Thursday, November 23, 2017

Hillwood Mansion Part I

Marjorie Merriweather Post was the heir to Postum Cereal Company which eventually turned into Post Consumer Brands. She lived from 1887 to 1973. In addition to having a central roll at the company, she also collected French and Russian art and was a generous benefactor to many charities. She also had three homes, one of which is Hillwood Estate in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. She bought the property in 1955 as her "Spring and Fall" home (she had a home in Florida for the winters and another in upstate New York for the summers). She made many expansions and additions before moving in. After her death, the home and the art therein became a place for future generations to enjoy and learn from. Her will specified that it be turned into a museum.

We visited the home in October 2017, and naturally started our visit at the visitor's center.

Visitor's Center, Hillwood Estate

Bust and quote of Marjorie Merriweather Post

Picture of Marjorie

After paying our entry fee, we received self-guided audio recordings which are much easier than being on a guided tour when you have kids of varying ages and interests.

The mansion is approached by a circular driveway, the way that visitors would have come back in the hayday of the estate. A winged statue of Eros greets the vehicles and pedestrians.

The mansion


By the entrance to the house are some statues of dogs. Marjorie had a succession of pet dogs, some of whom are buried in the pet cemetery out back (which we will visit in a future post about the gardens).

Petting one of the dogs

The entrance, slightly eclipsed by shrubbery

The entry hall makes a great impression with a two-story ceiling and multiple paintings from 1700s France and Imperial Russia (1800s to early 1900s).

Stairs dominated by Catherine the Great's portrait

Rock crystal chandelier

A woven Russian portrait

An 18th century chest of drawers!

Just around the corner is a powder room where female guests refreshed themselves.

Ladies' Powder Room

Down a side hall is a wet bar that serves the Pavilion, an addition made in 1957 to help Marjorie entertain guests.

Unassuming wet bar

Very assuming pavilion

The room includes a balcony with theater seating. The seating is appropriate since the room has a projector in the balcony along with cleverly hidden speakers and a drop down screen. After dinner, guests could enjoy a movie! The couches even have drink and snack trays built-in.

Balcony with wet bar below

Snack-ready couch

Nesting tables

As with the rest of the house, works of art are also sprinkled in among the other finery.



The French Drawing Room is another area that saw a lot of guests and party goers. As the name suggests, the room is dominated by art works and decorations from late 1700s France. The "windows" are really curtained double doors that were opened out onto the French garden, expanding the space.

French Drawing Room

Fireplace with portrait of Empress Eugenie (wife of Napoleon III)

Close up of the fire place

Bleu celeste Sevres porcelain

Roll top desk with monogram "MA"--maybe Marie Antoinette?

Linking the Pavilion and the French Drawing Room is the Russian Porcelain Room, set-up from the 1950s to display Marjorie's collection. The drawers underneath the cabinets have information about the displayed items, allowing visitors both in Marjorie's day and today to learn more. The floor inlay with a double-headed eagle is a symbol of Russia.

Russian Porcelain Room

Floor inlay symbolizing Russia

Double-headed eagle in the dishware

Also connected to the Russian Porcelain Room is the Icon Room, which showcases sacred art objects from Imperial Russia. The highlights here are the Imperial Easter Eggs crafted by Carl Faberge's firm. Czar Alexander III gave his wife a specially commissioned Easter egg each year beginning in 1885. His son Nicholas II continued the tradition for his mom into the 1900s, though he also gave an egg each year to his wife.

Icon Room

Gilt icons

Three teaching saints

Faberge eggs

The first floor library is a more intimate room, used to entertain friends and family. It has a model of the yacht "Sea Cloud" which Marjorie loaned to the U.S. Navy in World War II.

First floor library

More of the library

The dining room is large and spacious, with oak paneling from a Parisian home built in the 1700s. The table has several leaves, one of which is on display to show off the fine craftsmanship.

Dining room

Table leaf

Dining room fireplace

A side table

A breakfast room juts out from the dining room and provides a more intimate and casual space for lunches and dinners. The audio-guide told us that Grape-nuts were served at every breakfast, a nod to Marjorie Post's company.

Breakfast room

Breakfast dishes

More of the house in the next post!

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