22 December 2010

Details Count: The White House Entrance Hall

A detail of the entrance hall of the White House this holiday season. Image from the blog Architect Design.

This week Stefan Hurray of the diverting style blog Architect Design posted all manner of pictures of his first-ever visit to the White House in Washington, D. C., which is presently decorated for the holidays. And what to my wondering eyes did appear but an image he snapped of the curtains in the entrance hall, aka the grand foyer, which is shown above.

Take a look at the flamboyant swooping valance holding aloft the red-silk panels dripping with saffron and scarlet tassels. Now that's swagger. A member of the White House curator's office told me the early-nineteenth-century-inspired valances were installed in 1998 during the Clinton Adminstration, under the direction of the White House Preservation Committee, and are made of carved and gilded wood. The curtains were made by Nelson Beck, an eminent District of Columbia upholsterer.

Oh, and the Honduras mahogany concert grand piano with the eagle supports? A custom-made version of Steinway's D-274 model, it was completed in December 1938 to the designs of White House consulting architect Eric Gugler and with inspired input from Franklin Delano Roosevelt. As for the stenciled-gold scenes that decorate the curved side of the piano, The New York Times reported, in an article about the piano's arrival at the White House, they depict "the Virginia reel, the American Indian ceremonial dance, the New England barn dance, the Southern Negro cake walk, and cowboys singing on the Western plains." The Virginia reel, the president said, was one of the Roosevelts' favorite dances.

Fun fact: Interior decorator Jeffrey Bilhuber's engineer grandfather Paul H. Bilhuber (1889—1979) — a Steinway relative, factory manager, vice president, inventor, and acoustical expert — created the piano's innards, including its soundboard.


ArchitectDesign™ said...

I'm glad you enjoyed them! Yes, I did love the entrance hall and I had never seen a valance such as those. I always thought the piano was in the East room and was surprised to see it in the Entry - is that usual do you know?

The Down East Dilettante said...

I too was taken by the valances---very handsome indeed, and just the right big of swoop and drama.. Less taken was I by the gold tails in the center of the swags--the current White House committee definitely overcooks their curtain designs in some sort of steroidal desire for authenticity. And though one of my secret desires is to own a caryatid mantel, I cannot forgive same committee for replacing the McKim Mead & White gilt and marble empire mantel of 1902 in the Blue room with a third caryatid mantel---matching those already in the green and red rooms. Bring back the roosevelt mantel, please.

An Aesthete's Lament said...

The White House usually keeps the piano in the East Room but several sources indicate that it often is moved into the entrance hall for various reasons.

Unknown said...

Looks wonderful!

Penelope Bianchi said...

I am in scary territory here........How do these guys know where the piano is some of the time?
I actually love the valance.....and did not have any issue with the end of the swags......
(that is the client I turn down.......I like everything except........this color over here......or ....."this detail I don't like this little leaf in the corner"!)
Yikes! I would be surprised if "Kaki Hockersmith" had anything to do with this......(Clinton's decorator)
It looks really good to me.
ps....."swoop and drama" is good in the White House!
"Oh! so sorry.......I am so busy right now......I can take you in 10 years"

Penelope Bianchi said...

Oh! Chatty Cathy back again!

"fun Fact" Jeffrey Bilhuber's father restored the piano.

Genetics cannot be underestimated!

Bravo for pointing that out!

magnus said...

You can criticize at the margins, but I think that the White House looks splendid. I am sorry to say that I haven't been there, but friends who have tell me that the level of maintenace is also superlative- to which AD's photos seem to attest.

It's hard not to be reminded of the astonishing work that Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis did in her short tenure as First lady in setting the White House on the course it has remained: prior to her good work, the White House was regularly redecorated at the whim and budget of the First family of the moment, and by the time Mrs. Kennedy arrived was filled with reproduction furniture thanks to the good offices of the department store B. Altman which had overseen the interiors after the Truman renovation.Mrs. Kennedy established a curatorial staff and set standards of quality and authenticity that have remained to this day, as well as limitations on changes that the First family could make to the "State" rooms. Thank you AD for the wonderful photos and thank you AL for bringing them to our attention.

Bob@guymeetstabletop said...

I look forward to the White House Christmas decorations each year, and add my voice to the others who have yet to see the house in person. There was the one year (2005?) where the WH florist did an amazing job using non traditional colors (pinks, bright greens, tangerines) and ALL fresh flowers and foliage. I also did enjoy this year's offerings.
Speaking of Steinways, has anyone seen the documentary "Note By Note". It tells the story of one piano in particular (L1037) from the selection of the wood in Alaska to the final tuning, but also gives an incredibly intimate glimpse into the Steinway world. Fascinating... Thanks for your blog, it's always a great read!