Blue Room (White House)

Blue Room (White House)

The Blue Room is one of three state parlors on the first floor in the White House, the home of the President of the United States. It is distinct for its oval shape. The room is used for receptions, receiving lines, and is occasionally set for small dinners. It is traditionally decorated in shades of blue. With the Yellow Oval Room above it and the Diplomatic Reception Room below it, the Blue Room is one of three oval rooms in James Hoban's original design for the White House.

The room is approximately 30 feet by 40 feet. It has six doors, which open into the Cross Hall, Green Room, Red Room, and South Portico. The three windows look out upon the South Lawn.


The Blue Room is furnished in the French Empire style, similar to how it appeared shortly after the rebuilding of the White House following its burning by the British on August 25, 1814 during the War of 1812. A series of redecorating through the 19th century caused most of the original pieces to be sold or lost. Today much of the furniture is original to the room. Eight pieces of gilded European beech furniture purchased during the administration of James Monroe furnish the room, including a bergère (an armchair with enclosed sides) and several fauteuils (an open wood-frame armchair). The suite of furniture was produced in Paris around 1812 by the cabinetmaker Pierre-Antoine Bellangé, and reproduction side chairs and armchairs was made by Maison Jansen in 1961 during the Kennedy restoration. A marble-top center table has been in the White House since it was purchased by Monroe in 1817. A c. 1817 gilded bronze clock with a figure of Hannibal, by Deniére et Matelin sits on the mantel.

The early-19th-century French chandelier is made of gilded-wood and cut glass, encircled with acanthus leaves. Acquired during the Kennedy Administration, it previously hung in the President's Dining Room on the Second Floor. George Peter Alexander Healy's 1859 portrait of John Tyler hangs on the west wall above the Monroe sofa. The sapphire blue fabric used for the draperies and furniture upholstery was chosen by Mrs. Clinton. The silk upholstery fabric retains the gold eagle medallion on the chair backs which was adapted from the depiction of one of the Monroe-era chairs in a portrait of James Monroe. The painting however depicts the chair upholstered in crimson, not blue, showing the original color used for the room.

Design of the blue satin draperies is derived from early-19th-century French patterns. The present drapery design is similar to those installed during the administration of Richard Nixon. Clement Conger, White House Curator at that time, used archive materials from the Society for the Protection of New England Antiquities and the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Department of Decorative Arts as patterns for the drapery.

The walls are hung with a chamois-colored wallpaper imprinted with medallions of burnished gold. It is adapted from an early-19th-century American Empire wallpaper having French influences. The upper border is a faux printed blue fabric drapery swag. The faux fabric border is similar in effect to an actual fabric border installed during the administration of John F. Kennedy. The printed dado border along the chair rail is blue and gold with rosettes. Installation of a new oval carpet, based on early-19th-century designs, completed the renovation project. The design was adapted from an original design for a neoclassical English carpet of about 1815, the period of the furnishings acquired by Monroe for the Blue Room.


The elliptical salon

During the administration of John Adams, the Blue Room served as the south entrance hall, though it has always functioned as the principal reception room of the White House. During the administration of James Madison, architect Benjamin Latrobe designed a suite of classical-revival furniture for the room, but the furnishings were destroyed in the fire of 1814 (see War of 1812). When the White House was rebuilt, President James Monroe redecorated the room in the French Empire style. Martin Van Buren had the room decorated in blue in 1837, and it has remained the tradition ever since, although many administrations have made changes to the decoration. During the administration of James Buchanan the room was refurnished in a Victorian style called Rococo Revival, and a series of increasingly complex highly patterned styles followed until 1902 when the room was returned to an Empire style by Charles Follen McKim during the administration of Theodore Roosevelt.

Truman reconstruction

The Blue Room was completely disassembled and rebuilt during the renovations of the Harry Truman administration. The addition of the Truman Balcony provided shade to the oval portico outside the Blue Room.

Kennedy restoration

The Kennedy administration restoration brought the return of several original Monroe-era chairs designed by Pierre-Antoine Bellangé as well as a pier table, also a part of the Bellangé French Empire suite of furniture. Reproductions of the Monroe armchairs and side chairs were made by Maison Jansen. A French Empire crystal chandelier and four black and gilded bronze wall sconces of the same period were added, as were a pair of gilded bronze winged torcheres. The walls were hung in a striped cream-colored silk satin. A swagged festoon valance of blue silk, woven at the New York workshop of Franco Scalamandré, was hung just below the room's cove moulding. The valance was trimmed in a woven decorative tape in a pattern of medallions reproduced from an early 19th century design and silk bobbin fringe. The same blue silk was used for the drapery fabric. The simple panel drapery was trimmed in galloon and the woven tape used in the valance. Drapery trim and tassel tie-backs were also manufactured by Scalamandre. Upholstery fabric was woven in France by Tassinari et Chatel under the direction of Stephane Boudin of Maison Jansen. A rectangular antique French Empire carpet manufactured at Savonnerie in shades of blue, gold and pink covered the center of the floor. Portraits of early presidents, including one of Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale were hung on the south wall between the windows. The room's ceiling moulding, door frames, dado and wainscot panels were highlighted in gold leaf, a treatment popular during the Empire period, that helped unify the gilded seating pieces with the room itself.

Nixon and Clinton refurbishment

The current appearance of the Blue Room is the result of a renovation and refurbishing completed in 1995 by the Committee for the Preservation of the White House, the White House Office of the Curator, and funded by the White House Endowment Trust. It followed a complete redecoration by Mrs. Nixon in 1971 which retained the Bellange pieces of Monroe but saw the walls covered with wallpaper for the first time since the early 19th century.

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.
* Abbott, James A. "Jansen." Acanthus Press: 2006. ISBN 0-926494-33-3.
* 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 Metropolitan 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.

External links

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

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