Red Room

The president prepares for a press conference in 2009 (Time - Callie Shell)

The Red Room

Fireplace detail


Furnished in the Empire style of 1810-30, the Red Room—one of four state reception rooms in the White House—contains several pieces of furniture from the New York workshop of the French-born cabinetmaker Charles-Honore Lannuier.

This room is about 28 feet by 22 1/2 feet. The elegance of the Red Room furniture derives from a combination of richly carved and finished woods with ormolu mounts (decorative hardware made of gilded bronze) in characteristic designs such as dolphins, acanthus leaves, lion's heads, and sphinxes. The furniture displays many motifs similar to those of the French pieces now in the Blue Room. Egyptian motifs were extensively used in French Empire furnishings following Napoleon's 1798-99 campaign in Egypt, and many of these same designs were adopted by cabinetmakers working in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia.

The furniture in the Red Room dates from the years 1810-1830. All the fabrics now in the Red Room were woven in the United States from French Empire designs. The walls are covered by a red twill satin fabric with a gold scroll design in the border.

The furniture, like the American Empire sofa, is upholstered in a silk of the same shade of red. An early 19th-century design inspired the draperies, made of gold satin with red silk valances and handmade gold-and-red fringe. The carpet—of beige, red and gold—is a reproduction of an early 19th-century French Savonnerie carpet in the White House collection; it was made for the room in 1965. The 13-light French Empire chandelier was fashioned from carved and gilded wood in 1805.


Empire couch as it was when donated to the White House in 1962 and as it is in the Red Room
(WHHA, White House)


Benjamin Latrobe's 1803 drawing of the State Floor indicates that the Red Room served as "the President's Antechamber" for the Cabinet Room or President's Library next door (today's State Dining Room), but in the 1801 inventory, it is listed as the "Breakfast Room." Descriptions in contemporary accounts and bills of sale indicate that Monroe purchased furnishings for the Red Room, as well as for the present day Blue Room, in the prevailing Empire style. This style suited Monroe's desire to furnish the house in a manner that he considered appropriate to the dignity of the nation.

During the Madison Administration the antechamber became the "Yellow Drawing Room" and the scene of Dolley Madison's fashionable Wednesday night receptions. In "the centre of attraction" said a lady who knew her well, one saw "all these whom fashion, fame, beauty, wealth or talents, have render'd celebrated." The room has usually served as a parlor or sitting room; recent Presidents have had small dinner parties here.

In the Lincoln era, journalist Noah Brooks wrote:

[This] is the favorite sitting room of Mrs. Lincoln, where she receives private calls every evening in the week when in town, and where the President usually meets his friends socially after dinner. The furniture is very rich—of crimson satin and gold damask, with heavy gilded cornices to the windows and a profusion of ormulu work, vases, etc., some of which stuff is very ancient, being bought or presented during Monroe's and Madison's administration. There is a grand piano in this room and a full length portrait of Washington; but generally, the walls of the White House are destitute of paintings, the want being remedied by gilded and richly colored hangings.

In the 1962 renovation, Jackie Kennedy chose a muted red over the traditional "fire engine red" of past administrations. In 1971, the Red Room was redecorated, preserving the American Empire style chosen in 1962 during the Kennedy Administration.


More Images

The Red Room in 2008 (C-SPAN)

The Red Room in 2006 at Christmastime (cdhopk)

The Red Room in 2005 at Christmastime (cressonc)

The Red Room in 2002


Historical photos of the Red Room