250 Years of Decorations in the White House

Gilded Chairs

May 8, 2015

By Dr. Tyra OldhamLANDsds Sustainable Voice News


The Cincinnati Art Museum on May 7 presented the Decorative Arts from the White House. The enriched splendor to peruse the furniture and china over the history of the United States. The Ohio Society presented the 43rd annual Dames Lecture with speaker Melissa Naulin Curator of the White House.

Naulin shared the 250 years of White House decorating through 44 families. Every president was challenged by the decor of White House. President Washington moved from Cherry Street House to Philadelphia House, then Robert Morris House (1790-1797) built-in 1767. Morris House was occupied by Washington and then John Adams through 1797 to 1800.

The White House was under construction in 1792. Upon completion Adams moved in the year of 1800. Naulin offered “One of the most famous designers was Benjamin Henry Latrobe.” Latrobe was the designer of Oval Room. Further, she stated, “The truest decoration started in 1817.”  She said,  “The Blue Room is closest room to a pure room within the White House.”

The White House was decorated to garner respect of the nation. Europe found the White House modest yet still of the dignity and character of the nation. Future presidents were ordered to buy practical furniture.

The White House curation is not only historical but offers tales of the presidential families. Adams was chastised for not finishing the East Wing.  Andrew Jackson spent $50,000 in the White House. Monroe was given this much for the entire White House. Van Buren was accused of taking furniture from the White House, as well as  Mary Todd Lincoln upon her departure. President Hayes was known for the most hideous plate services. Garfield took out sent twenty-four wagons of furniture for sale. Garfield wanted the White House demolished. Moreover, he waited three months to move into  the White House until  it was made proper.

One our most famous Presidents Roosevelt viewed the White House as not large enough. He secured $500,000 to make changes.
Naulin said, “I never realized the impact of Ohioans on the White House such as, Garfield and Roosevelt.” This was followed by laughter from the audience of Ohioans. Roosevelt wanted a new larger State Dining Room.  This room consisted of twenty-four animal heads yet opened the room which laid the foundation for grander decorations. Many years after Roosevelt’s renovation there was very little need to for major changes. Coolidge was given credit for furnishing the House with American antiques.

It was remarkable when Naulin exposed a photo of Truman’s renovation which gutted the White House.  This major renovation changed the White House to the now six stories despite its appearance of two.  During this major renovation steel was added, as well as air conditioning.

The Women of the White House

Todd Lincoln spent their total $60,000 appropriation in six months. She was first women to take charge of house, as well as sign for the purchases. Dolly Madison was also said to have participated in White House decorations.

Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt’s social involvement gave her very little time on House furnishings. She used the budget for furnishings to support her work in national crafts.

Mrs. Eisenhower installed a period room during her time. Ms. Kennedy was the first to publicly display the White House. She created and hired the first curators. Kennedy  loved French furnishings.  The Nixon’s had a leaning toward traditional. The rooms since Nixon have remained stable.


Today there is a new focus on decorative arts versus the fine arts. For the first time in the history of the White House a painting by first Black artist, Alma Thomas resides in the collection.

Naulin closed, “She looks forward to where we will go from here.”


LANDsds Sustainable Voice is a news platform to share interconnected ideas, innovation and observation-The Nexuses.

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Posted in Architecture, Art, Design, Education, Fashion, Government, Sustainability Nexuses, Sustainable Voice, U.S., Voice News

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