Thursday, December 23, 2010

White House: East Room

Probably the most famous room in the White House (at least in my understanding) is the East Room, home to some of the most memorable events in the building's history. The largest room in the house, it was originally refered to as the Public Audience Hall but the name was thought to sound too reminicent of a throne room and so has since been referred to as the more democratic sounding East Room. The room has changed notably from the 19th century. During Grants administration, the room was highly ridiculed as being 'steamboat Gothic', as seen below in 1873. Thanks heavens curators haven't decided to go back to this version of the room!The room's transformation was done most notably by the architectural firm McKim, Meade and White, seen here below in 1904. McKim based the Louis XVI design on the famous Salon de famille at the Chateau de Compiegne, seen below. The details were perhaps slightly less refined due to the limited headroom, but notice the same heirarchy of pilasters and paneled chair rail: a notable inspiration.Later, from 1949-1952, when the room was dismanteled during the remodeling of the white house, the original paneling was damaged and had to be recreated. The picture below shows a detail of the paneling today (ignore the switchplate cover which I thought was a bit hilarious -thats the best they can do?!). The paneling was done in a simpler fashion but is perhaps more elegant to my eye. Certainly, at the least the ceiling is preferable if not the paneling. During the Kennedy administration, Jacqueline Kennedy made her famous bid to save the quality and history of the White House. She hired notable interior designer Stephane Boudin who oversaw a lot of the elegant transformation of the interiors including painting the red marble fireplaces a clean white, seen above (which I wish would be brought back into the room; the Clinton's had the white paint removed). The curtains are of similar fabric to what Boudin chose although with a more complicated valance, done by Mrs. Bush. The gilded valances are original to the McKim renovation of the room.The Aubusson styled carpets were installed by the Clintons to help preserve the wood floors.During the holidays, the central window curtains are opened to display a Creche. In most images I've ever seen, these curtains have been closed for whatever reason -is it the view?In this image from 1920 below, you can see a different window configuration from the McKim renovation which I prefer. I suppose during the Truman administration, when the room was changed and simplified, only the central window made the cut?The beautiful mahogany doors and doorframes, seen below, are original to the room from 1815 when the room was first finished after the burning of the White House. Prior to that it was partitioned into spaces as needed, including Abigail Adams hanging her laundry here! The theme in this years decoration is the peacock, which I think is a lovely color combination with the gold.
Join me tomorrow to see the State Dining Room.


Karena said...

Stefan fascinating post...seeing all the changes made down through the adninistrations!

Joyeaux Noel!

Art by Karena

VoiceTalk said...

The peacock's don't do a thing for me, but I kinda like the red marble with the rich colored doors. I can see, however, how painting them would keep the eye from stopping, and make one look up- a good thing in a grand room.

ArchitectDesign™ said...

karena- thanks!
VT - I'm not a fan of the peacocks themselves, but I do like the colors. I don't think the red marble is bad ( I never knew it had existed any other way ) but when I saw that photo from Boudin's version I was floored!

The Swan said...

Again an enjoyable lesson thru your eyes...the Rouge Marble is better in my opinion with the Mahogany doors. I have seen many similar marble/mahogany combinations in documented 18thC Parisian interiors for sure. The painting of marble to me is a definite NO-NO, no matter who thinks it should be done.

The Creche is the famed set donated by Jane Engelhard, Annette de la Renta's is Superb Neapolitan 18thC at its best from what I recall. She donated it when Jacqueline was in residence and it has been a tradition for years to exhibit during the Season Holidays.

ArchitectDesign™ said...

Swan - loved the creche, glad to know more about it! I figured it was italian but had no idea of its' illustrious history!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your continued tour through the White House this Christmas. I am loving every picture and description, every then and now photo, and look forward to seeing the State Dining Room.

ChipSF said...

S -
I haven't commented for awhile but rest assured I am checking in everyday! Have really enjoyed your White House series this week. And, I have to say that I have always liked the Green Room and I'm still not convinced otherwise.
Also, it would be nice if the Grand Staircase was more opened up to the hall.
Merry Christmas!

Mark D. Ruffner said...

I am learning quite a bit from your tour, and thanks for that! As I look at the original McKim, Meade and White version, it seems to me that the White House has kept pretty true to their original vision, which just goes to show that a classic design is timeless.

La Maison Fou said...

Love the different evolutions of the designs and the color schemes!
Thank Yoou for the personal tour.
Happy Holidays!

Linda Merrill said...

Love the breakdown of the different rooms in the WH and seeing the current decorations. I've missed any pics of them, love the color combination! Merry Christmas Stefan!

Lord Cowell said...

Merry Christmas Stefan. David.

Things That Inspire said...

One of my fondest Christmas memories is going to the White House party the last Christmas of George Bush's presidency. The theme was red, white, and blue, and the rooms were simply magnificent. I wish I had been able to read this wonderful tour of the White House before my visit, but it is great reading it now!

The curtains were open revealing the creche, just as you show in your pictures.

My favorite room was perhaps the red room, which was cozy and intimate despite its grandeur and scale.

Hope you have a great Christmas!

Ann said...

Did you ever see the huge Italian creches? My husband was over there for work last Christmas and I almost wish he could have brought one home!

Jeff Freeland said...


McKim's incarnation of the East Room was much more elaborate and plastic, certainly more French than the room which replaced it in the 1952 Truman rebuilt by architect Lorenzo Winslow, with firm oversight by NYC architect William Delano. Winslow flatten or removed details, such as McKim's bell flower stop fluting of the pilasters and the boldly modeled ceiling plaster. Winslow designed more Federal Style embellishments to the profiles and added a healthy dose of 1930s and 40s "Moderne" Federal Style to the mix. But in general, the subdivisions of the wall are the parti established by McKim in 1902

As far as the central eastern window being narrowed goes, the side windows were covered to create a panel wide enough to receive the Gilbert Stuart portrait of Geo Washington (the one saved from the fire by Dolley Madison) and the later matching painting of Martha. As long as that wall is, the portraits did not have room without intruding upon the stiles or pilasters.

This kind of discussion is routine on the FaceBook group "White House by Design". You or your readers may enjoy checking it out. Some pretty excellent scholarship with a Francophile friendly bent is waiting there.

Jeff Freeland said...

One other thing. McKim's somewhat voluptuous mantels were a gorgeous red and cream breccia marble which was very lively and chosen to go with the crimson draperies that McKim envisioned. But, Edith Roosevelt insisted on gold draperies, and the renovation time line was so abbreviated that the red marble stayed, even as the gold drapes were hung.

The simplified and butched-up mantels that Boudin/Kennedy had painted were forced on the 1952 House and Winslow by a Congressman on the right committee and with a red marble quarry in his district. It is distinctly second best and totally boring in character.