Thursday, January 3, 2019

Inside the White House: The Vermeil Room


The Vermeil Room is a chamber on the ground floor of the White House in Washington, D.C. While it's currently used as formal ladies' sitting room, it's most famous for being the room where the White House's collection of vermeil (pronounced ver-MAY), or gilded silver, is displayed.
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The Vermeil Room, Clinton Administration. Public Domain.
For over a hundred years, the Vermeil Room was used as a storage room and, around 1825, it was transformed into a staff bedroom. During the 1902 renovation in Theodore Roosevelt's Administration, architect Charles Follen McKim altered several staff bedrooms on the ground floor for public use. The chamber was then used as a lounge adjacent to a ladies' restroom, and was called the Social Room. 


What is now the Vermeil Room in 1948. Public Domain.
The Social Room was updated during the reconstruction of the White House during the Truman Administration. It was paneled in pine, recycled from the house's no-longer-sound original 1815 structural pine beams, as were two other rooms on the ground floor: the China Room and the Library. At this time the Vermeil Room received a new, albeit short-lived name: the Billiard Room.

Shortly thereafter, in 1956, heiress Margaret Thompson Biddle--daughter of a prominent Republican and wife of a major general and diplomat--donated her impressive collection of 1,575 pieces of vermeil to the White House. The vermeil was stored in the Billiard Room, and the name of the room was altered to reflect this change.
The Vermeil Room, 1960, by Robert Knudson. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. Public Domain.
The vermeil was displayed here, but it was not put to use until the early 1960's when a friend of Jackie Kennedy's suggested otherwise. At that point, some of the bowls and urns were then used to display flowers and fruit on the state floor. The White House was being refurbished at around the same time, and Kennedy's decorator, St├ęphane Boudin, refurbished the Vermeil Room. He covered the display shelves with white velvet and painted the room a soft blue. He also added neoclassical mantels, white damask drapes with blue fringe trim, a blue and white carpet, and a gilded chandelier to echo the vermeil. The room was now a showcase for the vermeil, not a sitting room.
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Sketch from the 1962 White House guide showing the Vermeil Room after St├ęphane Boudin's changes. Public Domain.
Within a few years, First Lady Pat Nixon redecorated the room with green paint and draperies of gold, green, and blue. The room was altered again in the administration of George H. W. Bush, and again in 2006 by First Lady Laura Bush, her decorator Ken Blasingame, White House curator Bill Allman, and the Committee for the Preservation of the White House. The walls were painted ivory with a tint of green, and a circa-1829 center table was placed here, along with a sofa from around 1815. The room's lolling chairs were reupholstered in white silk damask. Drapes of olive and gold covered the windows, and a carpet woven in 1860 was placed on the floor. 
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The Vermeil Room, 1990. Public Domain.
Today, the walls have a soft gold tint. Portraits of several first ladies are usually displayed here among the vermeil: the portraits of Jackie Kennedy (donned in a complimentary gown of gold), Lady Bird Johnson (wearing yellow), Frances Cleveland, Elizabeth Monroe, Eleanor Roosevelt, Pat Nixon, Lou Hoover and Nancy Reagan have all hung here, although at the time of my visit in June of 2018, Reagan's portrait hung in the downstairs hallway. 
File:Designer Laura Dowling arranges a bouquet in the Vermeil Room of the White House.jpg
 White House Chief Floral Designer Laura Dowling at work in 2010. Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy. Public Domain.
Public tours take visitors past the Vermeil Room, but everyday visitors cannot enter. One can only imagine what it must be like to sit here for a cozy conversation with a first lady, surrounded by gold.

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BIO: Susanne Dietze began writing love stories in high school, casting her friends in the starring roles. Today, she's the award-winning author of over a dozen romances with Timeless Heart. A pastor's wife and mom of two, she loves fancy-schmancy tea parties, the beach, and curling up on the couch with a costume drama. Visit her website, www.susannedietze.com, and sign up for her newsletter: http://eepurl.com/bRldfv


3 comments:

  1. Interesting! I can't help but think, reading through these, about the enormous amounts of money used to redecorate these rooms!!! I understand about a woman needing to spruce up "her" house, though. Thanks for the post and I'm looking forward to the next!

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    1. Hi Connie! I agree; the cost must be enormous. I think one of the reasons these rooms are redecorated/refurbished every few years is because of the amount of wear and tear they sustain--especially the rugs and flooring. Some of the rooms have hundreds of visitors a day, and others may not be open to the public, but like the vermeil room, they are open to special tours as well as for official use. I am glad there are committees in place to keep a rein on spending and to assure that historic pieces are accounted for. I have learned a lot researching these posts! Thanks for coming on this journey with me. Have a great day!

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  2. Loved reading this! We recently listened to President Truman's grandson talk about the extensive repairs and redecoration that had to be done to save the White House. It was fascinating!

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