When the walls were built in 1798, the structure was originally painted white with lime-based whitewash to keep the permeable stone from freezing. The original paint has since been removed.
In 1835, President Andrew Jackson had the first floor of the east wing covered with American walnut panels. These are the only known existing pieces of paneling from before the construction of the current west wing in 1840. The wood is dark brown with a reddish hue from years of smoke and soot damage.
The west wing was built by the Treasury Department from 1841 to 1847 under the supervision of the renowned architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe. It was Latrobe's only Washington, D.C., project; he died before finishing it. He was replaced by James Hoban who completed the job in 1854.
Hoban's design is considered one of the first examples of American Renaissance architecture. It features large rooms with high ceilings, windows with wooden shutters, and wide-plank oak floors. The exterior is composed of gray Virginia limestone with a red clay tile roof.
After the White House was damaged by fire in 1814 and again by an explosion in 1833, the government hired other architects to give them suggestions on how to improve the building.
There is a widespread belief that the White House was initially painted white to disguise the scorch marks left by British soldiers who set fire to it during the War of 1812. Actually, a lime-based whitewash was originally applied on the White House in 1798 to preserve the outside stone from moisture and cracking during winter freezes. The color was recently restored by the National Park Service after being nearly 100 years old.
In 1915, President Wilson asked that the house be painted white to make it easier for his wife to keep clean. The Wilsons were eager for their new home to be finished by the time they moved into it, so Mrs. Wilson took charge of the project herself. She chose a color called "Silver Cloud" which she thought would match the snow clouds in the sky at morning and sunset. It's not known exactly what kind of paint she used, but it probably wasn't anything special since the color has faded over time. The Wilsons had the interior woodwork painted white as well. Mrs. Wilson felt that this would make the house look bigger and give it a more modern appearance.
You might also want to know that before they painted the house, the Wilsons hired a local artist to do a portrait of Mrs. Wilson wearing clothes from another era. It's on display in the East Wing of the White House.
The porous sandstone walls were whitewashed with a mixture of lime, rice glue, casein, and lead after construction was completed, giving the home its recognizable hue and name. These materials were also used to paint the interior of the home.
You may have heard that the White House was originally painted white, but this isn't true. The first president to live in the White House was George Washington. He had the floor of the main room covered with black-and-white tiles from the State Dining Room at his former residence, Mount Vernon, so it wasn't painted white per se, but rather its current color (black) was given as an excuse for replacing them!
Even though James Monroe wanted to keep the house white, they had to go with the black-and-white theme due to a lack of money. At the time, painting such a large structure would have been too expensive. Once Thomas Jefferson became president in 1801, he hired someone to give the exterior of the house a fresh coat of white paint and expanded the number of rooms inside. This is why there are white floors and walls in the second story east apartment today.
The stone was bleached after it was installed to avoid cracking.
The first instance of the public referring to it as the "White House" was reported in 1811. A narrative developed that during the restoration of the structure following the Burning of Washington, white paint was used to conceal the fire damage, giving the edifice its eponymous tint. The story may have originated with Thomas Jefferson, who after his election as president in 1801 remarked that the "building should be so painted."
In fact, the first official description of the building's exterior as "white" appeared more than a year after it was completed. In an 1832 article for the National Intelligencer, James Johnson described the executive mansion this way: "It is a large brick building, two stories high, with white walls and a red tile roof. It has twenty-four windows on the ground floor and twenty-one above."
Although Jefferson did not actually say this, it is possible that he had white paint brought from France at a cost of $23,000 (about $300,000 in today's money).
The color choice was certainly popular at the time. The British architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe is said to have advised against it because "there are too many whites in nature," but this seems unlikely since the president's house was meant to be the most prominent building in town. More likely, Latrobe was commenting on how much it would cost to paint the entire city white.
They painted the outside of their houses white to keep them cooler. White limestone was used to line the exteriors of the wealthy's dwellings. Limestone was costly, but it made their homes gleam in the sunlight. The Egyptians liked light houses because it let in more sunlight which meant that they could grow more food during the summer months.
Another reason for painting your house white is that it makes it harder for insects to live in them. If you want to make sure that you don't have any ants in your house, just paint the exterior black. This will force all the ants inside the house where they can't go anywhere else!
Finally, painting your house white would make it look newer and brighter every year. The color absorbs the heat from the sun that would otherwise fade old wood and cause walls to crack.
There are many reasons why the Egyptians painted their houses white, but most important was that it made them feel comfortable in their home.