Tuesday, December 21, 2010

White House; Red, Blue and Green rooms

Directly across the Entry and Cross Hall from the front door is a series of parlors named after their color schemes;The Green, Blue and Red rooms.
These rooms have held a variety of functions over the years but are all currently decorated in an empire style (early 19th century). I suppose they have been the most popular entertaining rooms of the white house for their proximity to the entry, their access to the south portico as well as their intimate scale.
The blue room serves as a reception area and is the most formal of the 3 spaces based on the shape of the room, an oval. The color comes from the wallpaper border, sumptuous curtains and upholstery.
The view from this room is stunning, right on axis with the crescent fountain with views of the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial beyond.
The tree in the center of the room is the official tree of the white house (each room seems to have at least one!) and represents the simple gifts of our nation from coast to coast.The Blue room has been home to the official White House Christmas tree since First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy switched locations from the more formal East Room.
The 19.5' tall tree scrapes the ceiling and is crowned with a shaft of wheat.
A friend had asked me how the plan dealt with the odd corners the oval rooms created (which the available drawings don't really make clear). They are used for storage behind these beautiful wooden doors along short vestibules.
The Green Room (which reminded me more than any other room of an old folks home lounge, I had to say it....) was used to celebrate preserving and cherishing the gifts of nature (fitting: green). Therefore the decorations were all of recyled magazines and newspapers.
This was a favorite room of Thomas Jefferson and he used it as his dining room. However, James Madison had it repurposed as a parlor which it has functioned as ever since.
The art in this room was some of my favorite. I was stunned to see this John Singer Sargent painting.
Fittingly, there is a marvelous view of the Jefferson memorial from his dining room.
The curtains had this detail on them -what are these red tassel-like things called? Did they ever serve a purpose or are they purely decorative; Who knows? I'll call them bobbins.
The Red Room is the parlor which first ladies typically use to receive their guests. It is also where President Hayes was sworn in (1877).
The New York made American Empire styled furniture dates from the 1820s while the fireplace was installed in 1819.
I loved these gilt metal sconces against the dramatic red walls. Join me tomorrow as we continue the tour!


The Down East Dilettante said...

grrrrr. The blue room photo reminded me of how bloody annoyed the current white house committee makes me---Clement Conger took the Kennedy's graceful Boudin white house and tasseled it up to a fare-thee-well. For some reason, he was just hell-bent on his idea of 'authentic' decor. At some point the mantel in the Blue room, designed by McKim Mead and white, and wonderful as such, got replaced by another of those caryatid mantels---which I love, but there were already two---and dammit, the mantel was part of the history of the white house design. Stupid curatorial choice. Anyway, loved seeing the rooms, and there's still much loveliness---esp. as I rather like classical, or empire, furniture.

And isn't that Sargent divine? It's called 'The Mosquito Net' and was donated, if memory serves correctly, by Whitney Warren Jr., son of the architect of Grand Central. Can't wait for the rest of your tour

Acquired Objects said...

Fun seeing the inside of the white house, thank you for showing us, I have never been there. Great views out the windows but what would one expect?

Acquired Objects said...

Fun seeing the inside of the white house, thank you for showing us, I have never been there. Great views out the windows but what would one expect?

Toby Worthington said...

It's fascinating to compare these rooms with how they
looked during the Kennedy /Boudin era. I'm inclined
to agree with The Dilettante about the academic approach that seems to hold sway nowadays. Of course
every generation of curators feels that they are presenting an absolutely objective point of view when they tackle historic houses, and we all know what a myth that is!
How on earth did you manage to sneak a camera into
the White House? From all I've heard, it's almost never

ArchitectDesign™ said...

Toby, Cameras are allowed on the Christmas tours. My pictures are of the DECORATIONS -anything else you see is purely incidental ;-)
DED, I would have to agree with you totally -i was not a fan of the fussy interiors. It seems to me they picked an arbitrary date to bring it 'back to' and then dismissed anything that had happened afterwards. Never mind that the interior architecture itself is a later creation! I too like some empire furniture, but SOME -not an entire houseful. It feels stiff and museum-like; not like "americas house". The committee should have had Michael Smith lend a hand in the public rooms!

VoiceTalk said...

In answer to your question about 'tassels', I believe they fall under the term passementerie.

Like others, I agree that it is painful to see a rigid curatorial approach. That said, I am very much enjoying these posts!

Room Temperature said...

As far as I'm concerned, the Green Room has always been relegated to the role of Ugly Stepsister. It's not terrible or anything, but it's hardly memorable, except for the strident colors in the rug, which, when I saw it new a few years ago, reminded me of the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. There, Dorothy Draper made the red-&-green combination work, but here, seen against the duller green of the walls, the rug just looked garish. Then again, it's not like the room was great before. In fact, the last time I think the Green Room room looked really good was under TR, when McKim Mead & White stripped it of its Victorian clutter & installed a set of brand new furniture in white enamel: probably not an authentic look, but one that, after a hundred years is now historic in its own right. Either way, it was fresh-looking. Progressive. And if Boudin & Mrs. Kennedy could revive a full-blown Victorian decor of 1860 in the classically detailed Treaty Room, why couldn't the Green Room revert to its 1904 decor? Maybe next time around.

The Blue Room has the most original furniture, so I'd stick with a strict early-19th Century period appearance there, although I think I'd go with Nixon's bolder borders, but as much as I happen to like the Red Room's curtain's design & punchy color combination (which sort of combination is just as right, here, as part of a bold Empire scheme, as it was wrong for the more genteel Federal scheme back down the hall) I'd ditch the elaborate design & go back to Boudin's shocking, straight-hung versions instead. And in the State Dining Room, with its white walls, there's a perfect chance to go totally modern. In 1810, the White House was Modern & up-to-date, why can't there be one room like that now? Oh, well.

To me the best room in the place was one I never saw in person: the 1960s version of the Yellow Oval Room that I think Sister Parish had a hand in, which was just the kind of scheme that Michael S. Smith might do today: a cheerful mix of comfortable sofas & beautiful antiques, all informed by--but not a slave to--the past. But then, nobody asked me.

By the way, I'm all over the lit-up, branch-filled urns downstairs. There are lots of blogs with pictures of the trees, but this is the first place I've seen the urns. Thanks for showing them. Same thing with the details of the Blue Room curtains.: even if I'd like to see something different in there, the curtains are definitely handsome, and we seldom see close-ups of things like this. Full-room portraits just don't show enough. I'm looking forward to the rest of the week.

Mark D. Ruffner said...

I'm really enjoying this tour. I have a National Geographic issue from the 1950s that shows how the house looked during the Eisenhower administration, and if you were to see that, you would appreciate how far all the rooms have really come. Before Jackie, the place looked like an ordinary hotel.

Incidentally, did you know that one of the President's perks is that he can choose for the White House any painting that the National Gallery has in storage?

quintessence said...

Love taking this tour with you. When are we going to see Michael Smith's handiwork there? I didn't miss it did I? I think the blue room would have been tolerable if they hadn't added the dreadful wallpaper trims at the top and chair rail.

Kwana said...

This was so much for. Thanks for taking us inside.

magnus said...

One of my guilty pleasurs is a small book written by the horrible Henrietta Nesbitt, Eleanor Roosevelt's battle axe of a White House Houskeeper whose dreadful, repetious, overly budget conscious menus became the butt of jokes throughoutt the country during FDR's terms of office (apparently, Mrs. Roosevelt complained to her husband one day about the volume of mail she received requesting information on food served to the President. Roosevelt suggested that she share the recipes for few of Mrs. Nesbitt's "specialities" as that would certainly dry up such requests in a hurry). In any event, Mrs. Nesbitt states that among her areas of responsibility where the three enormous chandeliers in the East Room, each of which contained 22,000 crystals (hard to believe) which had to be removed individually when they were cleaned. No wonder they kept the damn things in dust bags (see your photo) when the room wasn't being used.

magnus said...

A quick question: If I remember earlier photos of the Green Room, the color scheme was green and pink. The wonderful photos that you post indicate that pink has now been replaced by a strong red. Did the colors come "true" in the photos?

By the way, this series on the White House is spectacular. Best wishes for the Holidays.