State Dining Room

President Obama hosts a state dinner for President Hu Jintao of China in 2011 (White House - Chuck Kennedy)

 

George PA Healy's 1869 portrait of Abraham Lincoln has occupied a place of honor over the fireplace for many years

The President's Dining Room

The State Dining Room, which now seats as many as 140 guests, was originally much smaller and served at various times as a drawing room, office, and Cabinet room. Not until the Andrew Jackson administration was it called the "State Dining Room," although it had been used for formal dinners by previous presidents. The room is expanded from its original size and is now a little less than 49 feet by 36 feet.

During the Eisenhower administration, Mamie Eisenhower regularly decorated the State Dining Room for each holiday, including Halloween skeletons, witches, jack-o'-lanterns, and stalks of corn, and St. Patrick's Day leprechauns, shamrocks, and green ribbon.

History

As the nation grew, so did the invitation list to official functions at the White House. The room that was once Jefferson's library and office became a dining room (and, at times, a billiards room) for state dinners so that the East Room could remain clear for an accompanying reception. It originally had one fireplace on the east wall, but when the house was rebuilt after the 1814 fire, a second fireplace was added on the west wall, which required that the two west windows be blocked, although new windows were eventually cut to open the space to the conservatories.

During the renovation of 1902 by architects McKim, Mead, & White, the room size was enlarged after the main stairway from the west end of the Cross Hall was removed. The two Italian marble mantels installed by Monroe were moved to the Red and Green Rooms; a single larger fireplace was constructed on the west wall and the original window spaces repaired. The architecture of the room was modeled after that of neoclassical English houses of the late 18th century. Below a new ceiling and a cornice of white plaster, natural oak wall paneling with Corinthian pilasters and a delicately carved frieze was installed. A silver-plate chandelier and complementing wall sconces were added.

During the Truman reconstruction, the 1902 mantel was replaced with a green marble mantel. The 1902 mantel was restored during the Kennedy renovation and includes the inscription placed there by Franklin Roosevelt, from a letter by John Adams to his wife written immediately after he first moved into the house in 1800:

 

TR's 1902 renovation inspired one cartoonist to poke fun at the State Dining Room's wildlife decor

I pray Heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this House, and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.

Furnishings

When not set for a state dinner, the mahogany dining table, surrounded by Queen Anne-style chairs, displays part of Monroe's gilt service purchased from France in 1817. The ornamental bronze-doré pieces are used today as table decorations. The plateau centerpiece, with seven mirrored sections, measures 14 feet 6 inches in length when fully extended. Standing bacchantes holding wreaths for tiny bowls or candles border the plateau. Three fruit baskets, supported by female figures, may be used to hold flowers. The two rococo-revival candelabra date from the Hayes administration. Three console tables with eagle supports, made by the AH Davenport Co. of Boston, stand against the walls.

 

More Images

President Obama hosts a meeting in the State Dining Room in 2010 (White House - Pete Souza)

President Obama hosts a meeting in the State Dining Room in 2009 (White House - Pete Souza)

The north wall in 2008; the door to the Butler's Pantry is at left (Daniel)

The drapes in 2008 (S. G. Brooks)

The State Dining Room in 2006 (White House)

The State Dining Room in 2006, looking southwest (White House)

The State Dining Room in 2006, looking northwest into the Butler's Pantry (Spificwoman13)

The State Dining Room in 2005, at Christmastime

President Bush poses with the Northwestern U women's lacrosse team in 2005; this photo caused a stir in the press
when reporters noticed that many of the girls were wearing flip flops rather than shoes (White House | David Bohrer)

The State Dining Room, circa 2004, looking southwest (White House)

The State Dining Room in 2001, at Christmastime (Wasylik)

The State Dining Room, circa 2001, looking northwest (Evan Wagner)

 

Historical photos of the State Dining Room