The White House’s Empire Furniture

Empire furniture followed the Neoclassical movement of Louis XVI in France.   Empire themes stated in the early 19th century and was named after Napoleon who ruled France.   Empire furniture can be found in every country which also developed their name fom this same reference.  One of the most famous empire designed rooms is the Blue Room of the White House.  During the Madison administration, architect Benjamin Latrobe designed a suite of classical-revival furniture for the room, but only some working drawings remain of the original room, as the furniture was destroyed in the fire of 1814.  The room was reconstructed with French Empire furniture similar to how it did prior to the burning in 1814. 

 Among some of the important and oldest furniture in the White House are some the original furniture ordered by President Monroe from Parisian cabinet-maker Pierre-Antoine Bellangé after the fire of 1814.  President Monroe ordered the French empire theme furniture in mahogany. The company, however, sent gilded pieces, which they believed were more appropriate for an official setting.

The suite consists of 53 pieces with crimson silk with laurel leaves and eagles in two shades of gold.  {1 pier table, 2 sofas, 18 (open armchairs ) fauteuils , 2 bergères(enclosed arm chairs), 18 side chairs, 4 upholstered stools, 6  footstools, and 2 screens.}   Unfortunately, much of the furniture was sold off as a way of acquiring new furniture.  Some of the original pieces were reacquired during the Kennedys’ push to collect original White House furnishings.

The Blue Room is located in the center of the State Floor of the White House where the President formally receives guests. The oval room was uniquely designed host formal receptions. As the presidents guests mingle, and form a circle around him, the president would stand in the center of the room to greet them.  The concept of an oval room leaves no one stuck in a corner, and everyone has equal distance from the president.

White House Photo by Pete Souza ~ The Blue Room’s Empire Furniture

The passage between the Blue Room and the Green Room, 2009

The White House’s Blue Room Empire Furniture Picture Credit From The White House Blog

Blue Empire Sofa The White House

Mantel in the Blue Room of the White House with ormolu candlesticks and case clock with of a figure of Minerva by Pierrre-Philippe Thomire.

The Nixon redesign of the Blue Room in 1975

Blue Room In The White House.   President Monroe redecorated  the large oval room after the fire, he used the French Empire style, which is the current decor. The marble-top center table, that sits under the chandelier has been in the White House since it was purchased by President Monroe in 1817. This 19th-century chandelier is made of gilded-wood and cut glass, encircled with acanthus leaves.

The Monroe Bergère Chair & Blue Room Furniture 

Michelle Obama Blue Room White House Portrait

U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama return to the Blue Room with Paul and Janet Monti after presenting the Medal of Honor posthumously to their son, U.S. Army Sergeant First Class Jared C. Monti

The American Empire sofa, Mr Obama is sitting on is upholstered in a silk of the same shade of red.  The Red Room contains several pieces of furniture from the New York workshop of the French-born cabinetmaker Charles-Honore Lannuier.  The furniture in the Red Room dates from the years 1810-1830.

The Red Room furniture has a nice combination of richly carved and finished woods with ormolu mounts.   The furniture is very similar to those of the French pieces now in the Blue Room. Egyptian motifs were extensively used Empire furnishings in France following Napoleon’s 1798-99 campaign in Egypt.  These same designs were then adopted by cabinetmakers working in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia.

Nancy Reagan in front of the Red Empire Sofa

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