Open post: Designing Camelot

Visitor Scott W suggested an open post on the topic of James Abbott and Elaine Rice’s book Designing Camelot. I know I got a lot out of that book, not only on the subject of the Kennedy renovation, but also from the floor plans at the back. If only we had such a work on the other major renovations….

Update: Adding a page for resources, where I’ll list this book and other books, periodicals, and videos recommended for anyone interested in the heritage of the White House.

16 thoughts on “Open post: Designing Camelot

  1. Funny you should choose this particular topic. I’ve been under the weather this past weekend and – as is usual for me under these circumstances – I gather all my White House books around (and ginger ale and chicken noodle soup) and burrow in and start reading. There’s something very comforting about books on the White House. I’m totally convinced they have medicinal properties. In this instance, “Designing Camelot” was my main tome.

    For any who may be unfamiliar with it, it’s an incredible book, published in 1998, and written by James A. Abbott (former Curator of Decorative Arts at the Baltimore Museum of Art) and Elaine M. Rice (who studied at Henry duPonts’s Winterthur and published the first critical paper on Henry duPont’s role in the Kennedy W.H. resorations).

    This is really “the bible” on this subject. Probably will be the standard for years to come.

    Even so, there are a couple of things I wish had been done differently – (a) I wish they had shown better photos of the Diplomatic Reception Room and it’s wallpaper. There are a couple of good shots of the “Scenes of the American Revolution” wallpaper, in the President’s Dining Room, upstairs, but only one small pic of the Diplomatic R.R. wallpaper.

    (b) I wish they had shown a photo of the final (watered silk) curtains in the Green Room. In fairness, this is not an easy picture to find. I may have one in a book somewhere – and if I can find it, I’ll scan it and send it in to Derek.

    There are some fantastic photos in the book – many (as they say) never before pubished. And the picture of poor Tish Baldridge – putting on her best “Social Secretary Smile”, while accepting the offering of a jar of “period candy” from the “Ambassadress of the Entire Candy Industry” is almost worth the price of the book itself!

  2. John,
    Sorry you were sick hope you are all better! I agree with you on the Designing Camelot–an excellent book and it will be the defining book of the Kennedy Restoration for years to come. As for the Green Room curtains, that is almost impossible to find. I have a slide of the Kennedy/Johnson Green Room that shows those drapes (partially blocked by the chandelier), but the slide is so old it has a “red” tint to it. The 1963 print of the Green Room by Edward Lehman which the Kennedy’s used as their staff Christmas present shows the south view of the room and you can see the final curtains, but this is a painting not a photograph (I think there is a picture of this in the Desiging Camelot book). I personally would love to have a “hands on” look at the fabric/trim files used in each of the rooms. I guess those are all a part of the Kennedy Library Collection.

    There are a couple of other restoration books that are worthy of ownership: 1)Restoration of the White House: Message of the President of the United States Transmitting the Report of the Architects 1903 which details the Teddy Roosevelt restoration and 2) the Commission of the Renovation of the White House 1952 which details the Truman White House. I personally think the 1903 book is more detailed, but the 1952 book has floor plans of the current house. Both of these books turn up on ebay from time to time.

    Also, have you read any of Tish Baldridges books? Of Diamonds and Diplomats and A Lady First details her experiences as Social Secretary for Jackie Kennedy (as well as Clair Booth Luce and Evagaline Bruce). Excellent books if you don’t have them–written in the same line as J. B West’s Upstairs at the White House.
    Tish Baldridge is one of those people I would love to meet and have about 2-3 hours just to ask questions.

  3. mimlog –

    Feeling much better, thanks!

    It really would be great to see those swatches, trims, etc. – and I think you’re right – I believe they do have archives of that material at the Kennedy Library. Some of them are also shown in a book entitled: “Parish/Hadley, Sixty Years of American Design”, published by Little, Brown, 1995 – authors, Sister Parish, Albert Hadley, and Christopher Petkanas. It came out just after Sister PArish died. There’s a whole chapter on the Kennedy Restoration and the work that Parish/Hadley did. A couple of double-page spreads show some of these swatches – all from the upstairs family rooms that Sister did. Of course you can’t actually hold them in the book, but it does have great close-up photos.

    I do have a copy of the Truman Rennovation Report – and I believe it’s widely available on Amazon and (www.abebooks.com). Great book!

    As for that mythical book – the Report on the Teddy Roosevelt 1902 Rennovation – I have often seen it cited as a source, but I have never seen it. I’ll have to check out Ebay, etc. – I would LOVE to see – OK, I’d love to OWN this book…!

    I do have a copy of Tish Baldridge’s book “A Lady First” and, as you say, it is excellent. Wouldn’t you have loved to be a fly on the wall when Tish was telling Jackie “You HAVE to do this (whatever) function” and Jackie was equally intent on not having anything to do with it!

    I love Tish because when the porcelain ornaments on her mantle got broken, she just glued them back together and put them right back up there!

  4. Tish also fed her guests a dessert she had dropped on the floor and then scooped up and served in individual bowls! Man, you just gotta love that!!!! I actually got to speak to her several years ago when she was featured on a CSPAN coverage of a White House Dinner (I believe it was the Clinton Dinner for Boris Yeltsen).

  5. Can I make a humble suggestion for Derek – for his (ahem…) “free time”…?

    First of all – The White House Museum.org is an incredible resource in itself and certainly the first place I’d send someone interested in the White House – and though I’ve been a student of the White House for years (as have many of you, apparently!), I’ve leanred plenty here and seen many, many pictures that I’ve never seen anywhere else!

    How about a Resource page – not really a whole huge bibliography – but a listing of a few really good basic books on the White House.

    Derek has listed several good books and many of the people who comment here have also mentioned other books that many of the rest of us – in some cases – already know about.

    I suspect that there are people who come here to the website, who are really interested, but might be new to White House history and want to know more about particular aspects of the W.H.

    Maybe just a brief listing of William Seale’s books, Betty Monkman’s book, the government reports, the White House guidebooks, and any other books that might come up and be worthwhile to include. Maybe some of the bloggers might know of books that would be good to include.

    With all the Amazon’s and ABEbooks around on the Web, it would be fairly easy to build up a pretty good library, for those who might want to.

  6. Can I make a humble suggestion for Derek – for his (ahem…) “free time”…?

    First of all – The White House Museum.org is an incredible resource in itself and certainly the first place I’d send someone interested in the White House – and though I’ve been a student of the White House for years (as have many of you, apparently!), I’ve leanred plenty here and seen many, many pictures that I’ve never seen anywhere else!

    How about a Resource page – not really a whole huge bibliography – but a listing of a few really good basic books on the White House.

    Derek has listed several good books and many of the people who comment here have also mentioned other books that many of the rest of us – in some cases – already know about.

    I suspect that there are people who come here to the website, who are really interested, but might be new to White House history and want to know more about particular aspects of the W.H.

    Maybe just a brief listing of William Seale’s books, Betty Monkman’s book, the government reports, the White House guidebooks, and any other books that might come up and be worthwhile to include. Maybe some of the bloggers might know of books that would be good to include.

    With all the Amazon’s and ABEbooks around on the Web, it would be fairly easy to build up a pretty good library, for those who might want to.

  7. Hey, like Julia Child said: “You’re alone in the kitchen…”! 🙂

    What a treat! I bet Tish would be fun to talk to!

  8. Hi,
    I would like to talk to you. I apoligize for failing in your request and will refund your donation, but when I went to our Board, they nixed selling the domain and I dragged my feet then forgot to get back to you as I was relocating the Museum. We are now on Maryland Avenue and having fun with lots of tourist. There must be someway we can benefit from our mutual museum concepts thru affiliation more than linking. Please send me your e mail. Thank you. Claire McLean, Presidential Pet Museum

  9. I like Derek’s list of sources on the White House for those who want to delve into the history and life of the Executive Mansion. But, I would definitely add Seale’s two volume “The President’s House.” It is a classic in its detail of each administration and how the house changed over our presidential history.

  10. Designing Camelot, William Seale’s “The President’s House”, the White House an Historic Guide….all of these books give me the same comfort that john in nola speaks of. There is nothing better than curling up with any of these outstanding books and re-visit those rooms!

    Designing Camelot gave me the first truly in-depth look at Mrs. Kennedy’s restoration. There is so much about how Mrs. Kennedy “redecorated” the White House, but most of it seems so superficial. Any generic encyclopedia article will tell you the basics, but this book shows you how she did it, not just what she did. Du Pont, Boudin, J.B. West, Sister Parish, all players on the world’s greatest stage. I love reading about the changes and how they came about. The Yellow Oval room drapes were hung inside the molding rather than outside due to indecision. Mrs. Kennedy didn’t like the Family Dining Room “her most unfavorite.” The controversy over the Blue Room’s White Walls. It’s all there, and I love reading it.

    William Seale’s master-work “The President’s House” is a great rainy-day weekend curl-up-in-the-chair-and-read book. Only Seale takes you into the Robin’s egg blue of the Blue Room during the 1880’s and 1890’s. I love the chapters on Chester Arthur’s redecoration of the White House in 1881. Can you imagine Tiffany’s screen glass in the entrance hall today?

    I highly recommend both of these books. You will be glad you have them and refer to them again and again.

  11. Scott W. – welcome to the White House Junkie’s Support Group… 🙂

    I’m glad you and Dennis mentioned Seale’s Epic – “The President’s House”. It’s certainly in my collection. Apparently Seale is working on a revision of it! (WooHoo!) I read that in Issue 14 of WHITE HOUSE HISTORY,(the 2nd of the two-part “Kennedy” issues) in the article on the major publications the White House Historical Society has produced over the years. You can order these WHITE HOUSE HISTORY journals from the White House Historical Association’s website. $6.95 each, or something like that – and well worth it. There’s a link to that website somewhere here on the site.

    Oh, and that “Robin’s Egg Blue” Blue Room of the 1880’s? If you haven’t already done it, check out the Blue Room page, here in the White House Museum.org, and scroll down to the colorized version of that photo. I think Derek found it in the (now defunct) “Nest Magazine”. It’s amazing! I use it as a “desktop wallpaper” on my computer, from time to time.

  12. LOL. Derek should start a page where he posts a screen shot of all of our white house desktops.

  13. I have a picture of my then 7 year old daughter standing in the replica of Clinton’s Oval Office at the Clinton Presidential library as my desktop background, but my screen saver is rooms of the White House. And, yes I too love the Seale book The President’s House and cannot wait for the revision to come out!!! When the first one came out in the mid ’80’s I used my Christmas bonus from work to buy it–a Christmas present from me to me!!!

  14. Hey Mim, Don’t all of us White House addicts love those little “christmas gifts to me” that we conveniently get all year ’round from the mailman?

    My desktop is the “Signing of the Peace Protocol” from the Treaty Room.

    And my screen savers are my White House pics.

  15. OK, here I am getting over stomach grunge – and I should be asleep – but here I am playing on Wikipedia and checking out the latest on the Oval Office blogs…

    My desktop wallpaper at the moment is that incredible “hand-tinted” view (from here on the site) of the 1902 Entrance Hall.

    Speaking of “Gifts to myself” it was a beautiful day here and I went down to my favorite used bookstore in the French Quarter and hit the jackpot – a book I didn’t enven know existed: the Sotheby’s catalog for “Property from the Kennedy Family Homes (Hyannisport, Martha’s Vinyard, New Jersey, New York and Virginia), 2005. All of Jackie’s stuff that Caroline and John Kennedy had originally withheld from the 1996 Sotheby’s J.K.O. auction (which I also have a catalog from), from all of her various homes. Mostly from Hyannisport and Martha’s Vinyard, but some as well from her Peapack, N.J.house and her cottage in Virginia horse country and her Fifth Ave. apartment. Lots of really decent American country furniture – lots of country windsor chairs – lots of “local” watercolors. But all of it very comfortable and “old shoe”. Lots of Billy Baldwin-esque plain cotton sofa slipcovers.

    Oh, and one of the “lots” was a collection of White House Guidebooks, from 1962 through Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter and Reagan. So, the Lady kept up.

  16. John, I take a lot of ribbing about my "obsession" with the WH and the Presidency (The office not the person) from friends and family, but I so know what you mean about having all my WH books around for burrowing into. I reread all my books frequently, but my WH books are all together. Designing Camelot is one of my very favorites. I also like that it mentions things like the Presidential Limousine being painted Navy and the staff wearing deep blue suits instead of the traditional black to symbolize the Adminstration's new younger look. To this day, I prefer a deep navy car. The backstory of the Boudin/Parish drama is really interesting. My good friend in SF is an interior designer and she loves anything Sister Parish. I made her a bookmark with a picture of sister at her most hook-nosed imperiousness at underneath it says "I never kicked that little **&*&(*" She loved it! She sent one to a neighbor of Apple Parish's who SAID shw would show her.

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