We traveled to Washington, D.C., for a visit and spent an afternoon at Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens. Hillwood was the home of Marjorie Merriweather Post (1887–1973), heir to the Post Cereal Co. empire, businesswoman, socialite and philanthropist. Post bought the house and property in 1955. It sits on the edge of Rock Creek Park, which winds its way through Northwest D.C. We went there to see a collection of Dior clothing worn by the late Grace Kelly, Princess of Monaco, which was on exhibit in the Adirondack cabin Post had built on the grounds. We stayed the rest of the day for everything else.
Marjorie Post was an avid collector of 18th-century French and pre-Revolutionary Russian decorative arts, and the home is filled with treasures. Some are one-of-a-kind and irreplaceable, such as two Fabergé Imperial eggs that were commissioned as gifts from Czar Nicholas II to his mother, the dazzling wedding crown worn by the Empress Alexandra of Russia and the chandelier in the breakfast room that belonged to Catherine the Great.
While it was incredible to see such exquisite things, the museum-quality French furniture, Beauvais tapestries, Sèvres Blue Celeste and Rose porcelain, pre-Bolshevik Russian silver tea sets, chalices, religious icons and porcelains, Chinese jades, enameled boxes, jewelry by Cartier and Harry Winston, and so much more, made it seem like walking through the categories of the Kovels’ price guide.
During her many parties, Post delighted in showing her collections to guests, encouraging them to pull out drawers in display cabinets that contained information about the objects. Items are still arranged that way—a collector’s home rather than a museum. Curious visitors today can follow along with an audio tour or a tour guide for information. But guests can still open drawers in Post’s dressing room, for example, and view carefully laid corsets and accessories.
The kitchen looks like it is ready to prepare dinner for 24, with vintage appliances out and ready. And the butler’s pantry cupboards are full of “everyday” dishes and glassware, from ruby thumbprint goblets to enameled Czech glass dessert ware.
Outside, groups of lawn chairs are arranged in quiet nooks and overlooks, inviting visitors to linger and enjoy the “Lunar Lawn,” a rose garden, a Japanese-style garden, a French parterre, a putting green and other spaces. Food is available in the Merriweather Café to eat indoors or out. They will even lend you a picnic blanket.
Marjorie Post’s vision was to have Hillwood, its treasures and grounds maintained as a museum after her death. It was full of delights. Learn more at Hillwoodmuseum.org.