Virtual Tour of the Art and Decor of The White House: The Ground Floor

The White House

Ground Floor Corridor

Until 1902, the Ground Floor in the White House served as utilitarian space used by servants. As a result, by the end of the 19th century, James Hoban’s original groin vaulting in the wide corridor of this floor had been cut through in numerous places to accommodate pipes and ducts. The furnace room (now the Diplomatic Reception Room) also jutted into the corridor.

When McKim, Mead, & White created a new guest entrance in the East Wing during the 1902 renovation of the White House, they transformed much of the Ground Floor into public space. All intrusions were removed, the vaulting was restored, and the refurbished corridor received rugs and seating furniture.

At First Lady Edith Roosevelt’s initiative, two cabinets were purchased for the corridor in 1904 to display pieces of dinner and dessert services used by former presidents. Mrs. Roosevelt also decided to hang portraits of first ladies in this space, inaugurating a tradition that has been retained to the present.

Library

Most of the Ground Floor rooms were service areas until the Theodore Roosevelt renovation of 1902; this room was generally used as the laundry. Thereafter it became a gentleman’s anteroom and then a library in 1935.

Originally compiled in 1961 and updated in 2005, the official White House Library contains approximately 2,800 works of American life and thought.

In the modern era, the room has been a favorite for media tapings.

Vermeil Room

The room takes its name from the large collection of vermeil (gilded silver) received by the White House in 1958 as a bequest of Margaret Thompson Biddle, selections of which have been on display in this room ever since. The collection of almost 1,600 pieces contains examples of work by the most prominent English and French silversmiths working in the 18th and 19th centuries. Pieces from the vermeil collection are also on display throughout the house.

Until the end of the 19th century, Ground Floor rooms were the domain of White House servants, who probably used this room as a bedroom or storeroom. During a complete renovation of the White House for President Theodore Roosevelt in 1902, this room became a coat/dressing room for female guests. Later, it was used as an office, waiting room, conference room, and billiard room. Since the Nixon administration, it has served as a sitting room.

China Room

Since 1917, the Ground Floor room known as the China Room has been used as an exhibition space for examples of ceramics, glass, and silver used in the White House or owned by the first families. Throughout the 19th century, this room, like the rest of the Ground Floor, had been used by White House servants. It became a public space in 1902, when it was transformed into a coat/dressing room during the Theodore Roosevelt renovation of the White House.

When she became first lady in 1889, Caroline Harrison continued to pursue the Victorian art form of china painting. This hobby and her interest in history (she was the first president of the Daughters of the American Revolution) led her to take an active interest in collecting and preserving White House tableware used in previous administrations. Although she planned to have a cabinet built in the State Dining Room to display examples of White House china services, her idea was not executed before her premature death in 1892, while her husband was running unsuccessfully for re-election.

In 1901, Mrs. McKinley allowed journalist Abby Gunn Baker to survey the surviving White House service pieces which resulted in a scholarly article. In 1904, Mrs. Roosevelt had two cabinets made for the newly refurbished Ground Floor Corridor to display samples of White House china chosen for this purpose by Ms. Baker, and together they publicized their search for past White House tableware and actively collected examples to supplement what had survived at the White House.

Ellen Wilson decided to devote an entire room to display the growing collection of White House china, but her death in 1914 meant that the “Presidential Collection Room” was not completed until 1917 under Wilson’s second wife, Edith. Abby Gunn Baker was again asked to select and arrange the china, silver, and glassware installed in built-in cabinets around the room.

East Garden Room

This room, at the west end of the East Terrace, is the intersection between the Residence and the East Wing. Double doors in the northwest corner provide entry into the Ground Floor Corridor within the original walls of the White House. The glazed south wall is an extension of the East Colonnade facade, with a door opening into the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden.

Coming down the colonnade, guests first see an enormous bronze bust of Abraham Lincoln by Gutzon Borglum in a niche in the west wall, to the right of which hang display panels - historic photographs most of the year, and often official Christmas cards during the holiday season. Large portraits of four former presidents hang on the other two walls.

Until the end of the 19th century, Ground Floor rooms were the domain of White House servants, who probably used this room as a bedroom or storeroom. During a complete renovation of the White House for President Theodore Roosevelt in 1902, this room became a coat/dressing room for female guests. Later, it was used as an office, waiting room, conference room, and billiard room. Since the Nixon administration, it has served as a sitting room.

Credits: Story

https://www.whitehouse.gov/about/inside-white-house/rooms#rooms

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