying 166-piece, 30-setting dessert service, manufactured by Dagoty et Honoré in Paris, have survived. The dessert plates for this amaranth-on-white china service feature a Napoleonic eagle in the center. Five vignettes, representing agriculture, strength, commerce, science, and arts, are set into the broad, red rim.
Changes in the early to mid 1800s
President Andrew Jackson had the dining room wallpapered some time after 1829. The paper was purchased from French-born Louis Véron, a Philadelphia fine furnishings purveyor. This material, which was blue, green, yellow, and white and with a scattering of gold stars and gilt borders, was used in most of the rooms on the State Floor. Some time during 1833 and 1834, Veron supplied mirrors as well, and carpeting from Belgium and new mahogany dining room chairs from Alexandria, Virginia, cabinetmaker James Green also helped refurbish the room.
Heavy crowds in the White House during the Jackson administration left the mansion in shabby condition. President Martin Van Buren purchased a new, 30-foot (9.1 m) table for the State Dining Room, and reupholstered the chairs in gold and blue fabric. Blue and yellow drapes and rugs complimented the chairs. At some point, the mantels over the fireplace had been replaced with new ones of black marble, and three chandeliers now lit the room.
Although little upkeep was made to the White House during the administrations of William Henry Harrison and John Tyler due to a national depression, President James K. Polk redecorated the State Dining Room in 1845. New purple and gold drapes were hung in the room, and 42 rosewood balloon-back[c] side chairs with cabriole legs and a heart-shaped crest. They were upholstered in purple velvet and manufactured by New York City furniture maker Charles Baudouine.
President Franklin Pierce completely refurbished the room in 1853. The chandeliers were converted to natural gas, the wood moldings and dado rails replaced, the room replastered and repainted, and new carpets and drapes provided. It is likely that Anthony and Henry Jenkins, furniture makers from Baltimore, crafted four walnut side tables for Pierce, and that these were later used in the State Dining Room.
A large greenhouse was added to the west side of the White House by President Pierce in 1857, replacing one on the east side which had been torn down that year to make way for expansion of the Treasury Building.
Although First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln refurbished most of the rooms in the White House in 1861, there is scant evidence to indicate she did much to the State Dining Room. However, the room was used by Francis Bicknell Carpenter as an artist's workshop as he painted First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation of President Lincoln from February to July 1864.
Changes in the mid to late 1800s
The western greenhouse burned down in 1867, and in 1869 President Ulysses S. Grant built a larger, taller greenhouse in its place. Grant also rebuilt the Grand Stair at this time, so that only a single staircase against the north wall led to the Second Floor. (A second stair on the south wall of the Second Floor led to the Third Floor.) Later presidents expanded the greenhouse further, and after it was turned into a palm court in 1877 by President Rutherford B. Hayes new doors were cut through the stone of the mansion's walls to provide access between the Palm Court and State Dining Room.
Minor furnishing changes were made in the intervening years. In 1880, First Lady Lucy Webb Hayes installed a new carpet and lace curtains in the State Dining Room. She also purchased two Victorian candelabra for $125 each ($3,065 in 2016 dollars) from Tiffany & Co.. The three-tiered items, featuring floral garlands and the heads of satyrs and reclining children at the base, were probably made in Europe (their manufacturer is not known) and have remained in the room ever since.
1902 Roosevelt renovation
The White House was extensively renovated in 1902 after the West Wing was completed, which allowed a number of government offices to vacate the Executive Residence. President Theodore Roosevelt selected the New York City architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White to oversee the renovations and redecoration. The Grand Stair was demolished and a new Grand Staircase built east of the Entrance Hall. The State Dining Room expanded northward into the space formerly occupied by the Grand Stair. The small fireplaces in the east and west walls of the State Dining Room were removed, and the northern door leading west to the Palm Court sealed. (Another door to the Palm Court, beneath the former Grand Stairs, was also sealed.) Where the old Palm Court door existed, a new, massive stone fireplace and oversize mantel (the famous "Buffalo mantel") were added,[d] to match the enlarged room's size and grandeur. McKim, Mead & White implemented a decorative style for the room similar to that of an English manor house. This mixed style has been described as early Elizabethan with elements of Italian Renaissance, Beaux-Arts, early 19th century Georgian, late Victorian, and "baronial". Below a ceiling and a cornice of white plaster painted a delicate gray[e] was a delicately carved frieze featuring (at Roosevelt's insistence) animal heads. Dark English oak paneling carved in a Renaissance Revival style, with Corinthian pilasters, was crafted and installed by Herter Brothers of New York. A baseboard of white marble ran around the room, and a new oak floor was installed.
The furnishing of the White House (including the State Dining Room) was overseen by First Lady Edith Roosevelt, and carried out by Charles Follen McKim. The creation of "baronial" hall look included the hanging of tapestries and 11 stuffed animal heads[f] on the wall and cooking racks over the fireplace. The Monroe mantels were moved to the Green Room and Red Room to make way for the "Buffalo mantel".
To furnish the room, Stanford White designed William and Mary oak armchairs with caned backs and Queen Anne style mahogany side chairs. Based on furniture in his own home, he also designed two small and one large mahogany side tables with marble tops and carved wooden eagle pedestals.[g] All these pieces of furniture were manufactured by A. H. Davenport and Company of Boston. Large, heavy Chiavari chairs were also used in the room. The serving table was placed against the north wall, and the two console tables on the east wall.
A silver-plated chandelier and wall sconces were designed by McKim and manufactured and installed by Edward F. Caldwell & Co. The chandelier was of a unique design, as it contained no glass or crystal. Instead, it consisted of individual candelabra, each supported by curved piping (a gooseneck). Each gooseneck was attached to the central body, and the entire chandelier hung from the ceiling by a chain. The chandelier proved 6 inches (15 cm) too wide, and had to be taken down and altered. What other furnishings were needed were drawn from the pre-1902 items in the room.
1952 Truman reconstruction
The room remained largely unchanged until 1952. One of the few changes made was the addition of a painting, Abraham Lincoln, hung over the fireplace by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1937. The 1869 oil-on-canvas painting by George Peter Alexander Healy depicts a seated, thoughtful Abraham Lincoln, and has remained over the State Dining Room fireplace ever since. Roosevelt also added an inscription to the "Buffalo mantel". The inscription was taken from a letter by John Adams to his wife Abigail written the second night he lived in the White House: "I pray Heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this House, and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof."
Systematic failure of the internal wood beam structure required reconstruction during the administration of Harry S. Truman. The building was dismantled and an internal steel superstructure was constructed within the sandstone walls. While providing critically needed repairs, much of the original interior materials were damaged or not reinstalled. The State Dining Room, more than any room, had the majority of its wall and ceiling materials reinstalled.
During the 1948-to-1952 reconstruction of the White House, the State Dining Room was radically redecorated. The "Buffalo mantel" was replaced with a simple neo-Georgian style mantel of dark green marble. The "Buffalo mantel" was given to President Truman (who had it installed it in his presidential library). The oak paneling, heavy damaged during its removal, was reinstalled and given a coat of bright celadon green to hide the flaws. (Some of the frieze had to be recarved where it had been sanded down to accommodate the stuffed animal heads.) A set of reproduction Chippendale-style sidechairs replaced McKim's Queen Anne-style chairs at the dining table.
First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy worked with American antiques expert Henry Francis du Pont and French interior designer Stéphane Boudin on the restoration of the State Dining Room. Du Pont and Boudin both recommended that changes should emphasize the earlier work of McKim. The paneling was repainted bone white, the silver plate chandelier and wall sconces were gilded, and the pilaster-mounted sconces reinstalled on the side panels, bringing more focus to the pilasters. The Truman presidential library declined to return the "Buffalo mantel" to the White House, so a reproduction was made and installed.
McKim's mahogany consoles were painted to mimick white marble with gold veining, and the eagle supports and bowknots were gilded. The new color scheme for those pieces were intended to make the pieces blend into the paneling. A new carpet, a copy of one Boudin designed for Leeds Castle, was woven and installed. Stark Carpet Co. of New York wove the rug. Tables configured in a horseshoe were used for dining until the 1960s, when the White House began using smaller round tables. The portrait of Abraham Lincoln by George P.A. Healy was restored, reversing conspicuous damage. The Chippendale reproduction sidechairs were removed and replaced by the Chiavari chairs by McKim, Mead and White. The gold damask draperies installed during the Truman administration were retained.
Johnson, Nixon, Reagan, and George H.W. Bush refurbishments
In 1967, Lady Bird Johnson oversaw the installation of new draperies, based on a design created by Stephane Boudin shortly before President Kennedy's assassination, as well as reupholstery of the 1902 chairs. First Lady Pat Nixon worked with White House curator Clement Conger to refresh the room in 1971. She had the room painted antique white in 1971 after the Kennedy-era paint proved too bright, and she replaced the Kennedy-era carpet with one of Indian manufacture.
In 1973, a man and woman broke away from the public tour of the White House and splashed six vials of blood on the walls and some of the furniture in the State Dining Room. The couple said they were protesting the status of oppressed people everywhere.
First Lady Nancy Reagan hung new gold silk draperies designed by interior designer Ted Graber. She initially had the room repainted antique white in 1981, but in 1985, the room was painted off-white with an umber glaze.
During the presidency of George W. Bush, the badly worn 1952 floor of the State Dining Room was removed. New flooring made of white oak, manufactured by Kentucky WoodFloors, was installed by Mountain State Floors (a West Virginia company) in a herringbone pattern.
By the early 1990s, more than 50,000 people a year were being entertained in the State Dining Room. The heavy use left the room shabby and in need of significant repair and conservation.
In December 1998, First Lady Hillary Clinton unveiled a renovated State Dining Room. She was advised by interior designer Kaki Hockersmith (a long-time friend of the Clintons), interior designer Mark Hampton of New York City (who had worked on the White House for President George H. W. Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush), and the Committee for the Preservation of the White House. The room's walls were repainted a light stone color. The pedestal console tables were stripped of paint which mimicked white marble with gold veining, and their original mahogany finish was restored. The room's 66 chairs were reupholstered in a gold damask. New ivory silk draperies, manufactured by F. Schumacher & Co., with printed full-color baskets, flowers, and ribbons replicating a 1901 damask design used by the firm, replaced the solid gold fabric drapes of the 1980s. The drapes were designed to reflect the color pattern of the White House china. A $113,031 ($164,100 in 2016 dollars), 43-by-28-foot (13.1 by 8.5 m) carpet with a floral medallion pattern was also installed. The carpet was woven by Scott Group Custom Carpets in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The 1902 silver-plated chandelier and the wall sconces—last gilded in 1961—were refinished, repaired, rewired, and cleaned. Sources differ as to the cost, with one putting it at $270,507 ($392,727 in 2016 dollars) and another at $341,000 ($495,070 in 2016 dollars), but the cost was paid for by the White House Endowment Trust. The Clinton refurbishment was not as successful as hoped. White House Curator William G. Allman noted that at night, the lack of backlighting from outside tended to make the drapes fade into the walls.
The Clintons were also the first to use the East Room for most state dinners, rather than the much smaller State Dining Room. The reason was size: The State Dining Room could accommodate only about 136 people, while the East Room sat 260. The Clintons also used marqees, set up on the South Lawn of the White House, for state dinners, which allowed seating to run as high as 700 individuals. President George W. Bush, however, returned to the practice of hosting state dinners almost exclusively in the State Dining Room. The gold-upholstered chairs were often removed for meals and replaced with smaller chairs from elsewhere in the White House, as they proved too bulky to accommodate large numbers of guests around dining tables.
By 2011, the heavy wear and tear on the State Dining Room had taken a toll on the rugs and drapes in State Dining Room.
On June 25, 2015, a renovated State Dining Room was unveiled by First Lady Michelle Obama. Mrs. Obama and the Committee for the Preservation of the White House began planning the renovation in 2012.[h] The first element of the renovation, a 28-by-43-foot (8.5 by 13.1 m) carpet, was installed in 2012. The wool rug,[i] woven by Scott Group Custom Carpets, features a border of wreaths surrounding a field of mottled light blue accented by clusters of oak leaves. The carpet's design mimics the plaster molding of the ceiling.
The new silk window draperies are ecru in color, accented with stripes of peacock blue intended to mimic the Kailua blue color of the White House china (which in turn mimics the waters of President Obama's home state of Hawaii). Fabric for the draperies was manufactured by an undisclosed firm in Pennsylvania. The window valances feature heavy swags, with gold bullion fringe, and reflect similar window treatments from the 1800s. The drapes hang from carved and gilded poles whose design echoes that of similar drapery poles in the Red Room and Green Room. The walls and moldings were repainted in various shades of white and glazed, to highlight their details.
A new set of 34 mahogany chairs replaced the Theodore Roosevelt-era Chiavari chairs, which had proved too large and cumbersome. The set includes six armchairs and 28 side chairs. The new chairs were designed to be multifunctional, and fit with both the heavy, main dining table as well as smaller dining rounds. The look of the Obama armchairs is based on chairs designed by Georgetown cabinetmaker William King, Jr. in 1818 for President James Monroe. The side chairs are an adaptation of this design. All the chairs are upholstered in brown horsehair fabric in a grid-like pattern, and trimmed with brass nailheads. The chairs were manufactured by Baker Furniture in Hickory, North Carolina, and the fabric by Brunschwig & Fils.
- Only two soup tureens have survived into the late 20th century.
- Only a few pearl-handled fruit knives survived into the 20th century.
- The balloon-backed chair is so named because its back resembles the shape of a hot air balloon: Curved around a center point, moving vertical and then back and outward.
- This mantel, of unpolished gray stone from Worcester, England, was originally carved with lion's heads. Roosevelt wanted animals more representative of the United States, and ordered them recarved into bison heads.
- McKim ordered the ceiling painted seven times in order to achieve the correct shade of gray.
- These included American bison, elk, moose, and white-tailed deer, among others.
- The exact style of these side tables is not clear. White House Curator Betty C. Monkman said they were Italian in design, but the Brooklyn Museum says they are in the style of English architect William Kent.
- Michael S. Smith, an interior designer and friend of the Obamas, is a member of the Committee for the Preservation of the White House.
- There are two identical rugs, which are regularly switched to reduce wear and tear and allow for cleaning.
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- 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.
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