The heiress to the Post Cereal fortune had a taste for things a bit grander than breakfast cereal. She was a collector of fine antiques and had a passion for French and Russian decorative arts. At her mansion in Washington DC you can wander her home, filled with spectacular furnishings. While the grand opulence of this style may not appeal to everyone, you cannot help but be amazed by the craftsmanship of items she collected. If you are someone who can barely draw a stick figure, imagine the talent it took to embroider a realistic floral seat cushion or create the enamelwork or metalwork in these glorious patterns. We go to these museums to appreciate the talented artists and artisans able to create this beautiful world.
Hillwood Estate is a place of grandeur, sophistication, and elegance. The one-woman force behind it all was Marjorie Merriweather Post, the person everyone in Washington D.C. wanted to befriend in hopes they might receive a coveted invitation to one of her legendary parties. She was a philanthropist extraordinaire, amassing a collection of some of the world’s most exquisite decorative arts with the intention of one day creating a museum of her home. Marjorie created this estate and wanted it shared and admired by everyone.
“When I began collecting, I did it for the joy of it, and it was only as the collection grew and such great interest was evidenced by others that I came to the realization that the collection should belong to the country.”
— Marjorie Merriweather Post
She had a grand passion for French decorative arts – especially the period of Louis XVI and a fascination for Marie Antoinette. Her French decorative arts collection remains one of the most important in America. In the French Drawing Room, even the wood paneling on the walls were imported from a French mansion of that period. Next to an elaborate roll top desk sits a small swivel chair with possible connection to Marie Antoinette herself. Imagine the Queen sitting on this little stool, having her royal hair powdered. From this room, double doors open out onto the equally exquisite French Parterre gardens. With perfect symmetry and simplicity, the two spaces blend perfectly.
At the age of 27 she had inherited a large fortune from her parents – worth over 20 million dollars in the 1910s. With the help of her second husband, financier E.F. Hutton, they turned Post Cereals into General Foods Corporation. Her third husband was the ambassador to the Soviet Union, which influenced her love of Russian Imperial Art. Hillwood Estate Museum contains the most comprehensive Russian Imperial art collection outside of Russia itself. Part of the collection is the crown worn by Empress Alexandra during her wedding to Nicholas II.
There are a total of 25 acres of manicured and themed gardens to explore. Beyond the French Parterre, there is a Japanese Garden that would be especially beautiful to see in Autumn as the rose garden is in summer. There are several wide expansive lawns where she could host one of her many social gatherings or fundraisers. For this house was an active place. Although divorced and living alone the second half of her life, she was extremely active in her philanthropy work. She did not deny herself the luxuries of life, from beautiful clothing to theater quality movie projectors for entertaining guests. Even her breakfast table was always set for four, although she lived alone, and above it hung a green chandelier that just happened to once belong to Catherine the Great. Marjorie had a lot of money, and was not afraid to show it. But in the end, she did know how to share it. She had a fascination for European royalty and their lavish lifestyles, yet at Hillwood, she shares it with us all.