Red Room (White House)

Red Room (White House)

The Red Room is one of three state parlors on the first floor in the White House, the home of the President of the United States. The room has served as a parlor and music room, and recent presidents have held small dinner parties in it. It has been traditionally decorated in shades of red.

The room is approximately 28 feet by 22.5 feet. It has six doors, which open into the Cross Hall, Blue Room, South Portico, and State Dining Room.


Through most of the nineteenth century the Red Room saw a fast changing series of styles from Empire, Renaissance Revival, Rococo Revival, and the Aesthetic Movement. Furnishings from earlier administrations were sold at auction to fund the acquisition of newer more fashionable furniture.

Most furniture presently found in the Red Room, though antique, was acquired during the Kennedy administration or later administrations. The 1819 Italian marble mantel, with caryatid supports, is one of a pair ordered by President James Monroe and originally installed in the State Dining Room. The two mantels were moved from the State Dining Room to the Red Room and Green Room by the New York architectural firm McKim, Mead, and White during the Theodore Roosevelt administration. The mantel clock is French, c. 1780-85, and was a gift to the American nation in 1954 from President Vincent Auriol of France following completion of the Truman reconstruction of the house (1949-52).

President Theodore Roosevelt selected Charles Follen McKim of McKim, Mead, and White to renovate and redecorate the White House. McKim removed the accumulation of unmatched nineteenth century styles restoring much of the White House to something like the period when the house was constructed. McKim installed the 1819 Italian marble mantel, with caryatid supports, one of a pair ordered by President James Monroe and originally installed in the State Dining Room. The walls were hung with burgundy silk velvet. A late nineteenth century suite of stuffed "Turkish" style furniture was upholstered in the same shade.

Addition of a new attic story during the Coolidge administration placed great strain on the building's structure. By 1951 the house had become unsound and President Truman directed a major reconstruction. The building's interior was largely dismantled, the interior pieces numbered and stored, and an internal steel structure built within the walls. The Red Room was dismantled and reconstructed during this period. Installation of air-conditioning, 1953-54, required the ceiling height be reduced by approximately 18" and new plaster ceilings with a somewhat generic pattern of stars was installed. Having nearly no furniture original to the house, Truman hired the New York department store B. Altman's design department to oversee the refurnishing of the house. In the Red Room a red silk damask in the same pattern as before the reconstruction was installed on the walls.

During the Kennedy White House restoration, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy with advice from interior designer Stephane Boudin selected the American Empire style for the room. The Red Room was the first parlor completed during the restoration. Empire motifs are seen in anthemion, dolphins, acanthus leaves, lion heads, and sphinxes (Egyptian motifs became popular after Napoleon's 1798-1801 campaign in Egypt). Several pieces of furniture by the French-born New York cabinetmaker Charles-Honoré Lannuier including a labeled c. 1810 center table or "guéridon" with gilded bronze mounts and an inlaid top of Italian marble were acquired for the room. It is considered the French-American cabinetmaker's masterpiece. A thirty-six branched French chandelier c. 1805, carved of wood and gilded hangs in the room. Boudin used antique French bronze and tole bouillotte lamps on tables to light the room.

The furniture was upholstered in cerise red silk of the same shade as that on the walls with a pattern of gold medallions, scrolls, and fruit basketscopied from an early 19th century French document provided by Boudin. The wall covering – a corded silk twill, decorative tapes and upholstery fabric were all produced by the American textile manufacturer Scalamandré Silks. Window drapery was simple, straight Napoleonic "campaign" panels of the same silk as the walls, and bordered with the decorative tape used above the dado. An Empire style sofa owned by Nellie Custis, daughter of Martha Washington was acquired and placed in the room. A c. 1815 French Savonnerie rug in shades of red, cream and sage was acquired for the room during the Kennedy restoration and has been copied to prevent wear. The rug features a center medallion of red anthemion with borders of laurel leaf, roses, and medallions similar to the patterns found in the room's upholstery and decorative tapes.

In 1971 the room was redecorated by First Lady Pat Nixon with advice from a new White House curator Clement Conger who collaborated with architect and designer Edward Vason Jones. Conger replaced a generic plaster molding and ceiling medallion installed during the Truman reconstruction with historically accurate molding profiles and a new ceiling medallion.

Conger used the workshop of Franco Scalamandré for textiles, keeping the motif of medallions and scrolls, but changed the red color used by the Kennedys to a warmer more scarlet shade of red. On the south wall of the room between two windows a large gilded bracket was installed to hold a bust of President Martin Van Buren carved by Hiram Powers. A portrait of Van Buren's daughter-in-law, Angelica Singleton Van Buren, painted in 1842 by Henry Inman hangs above the mantel. The portrait includes a representation of the marble bust.

Drapery panels of yellow-gold silk satin with elaborate swags and jabots of red with gold medallions with handmade fringe recall a description of drapery used here during Dolley Madison's day. The curtains were designed by Edward Vason Jones, and are based on historical patterns held by the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (now called Historic New England) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Conger returned use of the decorative tape along the ceiling moulding but not above the dado.

The 2000 refurbishment of the Red Room led by First Lady Hillary Clinton with advice from the Committee for the Preservation of the White House, and White House curator Betty Monkman retained the general form of Clement Conger's 1971 design. The color for walls and upholstery was changed to a deeper carmine red that historians considered more typical of nineteenth century American manufactured textiles. The wide decorative tape, like those used in the Kennedy administration was installed above the dado.

Refurbishments of the White House's historic rooms happen 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 and curator.

Art work

Gilbert Stuart's "Lansdowne portrait of Washington, presently in the East Room originally hung in the Red Room providing the colloquial name the "Washington Parlor." Stuart's 1804 portrait of Dolley Madison also hangs here, along with other portraits, still lifes, and landscapes.


The president's antechamber and early Empire influence

Benjamin Latrobe's 1803 drawing of the White House's first floor indicates that the Red Room served as "the President's Antichamber" (sic) for the president's "Library & Cabinet" next door in the location of the present State Dining Room. Jefferson kept a caged magpie in the room. During the James Madison administration, the antechamber became the "Yellow Drawing Room" and the scene of Dolley Madison's fashionable Wednesday night receptions. James Monroe purchased furnishings for the Red Room in the Empire style, as he had for the Blue Room to furnish the rebuilt White House following its burning by the British in 1814.

A music room

The Madisons, Lincolns, Grants, and Kennedys all used the Red Room as a music room. A guitar, piano and music stands were kept in the room. Today a music stand beside the fireplace recalls that earlier use of the room.

Use through time

President Ulysses Grant, fearing disruption of the transition of power to Rutherford B. Hayes (because of the latter's contested election decided in the Senate) had the new president-elect secretly sworn into office in the Red Room the evening before the inauguration. The Grants used the Red Room as a family living room. Eleanor Roosevelt used the Red Room for meeting with women members of the press. Following the State Funeral for President John F. Kennedy, Mrs. Kennedy received foreign heads of state in the Red Room. The Reagans frequently used this room for official photographs with visiting heads of state. The Clintons favored the room for small dinner parties.

Acquisition of additional furniture

Several acquisitions of period furniture subsequent to the Kennedy restoration replaced four chairs, two card tables and added a small "mixing" table by Lannuier. The most significant recent addition to the room is a tall rectilinear secretary desk attributed to Charles-Honoré Lannuier. It was a gift of the White House Historical Association during the Clinton administration, on the occasion of the two hundredth anniversary of the completion of the house.

References and further reading

* 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.
* Kenny, Peter M., Frances F. Bretter and Ulrich Leben. "Honoré Lannuier Cabinetmaker from Paris: The Life and Work of French" Ébiniste "in Federal New York." The Metropolitian Museum of Art, New York and Harry Abrams: 1998. ISBN 0-87099-836-6.
* Leish, Kenneth. "The White House." Newsweek Book Division: 1972. ISBN 0-88225-020-5.
* 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.
* "Exhibition Catalogue, Sale 6834: The Estate of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis April 23-26, 1996." Sothebys, Inc.: 1996.
* "The White House: An Historic Guide." White House Historical Association and the National Geographic Society: 2001. ISBN 0-912308-79-6.
* "The White House: Celebrating Two Hundred Years 1800–2000." White House Historical Association: 2002. ISBN 0-91-2308-87-7.

External links

* [ White House Web site]
* [ White House Museum's Red Room page] , with many historical pictures

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