Interior of the White House after 1902 redecoration

Washington, D. C.

McKim, Mead, and White, interior designers

McKim, Mead, and White were hired during Theodore Roosevelt's term to work on the White House. They were given a mere four months to complete the job of re-doing the White House, and to build the Executive Office Building beside the White House. The work on the White House evidently proved much more extensive than first thought; a quote from McKim, Mead, and White read, "[I]t was necessary to reconstruct the interior of the White House from basement to attic, in order to secure comfort, safety and necessary sanitary conditions." The wiring, drainage, and other systems had to be replaced or significantly improved. The support under the building had already been shown to be inadequate (for years before the restoration, servants had placed shores and other temporary supports under certain rooms in the White House whenever large crowds were expected, for fear that the floor could collapse), so new supports had to be installed. In addition, McKim, Mead, and White's plan called for weight-bearing walls to be taken out on the main floor of the building (in order to expand the dining room), which meant that the second floor had to be suspended from a steel truss in the attic, rather than resting on support from the main floor.

The electrical wiring was definitely in need of replacement, for it was noticed that the insulation on the wires in many places had burned away. The old drainage system consisted of troughs that carried water through the building; the old system was evidently torn out, and drainage pipes installed on the exterior of the building.

The attic, which held the servant's quarters, was only able to be reached through an elevator, or by a narrow winding staircase leading to a ladder let down from a trapdoor in the attic floor. This was judged to be unsafe in case of a fire, so a different system for reaching the attic was installed.

The greenhouses, or conservatories, which were adjoined to the White House, were torn down for both aesthetic and sanitary reasons.

In addition to the massive changes that were necessary for safety and convenience, McKim, Mead, and White were expected to redecorate the interior of the White House. The team stripped out much of the Victorian extravagance (installed by Louis Comfort Tiffany and others), and decorated the home in Colonial style, with European (particularly French) touches.

Congress appropriated $475,455 to be spent on the White House (an additional $65,196 was given for the building of the Executive Office Building). Despite unexpected expenses, McKim, Mead, and White had a balance of $7,906.10 left when they finished the work.

Entrance, White House

The Entrance Hall in the White House.

Main Corridor, White House

The Main Corridor in the White House.

"The keynote of the interior is thus set by the pure Colonial treatment of the vestibule and the main corridor, the latter with pilastered walls and round arched niches, with electric light standards of beautiful design. The walls are painted Colonial yellow, and a dull red carpet is laid on the center of the stone floor." -- Barr Ferree, American Estates and Gardens, Munn and Company, New York, 1904, p. 41.

Eastroom, White House

The East Room in the White House.

East Room, White House

Second View of the East Room in the White House.

Pianoforte in the East Room, White House

Pianoforte in the East Room.

"The East Room -- unquestionably the most famous room in America -- is entered by the new stairs from the lower hall at its north end. It is a magnificent apartment, eighty feet long, forty feet wide, and twenty-two feet in height. The walls are paneled throughout with wood, save for a base of red Numidian marble, the panels being enclosed between pilasters supporting a finely modeled cornice. Over the doors and above the panels are sculptured reliefs -- twelve in all -- modeling Æsop's fables. The woodwork is wholly in white, with a high enamel finish; the four mantels are of richly colored marble, and the curtains and hangings are of yellow. The floor is superbly polished, and the ceiling, from which hang three immense crystal chandeliers, is delicately enriched with finely modeled ornament. Low stools, covered with the same rich material that is used for the hangings, are arranged around the walls. It is a spacious and mangificent room, very beautifully detailed, and arranged with exquisite taste." -- Barr Ferree, American Estates and Gardens, Munn and Company, New York, 1904, p. 42.

McKim, Mead, and White described the changes in their architects' report: "The walls of the East Room are covered with wood panelling, enameled; the ornamental ceiling is done in stucco, and set in the walls are twelve low relief panels by Piccirilli Brothers, sculptors, the subjects being taken from Aesop's Fables. On each the east and wests sides of the room are two mantels of colored marble, with mirrors over them and candelabra on the shelves. Three crystal chandeliers [made of 6,300 pieces of crystal each] form constituent parts of the decoration, as do also the four bronze standards bearing electric lights, which are placed at the four corners of the room. The window draperies are of heavy yellow silk damask; the banquettes are gilded and carved and are covered with silk velours, and there are four new console tables with marble tops. In this room, as in the other rooms on the drawing-room floor (except in the hall, where stone is used), hardwood floors have been laid, and wainscots have been introduced, of which the lower member has been made of marble of suitable color. The concert grand piano, decorated by Dewing, is the gift of the makers [Messrs. Steinway & Sons]."

Dining Room, White House

The Dining-Room in the White House.

Banquet Hall, White House

The State Banquet Hall in the White House. [Though the picture is identified as the State Banquet Hall, it looks like it is the same room as the Dining Room, above.]

"The State Dining-Room is at the opposite end of the corridor, at the west end of the building. Its original area has been extended by including within it the western end of the main hall. It is now large enough to accomodate a hundred persons at table. Above a marble base the walls are finished with a superb paneling of beautifully grained English oak, enclosed within pilasters of the same rich wood. Splendid Flemish tapestries, illustrating the 'Ecologues' of Virgil, hang against the wall, and to the cornice are fastened fine heads of deer, moose, and other American animals. The mantel is of white marble, the curtains of rich green velvet, the ceiling, in white, is beautifully detailed, and the floor is of polished marquetry." -- Barr Ferree, American Estates and Gardens, Munn and Company, New York, 1904, p. 42.

McKim, Mead, and White enlarged the Dining Room by over 60 percent. With the new arrangements, over one hundred guests could comfortable be entertained. From the architects' report: "A stone chimneypiece, with an antique fire set, has been added. The walls are paneled from flor to ceiling in oak, richly carved; the chandelier and wall branches [sconces?] are of silver, and heads of American game are used around the frieze. The ceiling, in stucco, is elaborately decorated. There is an India carpet in solid color; the table and sideboards are of mahogany, and the chairs are upholstered in tapestry. The draperies are in green velvet. Two tapestries, one bearing a text from Virgil's VIII Ecologue, are of Flemish workmanship of the Seventeenth Century [Note: Woolfall said that the tapestries were from the Sixteenth century]."

The Red Room. Not pictured.

"Adjoining the State Dining-Room is the Red Room, which . . . takes its name from its prevailing color. Its walls are covered with rich red velvet. The mantel is from the State Dining-Room. Many portraits, which formerly hung in the corridor and the east Room, are placed here." -- Barr Ferree, American Estates and Gardens, Munn and Company, New York, 1904, p. 42.

From the architects' report: "The wainscoting of the Red Room is in white enamel, and there is a new cornice. The wall covering and the curtains of red velvet, and the furniture is upholstered in red damask. There is a crystal chandelier and side lights; new andirons, a new mirror between the windows, and an antique rug." Two mantles that had originally been in the state dining room, but no longer fit once the room was enlarged, were moved into the Red and Green rooms during McKim, Mead, and White's work on the house.

The Blue Room. Not pictured.

"The Blue Room is oval in form, and is one of the most exquisitely proportioned rooms in America. Its walls are hung with steel blue ribbed silk, embroidered at the ceiling and above the wainscot with the Greek fret in yellow silk. The windows have heavy curtains, with a gilded eagle over the center of each. The marble mantel is supported by sheaves of arrows tipped with gilt bronze. This room is used by the President for official receptions, and its form and decorations are admirably adapted to ceremonial occasions." -- Barr Ferree, American Estates and Gardens, Munn and Company, New York, 1904, p. 42.

The Green Room and Private Dining Room. Not pictured.

"The Green Room, which adjoins it on the other side, is hung in velvet with a silvery sheen, and, like the Red Room, contains a number of portraits. The mantel formerly stood in the State Dining-Room. The private dining-room, which adjoing the State Dining-Room, has curtains of red velvet. The domed ceiling, like the other ceilings in the house, is white." -- Barr Ferree, American Estates and Gardens, Munn and Company, New York, 1904, p. 42.

Lila Woolfall noted that the private dining room was "in a style essentially colonial, with an attractive color scheme of ivory white and red. The ceiling is domed and the window hangings are of red velvet. The furniture in this apartment harmonizes with the general plan of decoration, it also being distinctly colonial in design."

From the architects' report: "Concerning the Green Room of the present day it may be said that the wall coverings and curtains of green velvet [Lila Woolfall described it as silvery green] are copies from an old piece of Genoese velvet; the marble console table shares with the mantel the distinction of age and grace; the furniture -- upholstered in tapestry -- the rug, the mirror, the andirons, the crystal chandelier and side lights, all are new."

Sepia-toned pictures of the East Room and State Dining-Room from Harry W. Desmond and Herbert Croly, Stately Homes in America: From Colonial Times to the Present Day, D. Appleton and Company, New York, 1903; digital editing by Sarah E. Mitchell. Pictures of Entrance, Main Corridor, Second View of East Room, and State Banquet Hall from Barr Ferree, American Estates and Gardens, Munn and Company, New York, 1904 and are credited to B. M. Clinedinst; digital editing by Sarah E. Mitchell. Picture of pianoforte from Esther Singleton, The Story of the White House, Vol. II, The McClure Company, New York, 1907; digital editing by Sarah E. Mitchell.

Resources used: McKim, Mead, and White's architects' report is quoted extensively in both Esther Singleton, The Story of the White House, Vol. II, The McClure Company, New York, 1907 and Gilson Willets, Inside History of the White House, The Christian Herald, New York, 1908; Esther Singleton added a few explanatory notes in her text. Also consulted were the descriptions of the interior in Lila G. A. Woolfall, Presiding Ladies of The White House, Bureau of National Literature and Art, Washington, D. C., 1903 and Barr Ferree, American Estates and Gardens, Munn and Company, New York, 1904.

Copyright © 2003 Sarah E. Mitchell