A Setting for Diplomacy
The Henry Clay State Dining Room, named for the secretary of state during the presidency of John Quincy Adams, is an elegant space in daily use for diplomatic work at the Department of State. The large dining room table in the center of the room can seat up to 20 for important meetings, luncheons, and private dinners.
The room is distinguished by its entrance, an original design by the architect Walter M. Macomber. Guests come down a central staircase to a half-landing, from which they can view the room as though through a picture frame. A triple-arched colonnade defines the space and divides the staircase into symmetrical flights, each with four winding stairs that descend into the room. The central space is decorated with Chinese Chippendale fretwork. This architectural design was inspired by the exterior elements of George Washington’s Virginia mansion, Mount Vernon.
An extraordinary English cut-glass chandelier from that era is suspended from the domed ceiling above. The room is brightly painted in blue tones that complement the scenic wallpaper, which depicts a story from Homer’s Odyssey. Decorative painters continued the wallpaper’s sky and trees onto the walls of the entrance alcove, so the scene appears to wrap around the room. Scenic wallpapers like this were popular in the early decades of the nineteenth century, and similar wallpapers decorate the White House and President Andrew Jackson’s home in Nashville, The Hermitage.
Visible from the landing across the room is a portrait of Henry Clay by James Reid Lambdin. It hangs in a place of honor between fluted Doric columns. On either side are mahogany sideboards. On one wall an American mahogany breakfront bookcase is centered between two windows, draped with luxurious valances. The bookcase holds a large collection of early 19th-century Chinese export porcelain made for the Scottish market.