Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State

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The Renovation of the Benjamin Franklin State Dining Room

By: The Office of Fine Arts and  |  June 1, 2023

Where Our Past Meets Our Future

The Benjamin Franklin State Dining Room has been our nation’s primary setting for both dining and diplomacy since its creation. It is used on behalf of our country as the location of State luncheons and official dinners, secretarial and presidential speeches, multi-lateral conversations with world leaders, strategic global meetings, swearings-in of U.S. secretaries of state and ambassadors, and large receptions for both foreign and American guests.

The Benjamin Franklin State Dining Room

What makes the Benjamin Franklin Room unique is its dual function of celebrating our national identity and history while also providing the setting for our country’s leaders to engage in diplomacy. It conveys a vivid sense of our past while also serving as an essential contributor to modern diplomacy.

Architect John Blatteau applied references deeply rooted in democratic ideals to design a setting for the crucial diplomatic work that happens here. For nearly four decades, the Franklin Room has faithfully responded to modern functional and aesthetic requirements while remaining steeped in an emphasis on America’s sense of continuity with the past.

A Transformation for the 21st Century

Unlike a museum, the DRRs do not exist behind glass encasements and stanchions. These Rooms are not a static environment. Each year, more than 100,000 guests stand on the rugs, sit in the chairs, and converse over the tables. Wear-and-tear far exceeds that of most historic collections.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the Benjamin Franklin State Dining Room, where signs of age and heavy use are visible everywhere. The draperies and rug have grown worn and faded from four decades of traffic. Because of the room’s scale and demanding usage schedule, widespread updates to sound and lighting systems have been deferred out of necessity. And due to the lack of a modern infrastructure, the room is often strewn with audio-visual and broadcasting equipment, translation booths, and other supporting technology.

Compounded with this, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic transformed the work of the Department of State. The Department has adapted by embracing teleconferencing, which has facilitated diplomatic business and engagement. The shift in how people communicate and the upgrade to technologies that allow for it are now permanent fixtures in diplomatic work.

Although the Franklin Room is often associated with ceremony and celebration, the more common business of diplomacy is complex, gritty, meticulous, fast-paced, and often urgent. Today it is clear that this room must be addressed in order to successfully fulfill both of these needs — not merely existing to celebrate the accomplishments of diplomacy, but to support the processes of it as well. The Patrons of Diplomacy 2023 initiative will fund the re-imagining of the Franklin Room as a modern teleconferencing center. Hidden beneath the period architecture, a state-of-the-art system will enable diplomats around the world to engage with each other, remotely and in real time. In the future, both “distance diplomacy” and “dinner diplomacy” will take place in this grand room. This will be accomplished in accordance with a sweeping interior design plan that preserves the original period-style architecture of the room. The design plan will address updating the aesthetic and color palette, decorative repainting of walls and columns, replacing window treatments and the rug, installing gallery lighting, and bringing thematic cohesion to the space and artworks displayed within it.

Interior Design Plan

An artist’s rendering of the south elevation of the Franklin Room showing the design for the new curtains.
The Benjamin Franklin State Dining Room will become a more elegant but also a more democratic space — one that displays our shared patriotic pride, and also represents a broader view of our nation.

Within the framework of John Blatteau’s original architectural vision, the Franklin Room will be refreshed with a new palette. Based on color studies of 18th-century examples like Kedleston Hall and Clandon Park, the Franklin Room will shift from its current mauves, pinks and yellows into a more refined palette of stone, blue, and light gold. This will create a fluid and harmonious transition from the Thomas Jefferson State Reception Room, and balance the room’s scale and majesty with an air of quiet dignity.

This palette is inspired by the paintings found in the DRR collection of the American landscape. Emphasizing this connection to our nation’s most beautiful vistas, the Secretaries of State Terrace and its sweeping views of the monuments will be framed by new window treatments in pale blue damask. Custom trims in the tradition of 18th-century styling will finish the classical design.

This new color scheme will heighten the effect of the twenty-four-karat oil gilding of the Corinthian capitals, coffered ceiling, and plasterwork Great Seal, which will be preserved as an integral feature of the architecture. A more restrained and contemporary take on the room’s interior design will allow the messages of this shared national space to sing, and to honor our country, our international guests, and the room’s namesake.

Rug Design

By far, the single greatest component to be addressed in the interior design plan is the removal, redesign, and replacement of the Franklin Room’s impressive 8-ton rug. Designed specifically for this room in 1985, the current rug features elements of the Great Seal of the United States, which is depicted in a gilt plasterwork medallion on the Franklin Room ceiling above. Woven into its patterns are stars representing the fifty states, and emblems celebrating American agriculture and natural abundance.

The existing rug is stained and faded, and has shifted from its center point due its immense weight. The massive weight of the rug and the expanse of its field prevents access to the floor below. To address these practical issues, the new design will be for a rug in three parts. This will allow for the concealment of cords that must cross the room, make it possible to maintain rug positioning, and allow for isolation of cleaning or repair issues.

Ceiling designs by 18th-century architect Robert Adam are the inspiration for the new rug, tying it closely to the architect’s original inspiration for this room. The late-20th century styling of French-influenced ornamentation will be replaced in the new design with more refined decoration, and a decidedly more American aesthetic.

Elements of the Great Seal will be given a fresh decorative interpretation in the central-most medallion. Reinforcing the theme of our sprawling nation, the rug will indicate each of the cardinal directions, accurately oriented on its four sides. These will be contained within four decorative vignettes that celebrate the accomplishments of our nation’s first diplomat and this room’s namesake, Benjamin Franklin.

The new rug will depict accomplishments of our nation’s first diplomat, for whom this room is named: Franklin’s work as a printer and his focus on literacy (North), the establishment of the Franco-American alliance that resulted in our independence (South), his electrical experiments (West), and the signing of the Treaty of Paris (East).

Become a Patron of Diplomacy

The Diplomatic Reception Rooms are the creation and collective gift of the American people. No government funds were used to create the Rooms, and none can be used in their care. It is entirely thanks to the support of patriotic and philanthropic individuals that the Office of Fine Arts is able to care for these rooms and share them with the world.

The Founders envisioned a new nation based on citizen participation, and the Diplomatic Reception Rooms are a glowing tribute to the generosity and civic duty of the American people. By contributing to Patrons of Diplomacy 2022, you will be joining an endeavor that enhances the crucial practice of diplomacy, imparts the value of our country’s cultural and artistic accomplishments, and proudly represents our nation on the global stage. All gifts to the Diplomatic Reception Rooms are tax-deductible. 

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