The office of the Speaker of the House of Commons embodies the picturesque forms, exuberance, and richness of detail which characterized the Elizabethan style of the late sixteenth century. One of the most decorative features of the room is its plaster ceiling, which refers to the long lineage of the Speakership, dating back to medieval British parliamentary tradition.
The ceiling's intricate strapwork design - combined with sprays of flowers, heraldic devices and portrait heads - creates an effect typical of the plasterer's art during the Elizabethan period. It is similar to Elizabethan ceilings in the drawing room of Hatfield House, and in the Old Palace, Bromley-by-Bow.
The friezes of the cornice feature a flowing pattern with stylized lilies and rosettes. Delicate pendants and floral motifs, incorporating tiny animals and grotesques, ornament the broad, interlacing straps. Four heraldic devices, set around the centre of the ceiling and extracted from the Royal Arms of the United Kingdom, represent the Garter bearing the motto "Honi soit qui mal y pense" and the Royal Crown. Displayed in the middle of each buckle are the floral emblems: the Tudor rose, shamrock, thistle and maple leaf.
The heads which appear in the outer medallions are four House Speakers: three British and one Canadian.
The models for the ceiling ornaments were executed by sculptor Walter J. Allen, superintendent of the modelling and carving shop located on Parliament Hill during the building's reconstruction.
The Prime Minister's office was inspired by Jacobean architecture typical in England at the beginning of the seventeenth century. The main feature of the decorative plaster ceiling is its traditional intricate strapwork design, combined with low-relief motifs such as copious sprays of leaves and flowers. It is similar to the ceiling at the Reindeer Inn in Banbury, England.
Until the 1950s, the ceiling's centrepiece featured a mariner's compass indicating the cardinal directions, symbolizing the Prime Minister's role as the "Master Mariner of the Ship of State". To reinforce this theme, medallion heads of four famous navigators are inserted in the straps connecting to the outer circles: John Cabot, Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Francis Drake and Christopher Columbus.
Motifs of shells and twisted rope, as well as a menagerie of real and fictitious sea creatures with fish tails also emphasize the maritime theme. The signs of the zodiac corresponding to the cardinal points are inlaid in the ceiling's central square. The zodiac symbolizes the universe and its seasons, and is thematically connected with the four winds of the heavens, beautifully modelled in the corners of the room as four winged heads with puffed cheeks, each representing one of the four races of humanity.
The models for the ceiling ornaments were prepared by sculptor Ferdinand L. Cerracchio, who was hired directly by architect John A. Pearson.
The main doorway of the old Reading Room carries a massive architrave of Tyndall limestone, with carved consoles flanking an interesting tympanum. The tympanum includes the room's clock, enhanced by decoration symbolizing the fleeting nature of time. The clock is located in the centre of a burnished compo enrichment, surmounted by an hourglass equipped with wings to emphasize the swift passage of life. On either side of the clock, low-reliefs of two kneeling, winged figures face each other: on the left, an angel of youth holds the trumpet for the Last Judgment; on the right, Father Time is depicted as an old man holding a crutch. A scorpion placed directly beneath the clock, symbolizing the unpredictability of death, completes the theme.
This plaster tympanum was designed by sculptor Ferdinand L. Cerracchio.
For the old House of Commons smoking room - known as the Commonwealth Room since 1965 - architect John A. Pearson selected a dignified and restrained interior design of Classical Revival style. The elegant oval shape of the design embraced many architectural features in vogue during the eighteenth century: a marble fireplace with an impressive continued chimneypiece; elegant wall niches with shell ceilings; ionic columns and pilasters, and bold architraves to doorways. A decorative plaster scheme was added to these elements, with iconographic details recalling the room's role as a smoker's sanctum.
On the north elevation, an elaborate two-storey chimneypiece flanked by half-pilasters, sets the decorative tone of the room. The marble fireplace is surmounted by an over-mirror framed with delicate mouldings and capped with a superb cartouche ornament in which two satyrs display a Turkish pipe, or hookah, in the middle of a wreath of packed fruits and leaves. The whole design is crowned with an anthemion, formed in this instance by tobacco leaves.
This smoking-room theme is closely tied in with the modelled frieze of the ceiling, which displays boxes of cigars alternating with tobacco leaves. An inner moulding in a basketweave pattern completes the ceiling ornament. The models for this fine plasterwork were executed by sculptor Ferdinand L. Cerracchio.