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  • Writer's pictureKen Murray

A Visit to Hillwood Estate on a Beautiful December Day

Shelly and I visited Hillwood Estate on a gorgeous December day. It was sunny and in the low 50's. Hillwood is the estate of Marjorie Merriweather Post. The tour included the gardens and the mansion and it's beautiful furnishings. We had visited Hillwood about 15 years ago, but it was a night and there were a lot of people crowding the mansion. With Covid restrictions, there were only about 10 people in the mansion, and another handful touring the grounds. We also listed to descriptions of the mansion and furnishings on an app on our phone. So we got to take it all in at a pleasant pace.

Post bought Hillwood in 1955 and decided her home would be a museum that would inspire and educate the public. Her northwest Washington, DC estate endowed the country with the most comprehensive collection of Russian imperial art outside of Russia, a distinguished 18th-century French decorative art collection, and 25 acres of landscaped gardens and natural woodlands.

We toured the estate grounds first. The gardens were beautiful even in December. We'll visit again in the spring when flowers are in bloom.

I have included Hillwood Estate website descriptions of the gardens and mansion rooms.

Here is the entrance to Hillwood.

The French Parterre, a secluded garden room set off by ivy-covered walls..

Four Seasons Overlook with four statues representing the seasons welcome garden strollers to this circular overlook, surrounded by variety of trees, including magnolia, cherry, dogwood, crape myrtle, and witch hazel, that offer colorful blooms throughout the year. In the center, carved in black serpentine Italian marble, rests a plaque containing a quote about friendship by Nicholas II’s tsarina, Alexandra.

Japanese-style Garden was absolutely beautiful and calming. Designed by Shogo Myaida and clearly reflecting Marjorie Post’s love of collecting decorative objects, this non-traditional Japanese garden offers action and intrigue instead of opportunities for contemplative meditation found in other Japanese gardens. Well-placed stone lanterns, pagodas, symbolic animals, and statues with storied significance populate the various niches.

Here are a couple videos of the Japanese-style Garden.

The Dog Cemetery is a tranquil memorial to the pet dogs that Marjorie Post loved throughout her life

A photo of the grounds taken from the rear entrance.

You can see the top half of the Washington Monument which is 5 miles away.

A single rose still in full bloom in the Cutting Garden.

We then toured the mansion, and entered through the grand Entry Hall. Here, exquisite furnishings and objects introduce the dual interests that guided Post’s passion for collecting: the decorative and fine arts of eighteenth-century France and imperial Russia.

The Russian Porcelain Room welcomes the guest with a majestic double-headed eagle inlaid in the center of the floor. This imperial coat of arms sets the tone for the Russian glass and porcelain lining the walls, mostly produced in imperially owned or sponsored factories.

The Pavilion was the great room for guests to retire for the evening's entertainment following a sumptuous meal.

The French Drawing Room is where guests would gather before dinner.

The Icon Room has over 400 glistening chalices, silver-covered icons, and splendid Fabergé objects that are perfectly at home in this intimate setting tucked among Hillwood’s stately rooms.

The First Floor Library displays an interesting mix of memorabilia and museum-quality objects.

The Dining Room was designed with furnishings from a variety of times and places to achieve a grand appearance.

The Breakfast Room is a small room off the Dining Room and with sun drenching the foliage inside and its 180° view over the expansive Lunar Lawn, the Breakfast Room blends seamlessly with the glorious outdoor spaces.

The Kitchen and Pantry is used for intimate dinners or large garden parties, the staff of thirty to thirty-five people (including three cooks) at Hillwood were fully equipped to prepare and serve Washington's most memorable meals

Here are two photos of the Second Floor Hall landing at the top of the stairs.

The Post Bedroom Suite includes a bathroom, dressing room, closets, and this bedroom.

The Second Floor Library is full of eighteenth-century British flavor, the second floor library echoes the look of an English country house, down to the Chippendale gaming table.

That ends the tour. Throughout, I could envision Post hosting politicians, foreign emissaries and royalty.

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