Garden Settee. Attributed to Janes, Beebe & Co., New York, c. 1852, Fillmore administration.
During his short term as president, Zachary Taylor refurbished the second-floor family quarters, the area where Margaret Taylor, his ill wife, spent her time. Congress provided the standard $14,000 for furnishings and Taylor purchased dressing bureaus, mahogany washstands, wardrobes, and beds for the family. When he died in July 1850, Millard and Abigail Fillmore moved into the house and successfully gained a special appropriation to establish a library in the second-floor oval room. Washington cabinetmaker William Cripps made mahogany bookcases, rosewood desks and other pieces for the new space. Fillmore loved gardening and also purchased a group of Rococo Revival cast iron garden settees.
Franklin Pierce arrived at the house in 1853, and received $25,000 for the furniture fund, a larger than normal sum. Architect Thomas U. Walter supervised decorative work throughout the staterooms: new marble mantels, new wallpapers, gilded frames for various mirrors, and decorative fresco paintings on the ceilings. The Pierces also ordered a French porcelain dinner and dessert service with blue and gilt decoration, a large service of cut glassware, and several pieces of walnut and mahogany furniture among other things.
Betty C. Monkman, The White House: Its Historic Furnishings and First Families, 111-119.
Decanter and Fruit Basket. E. V. Haughwout, New York, 1866. Andrew Johnson reordered additional pieces of the Lincoln dinner service and glassware because so much breakage had occurred since 1861.
James Buchanan, our only bachelor president, chose his niece Harriet Lane to assume hostess and decorating duties. With a $20,000 furnishings appropriation, Lane purchased a marble clock, serving ware, walnut furniture, china, lighting fixtures, carpets and a gilt-framed mantel mirror, all from Philadelphia. The Blue Room suite, imported from France by James Monroe, was long out of style and went to auction in 1860. It was replaced by a nineteen-piece, gilded Rococo Revival suite, of which a circular divan was the focal point.
When Abraham Lincoln moved into the President's House in 1861 the state floor and private quarters were in a "miserable condition." With the approach of Civil War, Lincoln paid little attention to furniture and decorating. He left the purchases to his wife Mary Todd Lincoln and despite a $20,000 appropriation for furnishings the budget was exceeded. Two supplemental appropriations were needed to pay for a spending spree that included a French porcelain dinner and dessert service, carpets, French wallpapers, draperies, and an ornate, laminated mahogany bedroom suite that included the Lincoln Bed. Successor Andrew Johnson received funds to renovate the now well-worn furnishings and left the arrangements to his daughter, Martha Patterson. By the end of Johnson's tumultuous term in 1869, more than $135,000 had been spent on the repair and renovation of the house.
Betty C. Monkman, The White House: Its Historic Furnishings and First Families, 119-137.
Armchair. Herter Brothers, New York, c. 1875. Herter Brothers made thirteen pieces for the Grant Red Room, including two lady's chairs, one of which survives.
War-hero Ulysses S. Grant, elected after a bitter war and the emotional impeachment of Andrew Johnson, spent two terms in the Executive Mansion. First Lady Julia Grant, with an initial $25,000 appropriation, concentrated on refurnishing the family quarters and executive offices at the east end of the second floor. The Grants purchased Renaissance Revival style furniture with heavy crests, rounded pediments and angular scrolls. For the second term Congress appropriated $100,000 for a major renovation project. In 1873-1874, the Grants supervised a major redecoration of the White House in preparation for their daughter Nellie’s wedding to Englishman Algernon Sartoris. This makeover, epitomized by the Grant’s East Room with its grand gas globe chandeliers became one of the premier interiors of the American Gilded Age (1877-1901). Throughout the staterooms, Herter Brothers, a renowned New York furniture maker, supplied sophisticated furnishings.
Rutherford B. Hayes controversial election in 1876 strained his relations with Congress and two years passed before they appropriated any money for furnishings. In the meantime, Hayes and his wife Lucy, both antiquarians, restored pieces of furniture they discovered in the attic and basement and purchased furnishings at auctions with their own money. The main expenditure of their administration was for a unique state dinner and dessert service decorated with American plants and animals purchased in 1879 for $3,120.
Betty C. Monkman, The White House: Its Historic Furnishings and First Families, 143-156.
Vase. American, c. 1884. Tiffany placed earthenware vases from his shop on either side of Arthur's Red Room mantel.
James and Lucretia Garfield moved into the Executive Mansion in 1881. With $30,000 from Congress, Mrs. Garfield made plans to refurbish the Green Room and ordered a set of ebony furniture. However, by the time it arrived President Garfield had been shot by a disgruntled office seeker and then died a few months later. His successor, Chester Arthur, did not occupy the White House until the house was redecorated to suit his tastes. The rooms were cleared of all damaged and unfashionable furniture. Twenty-four wagonloads of furniture and thirty barrels of old china were sent to auction. Arthur commissioned Associated Artists, of which Louis Comfort Tiffany was a partner, to makeover the house. No furniture was commissioned but stained glass, lighting fixtures, mantels, over mantel mirrors and decorative painting using gold and silver leaf in the style of the Aesthetic Movement were designed for the rooms.
Grover Cleveland and his young bride Frances Folsom bought a private home in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. to protect their privacy and only lived at the White House during the official social season. The Clevelands had the northwest corner room, their bedroom, repapered and ordered some chairs, a wardrobe, and a ladies writing desk to furnish it. Also, a special plush sofa was ordered for the space under the Palladian west window in the second-floor corridor where Frances Cleveland spent time relaxing and entertaining friends.
Betty C. Monkman, The White House: Its Historic Furnishings and First Families, 156-172.
Dinner Fork and Breakfast Fork. Wm. B. Durgin Co., Concord, N.H., 1894. Ordered in 1894 by Frances Cleveland, this pattern is still used for state occasions.
The extended family of Benjamin Harrison stretched the Executive Mansion's available living space to the limit and a number of beds were ordered to accommodate the family. Caroline Harrison was a life-long art student, and her interest in china painting led her to search the White House for old services. She had these repaired and preserved and can be credited with starting the collection of presidential china now displayed in the China Room. She also oversaw the refurbishing of the house after it was wired for electricity in 1891.
Grover and Frances Cleveland returned to the Executive Mansion in 1893. As before, they lived much of the time in a separate home for privacy. The Clevelands made few changes except to redecorate the Red Room with brighter red walls and a neo-classical frieze and to furnish the Cross Hall with a set of dark oak furniture. By the mid-1890s more flatware was needed for state dinners, and the first lady selected a high quality pattern of gilded silver with metal being provided by melting down old, miscellaneous White House flatware.
Betty C. Monkman, The White House: Its Historic Furnishings and First Families, 172-176.
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