Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

To those of you who celebrate, Merry Christmas! I hope you are all enjoying my White House tour, I know I am. Thank you so much for your informative comments. I have to admit I sadly know very little about this important building's history and am enjoying the lesson!

Friday, December 24, 2010

White House; State Dining Room

The State Dining Room owes its existence to the work done by McKim, Meade and White in 1902. Prior to this time, the room was half the size. When the main staircase was moved to its present location, the dining room was able to be doubled in size and now can seat up to a presidential 140 guests.
Oddly enough, this room from the 1902 renovation is the most original to the house since the woodwork survived the 1950 gut remodel mostly intact.However, it did need to be patched and so the woodwork was painted a mint green. Below you can see the room with its original unpainted wood finish from 1904.
As with the East Room, Boudin created a more elegant room by painting the walls in ivory. He also had the original silver plated chandelier and sconces gilded. The sconces were moved from their original location, mounted on the pilasters, to the walls in between; a much more appropriate location (what was McKim thinking?).
The current draperies date from the Clinton administration, as chosen by their designer Kaki Hockersmith. The fabric is colonial revival and the walls were painted a warmer stone color, while the ceiling was painted a complex white to more closely match the McKim unpainted plaster finish.One poor decision I think was that the gilded chandeliers were given a shiny finish, which to me makes them appear like brass. I think I would prefer the original silverplate, don't you?
Here is a detail shot of the fine wood paneling by McKim.
The console tables with eagle bases had been painted and gilded during Boudin's renovation of the room (ivory, to blend in with the walls), but the Clinton's had them returned to their original mahogany finish.
Above the fireplace is the Lincoln portrait by George Healy which Boudin had restored and it has remained since. Join me next week as I continue the tour!

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.

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!

Monday, December 20, 2010

White House entry halls

Last night I had the opportunity to tour the White House for the first time and see all of the holiday decor.
Everyone knows this iconic building and the history is taught to school children the country over. I was embaressed to admit I had never visited given that it's a mere 4 blocks from my apartment!
Everyone says their first impression is that it's small, but that was not mine. It's a BIG house! However, I thought it felt sort of institutional and not residential at all, did anyone else ever get that impression? It could have been the crowds of tourists that led me to feel this.

Today I'm going to show some of the details I noticed in the entrance and cross halls - probably my favorite parts of the house; certainly the most elegant that I was able to see.
The space was dramatically lit, which probably helped my impression! I loved the uplit tree branches in the oversized urns.
The first of many trees greets you, flanking the colonnade.
I thought these drapery rods were unusual and interesting!
A portrait of Bill Clinton above an empire daybed sits on the right of the entry beside the fireplace -certainly a place of honor?
Across the entry hall from the fireplace is the grand staircase where we have all seen pictures of our many presidents before formal occasions, draped in poinsettias for the season.
Directly across the hall from the front door is the seal of the president over the blue room. As the hall is relatively monochrome, it really makes a statement!
The cross hall was probably the most beautiful room in the house. The pink and white marble checkered floor really gleamed in the light. No wonder so many presidential press conferences are held in the East Room with the hall as a backdrop.
I think these photos say more than a thousand words on how multiple lighting sources create a good effect!
A detail of the urns.
These chandeliers which line the cross hall really are stunning!
More poinsettias drape the entry to the State Dining room.
The mouldings are all intricate and obviously well cared for. They could have been made recently -no gloopy paint in sight!
Behind the main staircase was this empire settee. Now, the White House is full of Empire furniture, which I'm not a huge fan of -does anyone know why? A piece or two mixed in is great but a whole house full?
A bust of George Washington lies in the niche between the entrance hall and state dining room.
On the opposite side of the Cross Hall, Lincoln lies in the niche right before the East Room
Lafayette is in a niche in the overdoor of the beautiful cherry doors which lead to the back staircase.
Stay tuned tomorrow for more interiors from the White House!