The White House Diplomatic Reception Room

A recent post on The Peak of Chic about gorgeous scenic wallpaper reminded me of a collection of photographs I have of the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House. This is one of my all time favorite rooms - I would steal every stick of it if I could! I've been lucky enough to spend time there and study the design, and there's just not a thing I would change.

The "look" - yellow silk damask and the famous Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington. The room is a perfect Oval (as you'll see below) and opens directly onto the South Lawn. At formal State Arrival Ceremonies, a limoisine bearing the visiting head of state comes up the circular South drive, where he or she is greeted by the President and First Lady. After the ceremony, they proceed directly into this room, hence the name. The fireplace you see is where FDR had those "fireside chats." 

Detail of more yellow damask and the intricate wallpaper, which is divided into 32 panels (this one displays the Natural Bridge, of Virginia). The door to the left opens into the lower cross hall, the main thoroughfare through the State Floor. The door to the right opens into the China Room, named for the beautiful displays of historic Presidential china. The photos don't do this space justice - the colors are so rich and vibrant in real life.

A scene from Boston Harbor. We owe these beautiful walls to Jackie Kennedy (as well as most of the other historic pieces in the State Rooms today). The print is by Jean Zuber, of Cie in Rixheim, Alsace, and is called "Views of North America." It dates to 1834, and scenes include Niagara Falls, West Point, Boston Harbor, and the Natural Bridge. The rare paper was discovered rolled up in a farmhouse attic in New England and Jackie immediately snatched it up for this room, installing it in 1961.

The room is decorated in the Federal Period, and most of the beautiful pieces are by New York or New England cabinetmakers. 

A wide view of half the room, facing the South Lawn Vestibule. There are three floors of oval rooms in the White House residence. The Yellow Oval on the top, family, floor; the Blue Room on the main State Floor, where most receiving lines occur; and the Diplomatic Reception Room. Over a century after the White House was built, the West Wing was added, and efforts were made to keep it uniform with the older residence it adjoined. One result was the decision to continue the idea of an oval shaped room into the West Wing. That's the reason we have today's Oval Office.

The vestibule opening onto the South Lawn (as above), seen from the Diplomatic Reception Room. Notice that the intricate wallpaper continues even into this space. The canopy you can just make out through those doors is the famous entrance you'll frequently see pictures of Presidents walking to and from.

A stunning mahagony desk by John Shaw, made in 1797, highlights this side of the room. The rug incorporates emblems from all 50 States. In this view, you can easily see the State symbols woven into the rug border. 

A panel depicting Niagara Falls. Niagara Falls was one of the most interest-exciting natural wonders on both sides of the Atlantic in earlier days. Today it's seen more as a cheesy tourist destination than a stunning natural wonder, but in the 1800s it was considered one of the seminal representations of the New World's landscape, rather how we view the Grand Canyon today.

A close-up shot of the falls. Note the picturesque little steamboat at the bottom.

Last look: A rather bare Diplomatic Reception Room prior to Jackie Kennedy's restoration (courtesy of whitehousemuseum.org).

All images, my own. Please email me for permission to use them. Thanks!


Laura Casey Interiors said...

Such an interesting post- thank you.

Clayton Gray Home said...

That rug with the state emblems is really great! Loved your post and photos!


I would never have thought to look to the White House for inspiration! But you are right, how fabulous!

Averill said...

That's not just wallpaper -- that's art! Thanks for the tour!

Beth Connolly said...

What a lovely room-it is perfect.

Things That Inspire said...

I had the honor of attending the White House Christmas party last year, and had an official picture taken with President and Mrs. Bush in this room. I was so floored at being in the same room as the President that I barely noticed the decor, although a fleeting awareness of the beautiful walls did pass through my brain. Afterwards, when I received the picture, I admired the beauty of the fireplace, the mantle, and the walls - thank you for this post, it allowed me to get an even fuller appreciation of the room!

Renée Finberg said...

the gold/yellow chairs popped right out of my laptop, and onto my lap.

they sure say "hi there!!"

have a nice weekend

lucy@fourwallsandaroof said...

I had no idea the White House would have a room, or indeed any element of interior design, that I would covet! This is not at all how I imagined it would be. It's vibrant, elegant and even comfortable! Those yellow chairs! Great post.

Jenn @ Dear Heart said...

This is an excellent post, I love the history found in these panels. You previously worked in the White House right?

Stephen Embree said...

Thanks for the nice pictures. I agree -- one of the most beautiful rooms in the White House. My great great great great grandfather made that grandfather's clock! His name was Effingham Embree.

Dennis M. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dennis M. said...

Describing Niagra Falls as a "cheesy tourist destination" is more than a little smug and elitist. Niagara Falls itself is as beautiful as it was when Frederick Church painted it and when Charles Dickens described it as one of the most awsome sights on this earth. The Falls continues to draw visitors from all over the world, including heads of state, movie stars, and members of the British Royal Family.


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