The Red Room

Benjamin H. Latrobe's 1803 drawing of the State Floor indicates that the Red Room served as "the President's Antichamber" for the Cabinet Room and President's Library next door. During the Madison administration, the room became Dolley Madison's famous salon. A sunflower yellow, not red, dominated the room's d├ęcor. Visitors were received at her famous Wednesday night receptions in the "blazing splendor" of this room. The Red Room traditionally has served as a parlor or sitting room; recent Presidents have had small dinner parties here. The Madison's style of entertaining came to an abrupt end on August 24, 1814 when the British invaded Washington and burned the mansion. President James Monroe moved into the restored house in 1817. He strived to bring a cosmopolitan taste to the state floor, decorating the rooms in the prevailing Empire style. During John Tyler's administration, this room became the "Washington Parlor," when the large Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington, now in the East Room, was displayed here at that time. Yellow dominated the color scheme until 1845, when President and Mrs. Polk furnished the room with a dark crimson French Antique style suite and a ruby carpet. Soon the "Washington Parlor" became the "Red Room."

On March 3, 1877, the Red Room was the scene for the historic swearing-in of President elect Rutherford B. Hayes. Political tensions ran high after his bitterly contested election over Samuel J. Tilden, so Hayes secretly took the oath of office at the White House. Inauguration Day fell on a Sunday that year, and this swearing-in avoided a 24-hour delay in the transfer of power and any perceived danger of a coup. President Ulysses Grant slipped away from a dinner party in the next room to attend the ceremony. Hayes took the oath of office again in public on March 5 on the east front of the Capitol without incident.

In 1882, President Chester Arthur commissioned Louis Tiffany to redecorate the Red Room. The walls were painted Pompeiian red with a richly decorated tawny red frieze of abstract stars. Tiffany embellished the room with a cornice and ceiling medallion stenciled in gold leaf and the ceiling's star pattern was finished in gold and copper tones. The designer also added a new cherry mantel, stained a deep amaranthine red inlaid with brown, amber, and brown-amber red glass tiles that changed in tone with the light.

Throughout the 19th century, the room was often used as a music chamber and contained instruments, such as a pianoforte and guitar ordered by Dolley Madison. Sunday evenings were popular for family gatherings in the Red Room, and President and Mrs. Lincoln frequently used the space for informal entertaining.

With Theodore Roosevelt's major state room renovations of 1902, architect Charles McKim retained the room's red velour walls and strongly contrasted them with the new snowy white neoclassical woodwork. He also moved a striking white marble mantle from the State Dining Room, purchased during the Monroe administration, into the Red Room. Edith Roosevelt displayed her doll collection in the Red Room and, at her suggestion, the portraits of first ladies that traditionally hung in this area were moved to the Ground Floor Corridor.

President Harry Truman's interior renovations, directed by project architect Lorenzo Winslow between 1948-1952, retained the neoclassical design of McKim Mead and White. He reinstalled Monroe's white marble mantle in the rebuilt Red Room and added a replica of Hoban's cornice.

The present appearance of the Red Room was inspired by the 1971 redecoration that preserved the American Empire style selected in 1962 during the Kennedy administration. The elegance of the Red Room furniture derives from a combination of richly carved and finished woods with decorative hardware made of gilded bronze in characteristic designs such as dolphins, acanthus leaves, lion's heads, and sphinxes. 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. The carpet—of beige, red and gold—is a reproduction of an early 19th-century French Savonnerie carpet in the White House collection. The 36-light French Empire chandelier was fashioned from carved and gilded wood about 1805.

Notable potraits displayed in the Red Room include an 1842 portrait of Angelica Singleton Van Buren by Henry Inman, and Gilbert Stuart's 1804 portrait of Dolley Madison.

A tea-party in the Red Room hosted by Zachary Taylor, c. 1850

A tea-party in the Red Room hosted by Zachary Taylor, c. 1850


The Red Room during the Hayes administration, c. 1877

The Red Room during the Hayes administration, c. 1877


The Red Room after the 1952 Truman Renovation

The Red Room after the 1952 Truman Renovation


The Red Room, 1990s

The Red Room, 1990s