Resolute Desk White House

Exploring Historic Furniture in the DC Metro Area

The Washington D.C. area is known for both its historical significance and architectural grandeur.  Iconic furniture at the White House and the Capitol Building has played a pivotal role in shaping American history.  The historic furniture of the DC metro area is more than just wood and fabric; it's a tangible connection to our nation's history.

The White House: A Furniture History

The Resolute Desk

One of the most famous pieces of furniture in the White House is the Resolute Desk. This desk, made from the timbers of the British ship HMS Resolute, was a gift from Queen Victoria to President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880. The Resolute Desk was never used in the Oval Office until President John F. Kennedy placed it there in 1961. Every president since Jimmy Carter (except for George H.W. Bush) has used the Resolute Desk in the office.

Treasures of the White House: "Resolute" Desk - White House Historical  Association

The Lincoln Bed

Another historic piece is the Lincoln Bed, located in the Lincoln Bedroom. Originally purchased by Mary Todd Lincoln after President Abraham Lincoln's inauguration, this bed, which measures 8 feet wide and 9 feet long is solid rosewood.  The sides are cushioned and covered with purple satin and the headboard has intricate 8 feet of carving that is mirrored in the table from the same maker, John Henry Belter, of New York.  Though not confirmed, is rumored to have been where Lincoln occasionally slept and the room where he drafted and signed the Emancipation Proclamation.  

The Lincoln Bedroom: Refurbishing a Famous White House Room - White House  Historical Association

The Capitol Building: Seats of Power

The Senate Chamber Chairs

In the Capitol Building, the Senate Chamber chairs are not original to the building. When British troops set fire to the Capitol in 1814, the Senate Chamber was extensively damaged and its furnishings were destroyed. Following this, the Senate commissioned New York cabinetmaker Thomas Constantine to build 48 desks and chairs for its members.  Today’s Senate Chamber chairs are made in the Senate Sergeant at Arms Cabinet Shop and are of a modified Thomas Constantine design. They are somewhat smaller and less intricately carved than those built in 1819. Senators are permitted to purchase their chairs upon leaving office, and replacement chairs are made after each election. They have supported some of the most influential figures in American politics. Their unique design reflects the neoclassical architectural style of the Capitol.

Image: Current Senate Chamber Chair"

Historical Inspiration in DC

  1. Take a moment to admire the furniture collection at the Smithonian's American History Museum.  They have excellent examples of fine furniture from Philadelphia with ball and claw feet.  Once you've seen good ones, you'll have a greater appreciation of the skill and time that went into crafting antique furniture before modern machinery.  
  2. Explore one of the Beaux Arts Mansions in Dupont Circle, like the Anderson House or the Perry Belmont House.  These grand houses were made for entertaining and feature gilded Steinway pianos and mahogany cellerttes!  
  3. Monticello is our favorite place to get historic presidential inspiration.  Thomas Jefferson appreciated functional design and had rotating drum and writing tables created that were as versatile as they were beautiful. 

1990s Kittinger Thomas Jefferson Octagonal Mahogany Rotating File Rent  Center Table in 2023 | Jefferson memorial, Mahogany, Thomas jefferson

Back to blog