The Green Room
James Hoban, the original architect of the President's House, intended that the space now called the "Green Room" be used as a "Common Dining Room." An 1801 inventory revealed that first residents President and Mrs. John Adams actually used it as a guest bedchamber. However, the next chief executive, Thomas Jefferson, did serve meals in this room. Jefferson may have foreshadowed its famous color scheme when he placed a "canvass floor cloth, painted Green" under his breakfast table. After the British set fire to the house in 1814, James Hoban restored the house and installed fashionable Federal style woodwork that differed greatly from the original Georgian-style décor that had burned.
In 1818, James Monroe decorated the room with green silks, and it became his "Card Room." Guests gathered at two tables, playing whist by the light of a suspended candelabrum that could be lowered on pulleys for easy maintenance. John Quincy Adams was first to name the space the "Green Drawing Room." Since that time it has remained a green drawing room, traditionally serving as a parlor for teas and receptions and, occasionally, for small formal dinners.
Not all shades of green used in the room have pleased visitors. Andrew Jackson's choice provoked unfavorable comments from the ladies, who found it "odious… from the sallow look it imparts." Styles in the room changed frequently in the 19th century as tastes changed. John Tyler refurbished the room as a parlor for displaying portraits of his family. In 1881, Lucretia Garfield's refurbished the room in a highly patterned décor that President Chester Arthur considered outmoded, but the incoming president left it unchanged.
Charles McKim renovated the White House for President Theodore Roosevelt in 1902. In the Green Room, the architect covered the walls in green velvet and relocated a white marble mantle from the State Dining Room. Originally purchased by James Monroe in 1817, the mantle's neoclassical figures and design complemented the early 19th century revival McKim hoped to create. Twenty years later the Coolidges continued a Federal period revival when they selected authentic early 19th-century furniture for the Green Room.
Architect Lorenzo Winslow directed the design of a complete reconstruction of the interior of the White House during the Truman administration. Winslow kept the Monroe mantle in the Green Room and then restored Hoban's original design for the room's cornice. Completely refurbished in 1971 under Patricia Nixon's supervision, the room's walls were covered with green watered silk fabric first chosen by Mrs. Kennedy in 1962. Mrs. Nixon's preservation efforts on behalf of the White House included substantial historic furniture acquisitions between 1969 and 1974. Fine sophisticated furniture attributed to master New York cabinetmaker Duncan Phyfe, including a Sheraton secretary desk and two pedestal pier tables, were acquired at this time.
Remarkable works of art grace the Green Room walls, among them a recent acquisition, Georgia O'Keefe's "Bear Lake, New Mexico," painted in 1930. "Sand Dunes at Sunset, Atlantic City" by Henry Ossawa Tanner dates from about 1885 and was the first painting by an African American artist to be added to the permanent White House Collection. The oil portrait of James Polk is a noted work by George P. A. Healy.
Gilbert Stuart's portraits of John Quincy and Louisa Adams also hang in what they called their "Green Drawing Room." They keep a watchful eye on the fine silver displayed here, including a Sheffield coffee urn. The urn was a prized family possession, and is engraved with the letters "JAA" for John and Abigail Adams.