White House furniture finds new life in the Blue Room

Collection of the White House courtesy

This photograph taken during the Clinton administration shows conservation work in progress on one of Pierre-Antoine Bellange’s chairs made for the Blue Room. President James Monroe purchased 53 pieces of furniture for the White House at Bellange in Paris in 1817.


Two hundred years ago, President James Monroe purchased 53 gilded French furniture for what is now the Blue Room of the White House. The price of $ 18,417.17 briefly angered the legislature, according to the White House Historical Association.

“While some members of Congress and the American public have questioned the president’s spending of public funds, Monroe’s reputation as a national hero has calmed most of these criticisms,” according to the association. Monroe had previously served as a diplomat in France and had taken on the French decor a bit further.

This fall, that same suite of furniture returns to the Blue Room after a painstaking restoration that took over 10 years, a team of curators and experts, and nearly half a million dollars.

“I have the honor to announce the completion of the first phase of this important and historic project,” First Lady Melania Trump said in a statement. “Thank you to the many experts, curators and White House staff who helped repair the beautiful Bellangé Suite. I look forward to returning the restored pieces to the Blue Room for those attending the White House public tour to enjoy. ”

This set of sofas and armchairs in gilded beech by Pierre-Antoine Bellange of Paris was purchased during the James Monroe administration for the Blue Room.
Collection of the White House courtesy

This set of sofas and armchairs in gilded beech by Pierre-Antoine Bellange of Paris was purchased during the James Monroe administration for the Blue Room.

The Bellangé suite has a long and rich history.

The Monroe administration commissioned the Parisian cabinetmaker Pierre-Antoine Bellangé to create the furniture in 1817, three years after the White House burned down.

But in 1860, President James Buchanan auctioned off the Bellangé furniture to make way for a “Victorian rococo-style suite,” according to the historical association.

A century later, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, who sought to preserve and restore the history of the White House, begins the process of reacquiring rooms in the Bellangé suite.

Congress passed a law that deems White House furniture, accessories, and decorative items to be “inalienable and White House property” and may not be sold. Eight pieces from the original collection were recovered and purchased by the historical association for use in the Blue Room, and additional replicas were made.

Over the years, aging historic furnishings approached a ‘state of deterioration’. The restoration process began under the administration of George W. Bush in 2005, when White House conservatives “began to study how to restore the suite to its original appearance,” according to the association, which paid. for catering.

Before the project could proceed, the plans were submitted to the White House Preservation Committee, which was established by executive order in 1964 and works with the historical association and executive residence staff, for approval. .

The team consulted with “experts in early 19th-century French upholstery and gilding” and drew on receipts from the original 1817 purchase, the White House said in a press release. .

The White House Historical Association said it has “invested more than $ 450,000 in the restoration of the Bellangé suite since 2013,” slightly more than the inflation-adjusted cost of the initial purchase there. two centuries ago.

Furniture has also played an important role in American diplomacy more recently; First Lady Melania Trump presented French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte, with a framed portion of the padding for one of the chairs during their state visit earlier this year.

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