Archive for the White House Category

Happy 182nd Birthday to our 21st President

Posted in 19th Century, Aesthetic Movement, President Chester Arthur, Tiffany & Comp., White House on October 4, 2011 by babylonbaroque

The 5th of October is President Arthur’s birthday, he is probably my favorite president for all the wrong reasons.He wasn’t in office for terribly long, frankly if Garfield hadn’t been shot we probably wouldn’t remember Arthur. But Garfield was shot, and Arthur became our dandiest president ever. I am so terribly fond of him not because of policy or programs but because he took such a keen interest in redecorating the White House. I’ve explored this theme before, so i will not bore you with details, for a refresher check out this earlier post.

So happy happy Mr. President, thank you for making the White House , at least for a short moment such an aesthetic wonderland.

Chester A. Arthur

21st President of the United States of America

b. October 5th 1829

d. November 18th 1886

Recquiscat in Pace

A bit of the Chester-Tiffany magic, see post for more details.

Reconstruction of the Blue Room under President Arthur, pure magic.

Until next time,

good night,

Babylon Baroque

Good Shabbos Chair #14

Posted in 19th cent., chair, Herter, Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant, White House on September 24, 2010 by babylonbaroque

It has  been some time since I last featured a chair. In my research for the various redecorations of the White House I stumbled upon this fantastic chair by the always wonderful Herter Bros.

One of a pair of “Ladies” Chairs, (this surviving Arthur’s house cleaning, see previous post) created for Mrs. Grant’s Red Room redecoration.

Herter Bros. N.Y. , N.Y.

ca. 1875

Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant

(Julie Dent Grant)

b. Jan. 26th 1826

d. Dec.14th 1902

Apparently Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant was a fun gal, enjoying her role as Hostess in Chief, she entertained regularly. In anticipation of her daughter Nellie’s marrieage to the Brit Algernon Sartoris in 1874, the house underwent extensive redecoration.

East Room ca. 1878

Her East Room redo made a great splash, influencing many a Gilded Age interior.

The lavish globe chandelier really is too much, in the best possible way.

As I said, the Herter chair was from a set of 13 in the Renaissance Revival style, 2  “Ladies”chairs as shown. Not sure if Arthur or Tiffany decided to not use the pair, but this one thankfully survives. Tiffany was instructed by President Arthur to reuse furnishing that were appropriate, Herter Bros. furnishings  was still fashionable I assume.

Red Room with chair visible

ca. 1870’s

I love this sort of post War interior, so lavishly optimistic.

We see the chair once again in 1889, either Cleveland’s first term, or Harrison’s .

Red Room ca. 1889

It really is such a handsome room, even with those ungodly “art” vases.

For a more modest version of the room, I conclude with this image from the Pierce administration.

Red Room ca. 1856

Terribly cozy, I find this so charming.

Well have a lovely weekend ,Good Shabbos !

Aestheticism hits the White House, the Tiffany/Arthur collaboration 1882

Posted in 19th cent., Aesthetic Movement, Lewis Comfort Tiffany, Oscar Wilde, President Chester Arthur, Thom. Ustick Walter, White House on September 21, 2010 by babylonbaroque

Like a fragile St.John preaching in the desert, St. Oscar lands upon our barren shores on January 3rd 1882 ready to preach the Gospel of Aestheticism.

St. John the Baptist



(the above completely gratuitous , hunky men never fail to please)

Oscar Wilde had intended to spend four months cultivating the Cave-people of North America, poor fellow found himself stuck here for a year.

cartoon of Wilde by Keller, 1882

I feel for Wilde, I doubt most Americans were open to his fey notions of  Aesthetic Beauty. We tend to favor a robust expression of architecture, the infestation of Richardson Romanesque piles providing suitable argument.

Yet his wit and taste clearly affected at least one very important dandy, President Chester A. Arthur.

21st President Chester A. Arthur

term Sep. 19th 1881-Mar.4th 1885

20th President James A. Garfield and his Vice President Chester A. Arthur

“Chet” finding himself  President after the tragic assassination of President James A. Garfield, was  confronted with a new home loathsome to his own rarefied tastes. Finding the White House and its decor  outmoded and decrepit; Arthur shed the house of 24 wagonloads of furnishings and 30 barrels of old china. Like many of my readers, I cringe at what was lost.

Foolish where it concerns our heritage, he was quite wise in hiring the young buck Louis Comfort Tiffany, son of his friend Charles Lewis Tiffany. Tiffany the younger had recently formed the design firm Associated Artists. Arthur assigns them the commission to redecorate the Entry Hall, East Room, Blue Room, Red Room, and State Dining Room in 1882. The decision was made not to redecorate the Green Room. Furnishings were not to be commissioned, but architectural enhancements such as glass screens, lighting, and decorative finishes were to be employed to create this Aesthetic Palace we know as the White House.

a youthful Louis Comfort Tiffany

The Entry Hall

The Entry had long posed a problem in its draftiness. In 1837 President Martin Van Buren installs a decorative screen to combat the problem. In 1853 President Franklin Pierce hires the Philadelphian architect Thomas Ustick Walter to fashion a more agreeable screen. This screen was apparently handsome enough for Tiffany to fabricate his own wonder upon it’s skeleton.

This scene from 1881 shows the Walter screen of 1853

Tiffany transforms the Entry Hall into a harem worthy of any Pasha’s attention.

Entrance 1882

Tiffany’s jewel like vision was not to be long lived. The delicate red, white, and blue opalescent splendor  was not suitably American for Teddy and his Big Stick. Soon enough, that Big Stick would send crashing to the ground all that Aesthetic prettiness.

ca. 1889

either the Cleveland or Harrison administration.

ca. 1893

Cleveland administration.

The skeleton of the Walter’s screen very visible.

I like the eagle motif between the arches.

ca. 1894

Cleveland administration.

I particularly like the ungodly overmantle decoration. not sure if its Tiffany’s doing. Seems a bit un-Aesthetic, but is typical of my preference for the vulgar.

The Roosevelt Big Stick has entered the room!


The 26th President,Theodore Roosevelt’s

the McKim, Mead, & White renovation full steam ahead.

A tragic and beautiful image, reminiscent of Pompeii.

ca. 1903

Almost completed and ready for its close up.

As I mentioned Tiffany was in charge of the Red, Blue, Dining, and East Room, I will present a few glimpses.

Red Room

ca. 1883

Tiffany’s dreamy vision

ca. 1888

Mrs. Cleveland tainted the Aesthetic purity with conventional touches, the Asian vases selected by Tiffany, replaced with the following commonplace urns.

(do like the lampshade.)

The Blue Room

I’ve discussed this room before, but it’s worth revisiting.

ca. 1882

Note the patriotic shields in the ceiling decoration, proving  Aestheticism can indeed be red blooded American.

ca. 188g

digital reconstruction by Nest magazine.

The East Room

ca. 1883

I was unable to find any images of the State dining Room attributed to Tiffany, the following is dated the 1880’s. It may have been from the Garfield administration. It’s pretty conventional, so that is most likely.

ca. 1880’s

I’ll bet you a nickel it ISN’T Lewis Comfort’s work.

As I said this Eastern Splendor was short-lived.

The magnificent glass screen which had cost $15,000.00 to fashion, was auctioned off in 1902  for $275.00. The screen ultimately met its sad end when its new home the Belvedere Hotel in Chesepeake Maryland burnt to the ground. For more information concerning the ill-fated screen follow this link

As in all things, ashes to ashes and dust to dust.

Have a great week.

Feeling Blue in the White House; the Blue Room and it’s various incarnations.

Posted in 18th century, 19th cent., 20th century, Aesthetic Movement, architecture, bergere, President Chester Arthur, Tiffany & Comp., White House on September 8, 2010 by babylonbaroque

I have read that blue is the color favored by most folks, men in particular. After having been critical of President Obama’s timid attempts at redecoration , I thought it fair to show examples of color.

Beginning with the beautiful Blue Room seemed appropriate.

An early depiction, ca. President Pierce , in office 1853-1857

Old Abe didn’t do much with the place, perhaps the fancy bed Mary bought had created enough outrage.

Lincoln reception in the Blue Room.

Lincoln presidency

March 1861- April 15th 1865

Recquiscat in Pace President Lincoln

As I am now engaged in study concerning Reconstruction, President Andrew Johnson is of interest to me.

Apparently a stubborn , willful man, and a racist to boot. His decorating, left to the hand of his daughter,seems a bit rigid for my taste.

Blue Room during the Johnson administration, 1865-1869

President Andrew Johnson

Note: Andrew Johnson was the first U.S. President to be impeached.

Good old  Ulysses does a bit of redecorating. He was responsible for the new carpet, the sconces , and the impressive gasolier.

Blue Room, ca. 1874

Ulysses S. Grant administration 1869-1877

Swell guy.

My favorite Dandy President, “Elegant Arthur”, made the greatest impact. In a future post I will explore his tastes more thoroughly, but for now I will focus on the Blue Room. “Chet”, a man of fashion and style wisely chose the forward thinking Louis Comfort Tiffany to redecorate his new digs.

Blue Room refurbished by Tiffany for President Arthur, administration 1881-1885

Note the Aesthetic paper, the wild Starburst sconces.


Official White House portrait

President Chester (Chet) Arthur

We mustn’t forget to thank the always fabulous Louis Comfort.

Louis Comfort Tiffany

ca. 1880’s


Note: for years I dated a madly wonderful fellow, direct descendent of  L.C. Tiffany; the physical resemblance striking.

The collaboration truly dazzled as this coloured reconstruction demonstrates.

via Nest magazine

Recquiscat in Pace Nest magazine.

The following, another coloured depiction , ca. 1887, shows that President Cleveland made few if any changes.

Blue Room during President Grover Cleveland’s administration, 1885-1889

President Benjamin Harrison seems to have made a few patriotic changes. Do I detect a Federal crest on the ceiling?

Out with that pansy Aesthetic stuff.

What will they think, that we’re England!!

Blue Room , ca. Harrison administration 1889-1893

Another coloured view , ca. 1898, William Mc Kinley’s administration.

Blue Room, Mc Kinley administration 1897-1901

I love Teddy Roosevelt, our only self admitted Imperialist President. I love how he brashly swept away the  fusty Victoriana, bringing in his own bold ,taxidermic splendour.

The following is what he inherited.

ca. 1901

And the following to suit his own distinct taste. Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my…

Blue Room Splendor

Theodore Roosevelt Administration 1901-1909

I love the Imperial lambrequin.

The room seems to undergo few interesting changes ,

at least according to my own humble opinion.

Truman tarts it up a bit in ’52.

Blue Room

Administration of Harry S. Truman


Re-using Teddy’s window treatment.

It isn’t until Her Majesty Jackie ascends the throne that the magic returns.

We haven’t seen such beauty since the Tiffany/Arthur collaboration.

Drawing inspiration from the James Madison administration ( 1709-1717), a stunning room is revealed.

Blue Room

Kennedy Administration


Thank you Mrs. Kennedy


I find it of interest that President Nixon felt it necessary to redecorate such a perfect room.

I do admire the chutzpah of the Napoleonic candelabra, a room should reflect it’s occupant.

Blue Room

ca. administration of President Richard Nixon


(As in the Nixon Oval Office, I admire the grandeur and color of the window dressings.)

Apparently the room needed further freshening up.

Here we have  Hillary acting as Decorator-in Charge.

I don’t know why I find this so amusing. She doesn’t look terribly comfortable in the role.

In closing , a detail of a Blue Room bergère, upholstered in Scalamandre silk.

Blue Room bergére

ca. 1815

Pierre-Antoine Bellange

L’Shanah Tovah my friends!

A Fresh Coat of Bland, the Oval Office Redecoration.

Posted in architecture, Oval Office, White House on September 1, 2010 by babylonbaroque

As I was reading this morning’s New York Times I was greeted with the news that our President had redecorated the  nation’s Seat of Power, the Oval Office.

I was left deeply unimpressed, how did we become so Beige!

The rooms flaxen decor reminds me of any expensive hotel eager to cocoon you in it’s monochromatic safety. The room gave me no indication of Mr. Obama’s real interests, although the new oval carpet included several quotes he is said to treasure. But aside from that personal detail the room is yet again another example of his decorator Michael Smith’s rarefied yet sterile aesthetic (I assume Smith was in charge).

It is a celebration of blandness with a chorus of wheat, oatmeal, and putty. No wonder Mr. Obama’s detractors criticize his apparent lack of emotion. No- Drama- Obama has gone  way too far in his pursuit of understatement.

Obama Redecoration of the Oval Office.

Subtle or boring as hell?

sourced from NYTimes

Apparently the decoration of the Oval Office has not been a pressing priority for most of the presidents. Eisenhower and Carter didn’t even bother, but most have at least switched out the rugs and window furnishings.

The Oval Office is a relatively new room. Our Decorator In Chief, the house mad Jefferson complained about the presidential palace being too cramped for domesticity and national function. In 1885 what is now the West Wing was a series of glass conservatories in which the White House’s floral needs were met. As you can see by this post card, they needed a heck of a lot of flowers.

ca. 1885

It seems Big Stick Teddy decided to take matters into his own hands and tore down those sissy flower cradles. Wisely hiring McKim, Mead, & White to handle the extensive project. This image of the entrance hall is an example of their skill and taste.

ca. 1902

Of course Teddy’s bravado was not immune to criticism , this 1902 cartoon lambasts Roosevelt’s manly excesses. I wish I could find a actual image of the room, I would probably love it.

I particularly like the human trophies in the ceiling dome, nice little touch.

Although the renovation was extensive, the Oval Office still did not exist. Roosevelt used what is now the Roosevelt Room as his West Wing Office.

ca. 1904

Charming in it’s modesty, yet still personal.

President Taft as part of the expansion of the West Wing, created the Oval Office.

William Howard Taft’s Oval Office

ca. 1909

I like the choice of olive green,masculine, powerful, dignified.

Refreshingly not red-white-0r-blue.

ca. 1909

Detail of valance decoration, they were used through F.D. Roosevelt’s presidency. A wise move, easily the most handsome window furnishings we will see, window treatments became increasingly more pretentious.

Truman ultimately retires them, an unfortunate decision.

Oval Office ca. 1923

The black crepe is in honor of President Harding,having suffered a fatal heart attack that year.

His vice president Calvin Coolidge now occupied the Oval Office.

ca. 1925

I have a ridiculous fondness for early electrical fixtures, this clunky Neo-Georgian with ungainly bulbs is particularly charming.

In 1929, on Christmas Eve, a fire destroyed what is now known as the Original Oval Office.

Fire damage ca. 1929

The room is rebuilt by  Herbert Hoover according to the original plans. It is unclear to me but apparently F.D.R. , after further expansion and remodeling moves the Oval Office to the southeast corner of the West Wing.

F.D. Roosevelt’s office, ca. 1945

Note the hint of  the still handsome valance, soon doomed  for retirement under Truman.

I really like this room , rich in WASPy clutter.

Truman’s newly “improved” office

ca. 1947

Eisenhower’s take on the Oval Office

ca. 1956

Did Mamie choose the little soldiers on the mantle piece?

Under Her Majesty Jackie and her Franco decorator ,Stéphane Boudin, the White House underwent many improvements.

But for some time the Kennedy Oval Office was a rag tag collection of Truman and Eisenhower leftovers and frankly kitsch.

ca. 1961

PLEASE explain the illuminated globe/spinning wheel thingie.

JFK seems comfy.

Perhaps the most tragic example of redecoration  is the Kennedy Oval Office, as Kennedy was being assassinated the decorations were being installed.

Recquiscat in Pace President Kennedy.

The ill fated Kennedy Oval Office

ca. 1963

Dismantled soon after the assassination.

For a time L.B. Johnson uses the red carpet and window furnishings.

ca. 1964

Note the ever popular “Resolute ” desk is not in use. Perhaps the happy memories of John-John playing in his father’s office was too recent for dignity.

I leave tragedy behind and jump forward to more recent incarnations, some surprisingly colorful.

President Ford

ca. 1974

re-using Nixon’s imperial yellow decor.

Ronald Reagan’s last day in office

ca. 1989

George H. W. Bush

ca. 1991

Handsome window furnishings.


ca. 1996

George W. Bush

source New York Times

In closing I show a detail of the carpet chosen by Mr. Obama, I’m happy that it continues the tradition of repeating the ceiling ornament.

In memory of JFK, I include this always delightful clip of Jackie’s tour, we have all heard it of course, but her patrician lisp is always a delight.

God love her.

Good Night