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Behind the Scenes: Hillary’s Table

A peek inside the State Department’s eighth-floor James Monroe Reception Room where Hillary Clinton entertains guests.

The State Department’s Sixto “Manny” Mercado helps make everything just so in the James Monroe Reception Room. Photograph by Ron Blunt.

In all likelihood, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has the occasional meal alone at her desk while she deals with a foreign-policy conflagration, but the truth is her job demands a lot of entertaining—working breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. For those, she has claim to one of the city’s most beautiful rooms, the State Department’s eighth-floor James Monroe Reception Room, which was made into a dining room because of its beautiful light. Here she has hosted presidents and prime ministers.

The dining room is a treasure among the Diplomatic Reception Rooms, a suite of 42 spaces adorned with a prized collection of 18th- and 19th-century American furniture, paintings, porcelain, and silver. Says Clinton: “I am very proud that we can conduct diplomacy against such a stunning backdrop of American art and architecture.”

Architect Walter M. Macomber designed the Monroe Room in the early 1980s in the style of the Virginia Federal period. Among other fine works, it features a portrait of the fifth President, painted from life in 1829 by Thomas Sully. An intriguing detail in the room is the recurrence of the American-eagle motif in furniture, porcelain, mirrors, and other objects. In all, it appears more than 50 times. How many can you spot?

This article appears in the April 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.

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