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The Multicolored House: A Presidential History of Paint

The Multicolored HouseThe White House may appear to be a monolithic, unchanging symbol of the presidency, but its actually an ever-evolving reflection of the stylistic zeitgeist. Each presidency not only changes the interior of the house, but some earlier presidents even revised and added portions to the exterior. To celebrate President’s Day, we’re going to take a special look at the relationship between the White House and paint. Maybe something in this article will spark your creativity; when you’re ready to paint the next layer of history on your home, give 360° Painting a call at 1-866-99-PAINT.

The first president to live at the White House was actually John Adams; President George Washington was based in  New York and, according to the White House website, the cornerstone wasn’t laid until 1792. So, in order to include all the presidents, we’ll also look at President George Washington’s personal home, Mount Vernon, just outside the city of Washington, D.C. Washington used a variety of bright, bold colors in his wallpaper and paint choices throughout his home. According to the Mount Vernon website, these colors signified wealth. Two of the most vibrant examples of the home include the West Parlor, painted an expressive “Prussian blue” and the Small Dining Room, with an elaborately detailed plaster ceiling and a “verdigris-green paint”, added in 1785. Washington believed this outrageous green was “grateful to the eye”! What do you think? Would you chance to paint your dining room this color?

Blue and Green Rooms at Mount Vernon

L: West Parlor at Mount Vernon. R: Small Dining Room at Mount Vernon

One of the most iconic rooms in the White House was restored under First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy in 1961. According to the White House Historical association, The Oval Room on the Ground Floor boasts impressive wallpaper that was created by a French firm in 1834. The wallpaper was not originally made for the room; entitled “Views of North America”, the paper was widely used in American middle and upper class homes. The wallpaper currently in the room was salvaged from a nearby home and installed in 1962. Today called the Diplomatic Reception Room, it offers as an impressive welcome to the White House for the many diplomatic meetings that take place there.

If you can’t install historic French wallpaper from 1834, consider continuing the spirit of this room by using trendy, brightly patterned wallpaper to make an accent wall, like this one below.

Wallpaper accent walls

L: The Diplomatic Reception Room from the Kennedy Era. R: A small living room made bright by wallpaper

Another iconic White House room is the Red Room, whose name comes from the 1845 redecorating by President and Mrs. Polk, exchanging the sunny yellow instituted by the Madison’s for a deep crimson. This color scheme survived even President Theodore Roosevelt’s major 1902 renovations and currently predominantly maintains the “American Empire” style, furnished under First Lady Kennedy. The bold color choice in this room is reflected in the sumptuous furniture choices. You don’t have to paint your home red to achieve this stylistic statement; try painting a more modern, yet bold, color like PPG’s 2018 Color of the Year, Black Flame.

Red Room

And finally, a lesser-known, but still-stylish room, the China Room displays the china used by the Presidents.  First Lady Wilson began using the room in 1917 to host china, and the tradition continues to this day. Archived pages from the Clinton White House detail the history behind the red color scheme in the room; the 1924 portrait of First Lady Coolidge, where she wears a red dress, has determined the theme of the room. The shelving, painted in a deep red, offers a pleasing contrast with the white cabinets and predominantly light colors of the china displayed within. You may not have a china collection as vast as the White House, but using this unique styling trick, boldly colored interior shelves and a muted exterior cabinets, can make a statement in your home.

China Room

L: The China Room. R: Example of colorful shelving