A Lavish Legacy

Heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post’s Washington, D.C. estate, the Hillwood Museum and Gardens, is a showcase for her stately collection of decorative arts

Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens
Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens Wikimedia Commons

Marjorie Merriweather Post, whose fortune was rooted in such down-to-earth grocery-shelf items as Postum and Post Toasties, had the means to acquire almost anything that her collector's zeal desired—fabled Fabergé eggs, precious Beauvais tapestries, museum-quality antique furniture, rich Aubusson rugs, sets and sets of brilliantly decorated 18th-century Sèvres porcelain. She bought to grace her grand homes with rare and beautiful things and, after death claimed her, to delight and teach the public about yesterday's treasures. Tuesday through Saturday, every month except February, any tourist with a reservation can wander through the opulently decorated Washington, D.C. home she called Hillwood.

 It is now the Hillwood Museum and Gardens, a sprawl of buildings and a 25-acre stretch of land that boasts a stately mansion housing the most comprehensive collection of 18th- and 19th-century Russian imperial art outside Russia; a celebrated selection of 18th-century French decorative arts; a complex of greenhouses sheltering several thousand orchid plants; an Adirondack lodge; a French parterre; a Russian dacha; a Japanese-style garden; a pet cemetery; a charming café; and a wide lawn bordered by elms that frame a view of the Washington Monument. In the warm months, the landscape blooms effusively—rhododendrons, magnolias, azaleas, roses and flowering cherry trees.

 Married four times and the mother of three daughters (her youngest became the actress Dina Merrill), the glamorous socialite was also a shrewd businesswoman and generous supporter of numerous good causes. She preferred to collect decorative objects—especially ones with historic import or royal associations: a diamond-studded crown worn by Alexandra at her wedding to Nicholas II of Russia, a jeweled Fabergé egg that once contained a figure of Catherine the Great, Gobelins tapestries given to Prince Henry of Prussia by Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

Post bought Hillwood in 1955 with the thought of creating both a new home and a future museum. The estate, which is now run by a foundation headed by Post's granddaughter Ellen Charles, reopened last September after nearly three years of renovations. For additional information go to: www.hillwoodmuseum.org

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