By Anthony Seldon and Daniel Collings Flammarion. 235 pp. $65
It is the crossroads of the rich and famous and influential. Prime ministers, presidents, queens and movie stars have walked the handsome corridors and posed on the grand staircase of the British ambassador’s residence on Massachusetts Avenue in Washington. Prime Minister Winston Churchill addressed his countrymen from under the portico during World War II. President Dwight D. Eisenhower dined at the residence with Queen Elizabeth on her first state visit to the United States in 1957. Elizabeth Taylor schmoozed with the queen and President Gerald Ford in 1976.
In more recent times, former president Bill Clinton and former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton toured the residence in 2013, stopping for photos in the ambassador’s elegant, wood-paneled study, prompting the former president to quip: “If I had the good fortune to live in this house, I’d never leave this room.”
It is all captured in a new book, “The Architecture of Diplomacy,” by Anthony Seldon and Daniel Collings. The lavishly illustrated volume, with photography by Eric Sander, offers far more than a procession of luminaries. It recounts the building of the residence, led by famed British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, and highlights its many design flourishes. Constructed between 1928 and 1930, the residence blends elements of the English country house with American Colonial style. After the stock market crashed in late 1929, corners were cleverly cut to maintain a strict budget. Lutyens initially hoped to create a carved marble frieze and to install marble pilasters, floors and columns throughout the residence. But he had to scale back for cost savings: The frieze and pilasters became plaster, the black marble floor tiles became slate, and the columns were scagliola. Nonetheless, Lutyens succeeded in creating a stage set for both pleasure and serious consultation. As former British ambassador Sir David Manning put it: “Diplomacy can involve an element of theatre. The question is, what play are you putting on? And the great thing about the Residence is that it’s infinitely adaptable.”