Friday, May 3, 2019

Inside the White House: The Diplomatic Reception Room

When many people think of oval rooms in the White House in Washington D.C., they think of the Blue Room--and rightly so. It is a beautiful room on the state floor, site of the official White House Christmas Tree each December.

But the White House boasts two more oval rooms, one above and one below the Blue Room. The one downstairs holds great importance in matters of state: The Diplomatic Reception Room.
The Diplomatic Reception Room.  Public Domain.

This ground floor room is used as an entrance from the South Lawn, for the family and for visiting heads of state after an official State Arrival Ceremony on the South Lawn. Foreign ambassadors also present their credentials here.

Originally, the ground floor rooms of the White House were used by domestic staff for various tasks; this room was a place to polish silver and mend clothes. In 1837, however, the Van Buren administration installed the White House's first central heating system, and the furnace went here.

In the 1902 renovation by McKim, Mead, and White, the heating system was replaced, and the ground floor rooms were refinished. This oval chamber became a finished living space, but it was mostly used as a passageway until 1935, when Franklin Roosevelt turned it into a sitting room. He had the chimney opened so he could sit here for his famous "Fireside Chats."
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FDR during a "Fireside Chat" on Jan 11, 1944.
The room was again refurbished during the Eisenhower administration (around 1960). Antiques in the Federal style were chosen, and the room was used to welcome guests as well as host receptions.

When Jacqueline Kennedy was first lady, the room received another makeover, one that gave the Diplomatic Reception its unique look: the Zuber et Cie wallpaper.
An unidentified White House worker hangs panels of antique wallpaper in the Diplomatic Reception Room, September 8, 1961. Robert Knudsen. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. Public Domain.
August 28, 1963. Robert Knudsen. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. Public Domain.
The antique French scenic wallpaper was produced by Jean Zuber et Cie in Rixheim in France around 1834. The Zuber et Cie wallpaper, officially titled "Scenes of North America," features 32 scenes based on engravings from the 1820's. Printed on small sheets of paper with wood blocks, the scenes include Boston Harbor, West Point, Niagara Falls, the Natural Bridge in Virginia, and New York Harbor. 
Detail of the Zuber et Cie wallpaper. Public Domain.
Since the room lacks natural light, the colorful panorama gives the room a brighter aspect. The blue and gold color scheme of the furnishings contributes to the welcoming air. 

Floral arrangement and close up of the wallpaper. April 10, 1962. Robert Knudsen. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. Public Domain.
Beginning in 1983, the rug also began to complement the space not only with its coloring, but its symbolism: the rug's  border incorporated emblems of each of America's 50 states.

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President Barack Obama is briefed by Lisa Monaco, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, on the investigation of the 15 April 2013 bombings in Boston, in the Diplomatic Reception Room, April 18, 2013. Note the state's symbols on the rug's border. By Pete Souza. Public Domain.
First Lady Melania Trump has replaced the rug, and now, instead of the state's emblems, the rug's border features each state’s official flower.
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The new rug is more beige than yellow.
Many important introductions and beginnings have occurred in this room. One such recent occasion was when Malia Obama's prom date arrived to pick her up. He was ushered into "The Dip" (as it is often called) to meet the First Family. One can only imagine how nerve-wracking that must have been!


Susanne Dietze is the award-winning author of over a dozen romances with Timeless Heart,. You can learn more about her at


  1. What a beautiful room! I love that wallpaper. I hope that it is protected from wear somehow. It is gorgeous!

    1. I love that wallpaper's amazing. Now that you mention it, I'm curious how they protect it!

      Thanks so much for coming by and saying hi.

  2. Back in the days of Harry S. Truman, I lived in Washington D.C. and attended junior high there as an eighth grader. My uncle was with the Greek Embassy, and he made sure my sister and I had a chance to tour the White House. Words and even pictures can't begin to describe the beauty of the mansion. So many rooms and so much to see boggled my 12-year-old mind, but I will never forget it. In the early 2000's, my sister and again visited D.C. and the changes amazed me. Thank you for this delightful information about one of the rooms. It brings back great memories.

    One of the things I focused on in my later years was the China and decor, two things that held no interest for an 8th grader.

    1. That is so lovely, Martha. What an amazing opportunity you had as a child!

      I, too, am interested in the china. I loved seeing the displays at the Smithsonian.

      Thanks for visiting. Have a great day!