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sage-green

Green Room (White House)

The Green 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 used for small receptions and teas. During a state dinner guests are served cocktails in the three state parlors before the president, first lady, and visiting head of state descend the Grand Staircase for dinner. The room is traditionally decorated in shades of green.

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

Furnishings

Descriptions of the Green Room's furnishings before the 1814 fire are limited. Following the 1816 rebuilding inventories suggest the room initially contained French Empire items bought by President James Madison. Throughout most of the nineteenth century the room was decorated in a series of revival styles. In 1902 a major renovation, guided by historical research, was implemented by the architectural firm of McKim, Mead, and White. Layers of complex Victorian ornamentation was replaced by a style called Colonial Revival which was more similar to how the house was initially furnished. Heavily patterned floral wall covering was replaced by a simple green silk velvet. The c. 1852 Renaissance Revival mantel was replaced by a French Empire mantel purchased by President Madison in 1819. A suite of reproduction French Directoire upholstered chairs and white painted caned reproduction English Regency furniture replaced a suite of overstuffed Turkish style sofas and chairs. Subsequent twentieth century presidents mostly maintained what could be described as an "Colonial" appearance with largely reproduction furniture.

The Kennedy restoration, begun in 1961, brought a more academic yet dramatic approach to the decoration of the Green Room. Henry Francis du Pont of the Winterthur Museum, with influence of French interior designer Stéphane Boudin, selected the Federal Style for the Green Room. Several significant pieces of antique furniture were acquired and placed in the room. Chief among these were a sofa once belonging to Daniel Webster and John and Abigail Adam's neoclassical silver hot-water urn. A labeled secretary made by Baltimore cabinetmaker Joseph Burgess and was placed between the windows on the south wall. Four lolling chairs or "Martha Washington" chairs, upholstered in a white and green neoclassically patterned silk were acquired. A late 18th century English Axminster carpet in a neoclassical pattern of an architectural medallion surrounded by rosettes, and anthemion in shades of taupe, sage green and pink was donated by an anonymous donor. The walls of the Green Room were hung with a moss green watered-silk chosen by Jacqueline Kennedy and Stéphane Boudin in 1962 and manufactured in France by Tassinari et Chatel.

Clement Conger, the new White House curator appointed during the Nixon administration, had completed substantial Chippendale and neoclassical interiors at the United States Department of State. In the Green Room as well as in the Blue and Red Rooms, Conger addressed correcting the generic traditional plaster moldings installed during the Truman reconstruction, installing historically accurate crown molding and ceiling medallions. Conger commissioned Edward Vason Jones and David Byers to design new draperies of striped cream, green, and coral silk satin. Conger and Jones cited illustration shown in an early nineteenth century pattern book belonging to the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (now called Historic New England). Coral and gilt ornamental cornices were constructed and installed above the windows. They are topped by a hand-carved, gilded American eagles with outspread wings. The eagle was a favorite decorative motif of the Federal period. The cornices are similar to those in the library of the Miles Brewton House in Charleston, South Carolina, and the South Drawing Room of the Sir John Soane House in London. The American textile workshop of Franco Scalamandré produced a copy of the Kennedy era moss green watered silk to be rehung on the walls. On the west wall above a Duncan Phyfe sofa, hang a pair of gilded girandole bull's eye wall sconces. Today the room contains several major pieces by the Scottish born New York cabinetmaker Duncan Phyfe. They include a pair of work tables, side chairs with scroll arms, two card tables, and a pair of window benches. These replaced the more delicate Federal-era furniture approved by Mr. DuPont and Mrs. Kennedy in 1962.

The Green Room was refurbished during the summer of 2007 by First Lady Laura Bush with advisement from the Committee for the Preservation of the White House, Bush family interior deisgner Ken Blasingame, and White House curator William Allman. The refurbishment retained most of the Nixon era Conger and Vason Jones design. Walls were again hung in a watered silk, a treatment originating during the Kennedy restoration, but this time in a more vertical and largely scaled moiré pattern of a darker shade. The coral color in the upholstered chairs and in the striped drapery fabric was intensified to a more vibrant shade bordering on vermilion. The drapery recreates Edward Vason Jones' 1971 design but with the more intense vermilion in the silk and the painted cornice. The drapery design was simplified by removing four large tassels but retained the large bobble-fringe of the Nixon-era design. The green Turkish Kilim carpet installed in the Nixon administration was replaced by a new rug woven in the style of a French Savonnerie. It is somewhat similar in design to an antique Savonnerie acquired for the Red Room by Stéphane Boudin. As a part of the refurbishment the painting The Builders by Jacob Lawrence was acquired for the Green Room by the White House Acquisition Trust.

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.

History

The room was intended by architect James Hoban to be the "Common Dining Room." Thomas Jefferson did use it as a dining room and covered the floor with a green-colored canvas for protection. Over the years, presidents and first ladies have used the Green Room as a small parlor for hosting guests and encouraging informal conversation. President James Madison signed the nation's first declaration of war in the Green Room (see War of 1812). James Monroe used it as the "Card Room" with two tables for playing whist. It wasn't until the 1820 that room came to officially be called the "Green Drawing Room" during the John Quincy Adams administration. The Lincolns' dead son Willie was laid out in the Green Room, and President Lincoln's body was brought to this room after his assassination for embalming. The room has seen happier times as well. Grace Goodhue Coolidge displayed what some considered risqué Art Deco sculpture here and used the room for small parties with friends. Eleanor Roosevelt entertained Amelia Earhart here, and President Kennedy thought it the most attractive and restful room on the state floor.

Notes

References and additional 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.
  • 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.
  • The White House: An Historic Guide. White House Historical Association and the National Geographic Society: 2001. ISBN 0-912308-79-6.

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