The best way to describe the feeling and demeanor of the Hillwood Estate, Musuem, and Gardens (motto: “where fabulous lives”) is that it is home to a Fabergé egg, a gigantic original portrait of Catherine the Great, and multimillions of dollars of Russian porcelain. That’ll put you in your place, won’t it?!
Hillwood, one of the many homes of famed D.C. philanthropist Marjorie Merriweather Post, is fantastic. It is made up of an art-filled mansion and dozens of small and finely pruned gardens, and Post spent the final 20 years of her life adding to its collections. Heiress to and head of the Postum/General Foods Corporation, Post purchased Hillwood in 1955 and from the beginning envisioned it as the perfect setting for her extensive art collection. She always planned on turning the collection over to the public, in the vein of her contemporaries Isabella Stewart Gardner and Henry Frick.
The mansion is the heart of the art collection, filled with mostly 18th century French and Russian Imperial art arranged in about ten different rooms. Two of the most stunning rooms are the English library and the dining room, featuring gorgeous portraits of Post and her family, antiques, and lace table settings and crystal glassware. I also loved the kitchen, which is frozen in time around 1955—as a food maven, Post had all of the newest gadgets like a large freezers for frozen foods that had just come on the scene. The bedroom suites are also stunning, and Post’s bedroom displays a number of her gowns, shoes, and jewelry.
Outside the mansion, the work of the full-time horticultural staff easily stands out. The grounds include large vegetable and flower plots, roses, a Japanese garden, and a pet cemetery. A greenhouse filled with orchids at various stages in their growing processes is also well attended to. Also located on the estate are a “dacha” (Russian country house) and the Adirondack building, both of which house traveling art collections but were closed to the public when I visited.
I would highly suggest visiting Hillwood for afternoon tea, served from 3:30-5:30 every day for $14 per guest. During summer months, you have your choice of iced or hot tea, as well as an arrangement of tiny and delicious cakes and sandwiches.
Exploring Marjorie Merriweather Post’s world through Hillwood is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. She truly was a maven of art, style, and philanthropy, and left quite the gift to our city.
To visit: 4155 Linnean Ave NW, a short walk from the Van Ness-UDC Metro. Open Tuesdays-Saturdays and some Sundays, 10am-5pm. 202-686-5807.