Above, a glimpse into the East Room at the White House.
Just like she had set trends for fashion, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy made waves in the world of design. Her most influential project? None other than the White House. Together with decorator Sister Parish, Kennedy set out to transform the historic interiors from a stuffy setting to one that elegantly celebrated the exceptional heritage of America while maintaining a more casual atmosphere.
Part renovation, part restoration, the project started in early 1961 with the private living quarters. The budget of $50,000 was met after a mere two weeks, which led Kennedy to pursue the idea of acquiring antiques by loan from the exquisite Winterthur (Henry du Pont’s estate turned museum). Instead, Winterthur’s then-director suggested Kennedy to form a committee to acquire and source antiques from across the country. This committee would become the Fine Arts Committee — and fittingly, Henry du Pont would act as chairman.
“Everything in the White House must have a reason for being there. It would be sacrilege merely to redecorate it — a word I hate. It must be restored, and that has nothing to do with decoration. That is a question of scholarship.” — Jacqueline Kennedy
In addition to the Fine Arts Committee, Kennedy publicized her vision to fill the White House with antiques that reflected America’s heritage in a story by Life magazine. The story inspired many to make donations (of both monetary gifts and furniture) to Kennedy’s newly established White House Historical Foundation. Two more landmark achievements shortly followed. In March, the White House hired a full-time curator; and in September, Congress officially declared the White House a museum. The latter was of special importance, as it protected the rooms from being radically altered in the future — and made sure that any antiques or items would stay at the White House (as opposed to being auctioned off in the future, or made part of a president’s private collection).
With the help of these donations and efforts, Kennedy was able to achieve her goal of transforming the White House into a “living” space (meaning, one that reflected its occupants) that also beautifully represented the ideals of America. Though filled with antiques, there was a refreshing mix of styles and periods that prevented the interior from feeling staid (or showing a preference for any one historical period). There were also a number of practical changes that went beyond mere aesthetics — for instance, establishing a Situation Room and expanding the Rose Garden to allow for greater press access.
By 1962, the impressive project was finally complete. Kennedy revealed the new White House during a televised tour on February 14, in a special that attracted the attention of millions. While past presidents have put their own spin on the White House (particularly in the decoration of the Oval Office), many of Kennedy’s spaces still stand as they were. Here are a few of our favorite spaces, along with antiques from Viyet that capture the spirit of each.
The First Lady’s Bedroom
This space was the private retreat of Jacqueline, who took inspiration from her bedroom at her former home in Georgetown. Since this is a private living area in the White House, the room has evolved over the years.
Get The Look
The Antique Large French Hand-Carved and Giltwood Mirror has a slightly heavier frame, but adds a dash of French elegance to a room.
The white frame and soft blue upholstery give the Pearson Deanne Upholstered Armchair a timeless look.
The Red Room
Vibrant silk upholstery covers the walls of the Red Room, a space used as a parlor and music room.
Get The Look:
The Antique Late 19th Century Chinese Red Lacquer and Gilt Carved Cabinet picks up the rich red hue and ornate details of the Red Room.
The Yellow Oval Room
Kennedy converted this space — a former study — into a sitting room. Though certain details have changed over the years, the room still serves the same purpose as a space to entertain important visitors.
Get The Look:
The buttery yellow silk upholstery and traditional silhouette of the Interior Crafts Transitional Pleated Sofa feel true to the sofa chosen by Kennedy for the Yellow Oval Room.
The State Dining Room
This room previously featured oak-paneled walls painted in celadon and a black marble mantel. Kennedy’s restoration simplified the look of the room and featured reproductions of the circa-1902 McKim, Mead, and White mantel that was part of the Roosevelt renovation from that year. Also authentic to the Roosevelt renovation? The white-painted neoclassical woodwork that gives this room a grand feel.
Get The Look:
For frequent entertaining, an extension table allows you to host parties large and small with ease. The handsome Henredon Oval Double Pedestal Dining Table has a similar feel to Kennedy’s carefully chosen table.