Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens, Washington, United States

Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens is a decorative arts museum in Washington, D.C., United States. The former residence of businesswoman, socialite, philanthropist and collector Marjorie Merriweather Post, Hillwood is known for its large decorative arts collection that focuses heavily on the House of Romanov, including Fabergé eggs. Other highlights are 18th and 19th century French art and one of the country’s finest orchid collections.

Marjorie Merriweather Post bought Hillwood in 1955 and renovated the property with the intention of leaving it as a museum that would inspire and educate the public. Hillwood opened as a public institution in 1977, endowing the country with the most comprehensive collection of Russian imperial art outside of Russia, a distinguished 18th-century French decorative art collection, six working greenhouses boasting one of the country’s finest orchid collections, and twenty-five acres of serene landscaped gardens and natural woodlands for all to enjoy.

With over 16,000 objects, collection highlights include: two Imperial Fabergé Easter eggs; a Rolltop Desk by Abraham and David Roentgen; two chests of drawers by Jean-Henri Riesener; A Portrait of the Duchess of Parma and Her Daughter by Jean-March Nattier; A Portrait of Countess Samoilova by Karl Briullov; A Boyar Wedding Feast by Konstantin Egorovich Makovskii; bleu céleste wares by the Sèvres Porcelain Manufactory; and a chasuble (Russian Orthodox liturgical vestment) worn by a bishop during the coronation of Nicholas II in 1896. Additional highlights include Beauvais tapestries from the 1730s, table services commissioned by Catherine the Great, Russian Orthodox Church objects, rare lace tablecloths, Wedgwood ceramics, bloodstone objects, and jewelry by Harry Winston and Cartier.

Since 1997, Hillwood has presented a range of scholarly special exhibitions to build on the international nature of the collections. In 2012, with the presentation of Prêt-à-Papier: The Exquisite Art of Isabelle de Borchgrave, Hillwood launched a new program that adds contemporary and outdoor initiatives to the ongoing presentation of exhibitions to offer added perspectives on the collections, gardens, and the Marjorie Merriweather Post life story.

As she arranged her divorce from her third husband, Joseph E. Davies, Post initiated a search for a new house. She wanted a stately home with fifteen-foot ceilings, sited on a large, thickly wooded spot. After the divorce was final, she bought Arbremont, a Georgian Colonial estate in northwest Washington on the edge of Rock Creek Park, rechristening it Hillwood, a name she had also used for her former property in Brookville, Long Island.

Arbremont, with its 36 rooms, had been built in the 1920s by Mrs. Delos A. Blodgett for her daughter, Helen Blodgett Erwin. After Post acquired it from the Erwins, she hired the architect Alexander McIlvaine to gut and rebuild its interior. The renovations, which included moving the library doors to frame a view of the Washington Monument, were completed in 1956. Showcasing her collections including French, Asian and what Hillwood is most known for – Russian art and religious objects.

During her marriage with Davies, who served as the second Ambassador to the Soviet Union in the mid-1930s, she acquired a vast collection of objects from the pre-Bolshevik Russia, including a chandelier from the Catherine Palace that hung in her breakfast nook, and Fabergé art works including the Twelve Monograms Easter egg. Post had her first guests to the house in May 1957 and hosted her first big party there on July 7, 1957. Hillwood quickly gained a reputation as one of Washington’s “most extraordinary estates.”

As a tribute to Post after her 70th birthday, 181 of her friends built “Friendship Walk,” a path from Hillwood’s rose garden to a crest overlooking Rock Creek Park.

Concerned with Hillwood’s fate after her death, Post arranged in 1962 to bequeath the estate, along with a $10 million endowment to maintain it, to the Smithsonian Institution so that it might be maintained as a museum. She made the bequest of Hillwood (as well as most of her other properties) contingent upon its being maintained and used according to her wishes (which included the condition that the estate not be used for dining), and she established the Marjorie Merriweather Post Foundation of the District of Columbia to ensure compliance: any property improperly used would revert to the Foundation. Post was residing at Hillwood when she died on September 12, 1973.

The Smithsonian declined to make the changes needed to convert Hillwood to a museum, and complained that by 1975 the endowment, producing $450,000 annual income, was insufficient to maintain the site. Accordingly, Hillwood and the majority of the collection was returned to the Post Foundation by April 1976.

Hillwood is now maintained by the Post Foundation as the Hillwood Museum and Gardens, showcasing 18th and 19th century French art and art treasures from Imperial Russia.

Hillwood features over 17,000 objects from the original collection and selected objects collected after Post’s death. Collection highlights include:
Portrait of Catherine the Great, a full-length portrait of Catherine II in her Russian elite finery.
Two Chests of Drawers designed by Jean-Henri Riesener, official cabinetmaker of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.
The Duchess of Parma and Her Daughter by Jean-Marc Nattier.
The Countess Samoilova and Her Foster Daughter by Karl Briullov, 1834.
A Boyar Wedding Feast by Konstantin Makovsky, 1883.
Imperial Easter Eggs, two House of Fabergé that were gifts to Maria Fedorovna from her son Nicholas II of Russia.
Bleu Celeste Wares, from Manufacture nationale de Sèvres including a tureen from 1754.
Mrs. Post Portrait by Douglas Chandor, 1952.
Felonion, Russian Orthodox liturgical vestment worn by a priest during the coronation of Nicholas II in 1896.
Additional highlights include tapestries from the 1730s, table services collected by Catherine the Great, Russian Orthodox Church objects such as icons and liturgical vessels, rare lace tablecloths, Wedgwood ceramics, bloodstone objects and jewelry by Harry Winston and Cartier.

Hillwood offers appointment-only access to their Art Research Library, which features a notable selection of Russian and European decorative art books and documents.

Marjorie Post maintained strong ties to the eighteenth-century French decorating style that she developed in the 1920s, transferring much of this look to her new home at Hillwood in the mid-1950s. This did not keep her from updating her Georgian-style mansion with the most modern conveniences that money could buy. Journey through her final home to experience the elegant French drawing room, the efficient and “high-tech” kitchen and pantry, and the many personal touches that made Hillwood one of Washington’s most memorable homes.

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.

Climb the regal staircase with its French wrought-iron and gilt-bronze railing and encounter the Russian monarchy as tsars and tsarinas gaze from the many portraits that line the way, revealing Post’s interest in royalty.

French Drawing Room
Immerse yourself in this sumptuous room, resplendent with Beauvais tapestries, Sèvres porcelain, glistening gold boxes, and Gobelin tapestry upholstered chairs, and imagine you’re beginning an elegant evening at Hillwood among some of Marjorie Post’s distinguished guests—from diplomats and politicians–no bipartisan bickering thwarted the proper dinner parties at Post’s home–to Post family and friends, and members of the Washington social set.

Many of these famous guests are pictured in photographs on the grand piano. The fresh floral arrangements conform to Post’s wishes to grace and enliven her Mansion in perpetuity.

French Porcelain Room
Housing Marjorie Post’s renowned collection of Sèvres porcelain, the French Porcelain room testifies to her enthusiasm for her collection and her plan to establish Hillwood as a museum. Majestically displayed in built-in cases she had designed for this purpose, this room contains a wide variety of objects. The diversity of the collection—various colors, shapes, sizes, and decorative motifs are present—demonstrates the tremendous skill and prolific output of France’s Sèvres factory.

Whether 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. Today, what were once described as “up-to-the-minute” appliances, including multiple Hobart standing mixers, a Globe Gravity Feed meat slicer, an Oster Touch-a-Matic combination can opener and juicer, and a fifty-five-cup capacity West Bend coffee percolator still line the heavy-duty stainless steel counters of this once working kitchen.

Every feature to ensure ease-of-use for her staff was included in this entertaining staging area. Modern green Geneva steel cabinets that once stored Marjorie’s most used, everyday services, line the walls of the pantry, while a dumbwaiter nearby was used not to transport food, but to bring up the more precious porcelain and glass from basement storage. Across the aisle is a walk-in safe where the silver was stored. And look closely, even timers built in to the cabinets were included to make efficiency a priority. Luxuries such as these allowed Marjorie to be one of the most distinguished hostesses in Washington, D.C.

Staff Dining Room
Ever mindful of the well-being of her staff, Marjorie Post took great care to ensure comfortable accommodations for them. The staff of the house alone numbered sixteen to eighteen and included the butler, footmen, and maids. Six security personnel worked rotating shifts, protecting Marjorie and the property. She provided the typical room and board for live-in staff, but also paid compensation up to thirty-five percent higher than average and offered generous perks, such as tailored work clothes and laundry service paid for by the estate.

Dining Room
The dining room was designed with furnishings from a variety of times and places to achieve a grand appearance. The French early eighteenth-century oak paneling, featuring rococo motifs such as billowing scrolls and graceful long-tailed birds, sets a lively tone for the room. Four large Dutch paintings of hunting scenes on the walls add a stately touch, and a nineteenth-century Aubusson carpet, a gift from Napoleon III to Emperor Maximillian of Mexico, graces the floor. A pair of stunning Empire Style lapis lazuli and gilt bronze candelabra, an eightieth birthday gift to Marjorie, frame the fireplace and add to the luxurious atmosphere.

Breakfast Room
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. On a beautiful Washington spring day, one can imagine an open window inviting the rippling of the fountain just outside.

First Floor Library
This room displays an interesting mix of memorabilia and museum-quality objects. The décor mainly reflects the English tradition, from the Georgian style pine paneling to the eighteenth-century marble mantel, and an abundance of English furnishings, including an interesting collection of miniature furniture. Family portraits in Cartier and other fine frames add a personal touch. An eighteenth-century Parisian furniture bed once was a favorite lounging spot for Marjorie Post’s beloved schnauzer, Scampi.

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

While designing Hillwood with a public audience in mind, Marjorie Merriweather Post found that she needed a space for the small precious objects and the liturgical objects that were not appropriate for displaying in large rooms intended for entertaining. She built this treasury, or collector’s cabinet, and called it the Icon Room.

Russian Porcelain Room
When visitors enter the Russian porcelain room, they are welcomed by 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.

Every great house requires a place for guests to retire for the evening’s entertainment following a sumptuous meal. Marjorie Post built the pavilion to serve just this purpose.

Post Bedroom Suite
From the Louis XVI canopied bed to the dresses on Marjorie’s daughters Adelaide and Eleanor in the Pierre Tartoué portrait, a pink and gold color scheme dominates Hillwood’s master bedroom. A neoclassical desk by Conrad Mauter, a cabinetmaker of German descent working in Paris in the eighteenth century, is situated to the side of the bed. Contrast this piece’s simple lines with the swirling decorations on the Roentgen desk in the French drawing room.

Second Floor Hall
This transitional space between public and private holds exciting discoveries for the enterprising visitor. Outside the bedroom suites, a microcosm of Marjorie Post’s collection, with stunning examples of French, Russian, and English decorative arts intermingling with Old Master paintings, adorns the way.

English Bedroom
Recently opened to the public for the first time in over thirty years, this second floor guest room differs dramatically in style from the other spaces in the mansion. Dominated by a massive Chippendale bed, the walls are adorned with six nineteenth-century pictures of English ships embroidered with wool thread known as “sailor’s wools.” An American tambour desk—a desk with desktop drawers and pigeon holes— made in New England in the early 1800s, completes the room’s less formal atmosphere.

Russian Sacred Arts Gallery
The second floor hosts a peaceful gallery dedicated to sacred Russian Orthodox ecclesiastical objects: icons created for the veneration of saints, elaborate chalices used for communion, and vestments, chalice covers, altar cloths, and other religious textiles.

Second Floor Library
Full of eighteenth-century British flavor, the second floor library echoes the look of an English country house, down to the Chippendale gaming table. Continuing the style begun in the larger first floor library, wall paneling, furnishings, and sporting paintings complete the theme. A large portrait by Sir Oswald Birley of Eleanor Barzin, Marjorie Post’s second daughter, in riding costume, presides over one end of the room. Above the English mantel on the opposite end hangs a 1940s portrait of an elegant Marjorie Merriweather Post by Frank O. Salisbury.

Adam Bedroom
Named for the English neoclassical style of decoration popularized in the late eighteen and early nineteenth centuries by Robert and John Adam, this bedroom features a magnificent decorative scheme. The ornamental plasterwork in the ceiling echoes the carpet gracing the floor. English Adam-style furniture, Wedgwood jasperware ice pails on the mantle, and other English furnishings complete the Adam-style treatment of the room.

Hillwood’s spectacular gardens capture the vision Marjorie Post conceived when rebuilding the estate in the 1950s. She hired prominent landscape architects Umberto Innocenti and Richard Webel to expand the existing gardens. Thirteen acres of formal gardens extend from the house’s terraces and porches in a progression of “outdoor rooms.” Each of these rooms, meant to complement the mansion’s interior spaces, is decidedly private yet connected to adjacent gardens through subtle transitional features, encouraging an intuitive flow from the French parterre to the rose garden and onto the Friendship Walk.

Set on twenty-five acres adjacent to Rock Creek Park, Hillwood’s gardens feature a diverse and fascinating array of herbaceous plants, shrubs, and trees, offering something to see in every season. Autumn isn’t quite over and the grounds are still sporting wondrous colors. If you find there’s a nip in the air, take a moment to warm up in the greenhouse and see our orchid and tropical plant collection.

Motor Court
Though this entrance is designed to be the back of the mansion—leaving the impressive welcome to the Georgian façade overseeing the Lunar Lawn and the woodlands of Rock Creek Park to the south—this entrance, with its abundant foliage of spring flowering azaleas, dogwoods, and distinctive purple-leaf plum, impresses on the visitor the enchanting oasis that awaits.

Rose Garden
The rose garden offers a feast for the senses from spring through late fall. Only steps from the French parterre, fifteen cultivars of roses delight the eye with a visual bouque—pink, red, coral, white, and yellow.

Friendship Walk
Beginning at the rose garden and ending with the circular Four Seasons Overlook, this secluded path is flanked by boxwood, rhododendrons, and azaleas. The overlook is shaded by magnolia, Crape myrtle, white pine, and American Holly trees.

Four Seasons Overlook
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.

French Parterre
Listen for the gentle sound of the sparkling pool to guide you to the French parterre, a secluded garden room set off by ivy-covered walls.

Through one of the petite arched doorways, enter a world of European elegance and refinement. The French parterre—a formal garden with low intricate plantings divided by footpaths and surrounded by walls of English ivy—is designed to capture the feel of a small formal garden of the eighteenth century.

Putting Green
Surrounded by Japanese holly and snowball viburnum, just down the rustic stone steps from the Rose Garden, the Putting Green is a lush green space that once provided an entertaining diversion for Marjorie Merriweather Post’s guests. In the era of American country estates in the early to mid-20th century, elements that invited activity were integral design components of the landscape. Hillwood was once home to other recreational components, such as a swimming pool, tennis courts, bridle path, stables, and dog kennels. Marjorie was a long-time proponent of living a healthy life and emphasized exercise along with healthful eating. On a cool evening, she enjoyed bringing golf balls out for a putting competition with family and friends.

Lunar Lawn
Leo, a regal 18th-century stone lion, presides over an emerald expanse of over 13,000 square feet of turf, embraced and shaded by American elm trees and encircled by colorful seasonal plantings. Evergreen arborvitae and false cypress, along with spring-blooming azaleas, camellias, dogwoods, and magnolia enclose the space to create an outdoor room for entertaining on a grand scale.

Japanese-style Garden
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.

Pet Cemetery
Reached through quiet wooded paths, the pet cemetery is a tranquil memorial to the pet dogs that Marjorie Post loved throughout her life. Plants include forget-me-nots, “sweetbox” and vinca groundcover. Post’s last dog, Scampi, was laid to rest in the pet cemetery in 1972. The great love of dogs is a tradition that many of Post’s family members carried on and they continued to memorialize their beloved four-legged friends in the pet cemetery through the 1980s.

Marjorie Merriweather Post was charmed by the Russian country houses she saw and visited during her time in Moscow in the 1930s and built a version of one at Hillwood to perfectly suit a portion of her Russian collection. Built in 1969 during the Cold War, the dacha represents a nostalgic view of Russian culture. Featuring some architectural elements of authentic Russian dachas, such as the whole-log construction and the intricate carvings, other details are American adaptations of Russian motifs—like the multiple bright colors or the onion-shaped domes on the roof, which are typical of Russian churches but not rustic homes.

Adirondack Building
This rustic, rough-hewn building recalls the architectural style of Camp Topridge, Marjorie Post’s summer retreat in the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York. Built ten years after her death, the unfinished natural exterior is surrounded by native shrubs and woodlands. The Adirondack Building is used for public programs and special exhibitions, allowing visitors to experience the full depth of the Hillwood experience.

In any season, the beauty and serenity of fragrant flowers can be found in the greenhouse.

When Marjorie Merriweather Post purchased Hillwood in 1955, a small greenhouse existed on the grounds. Orchids were her favorite flower and she invested significant resources into fueling this passion. She saw Hillwood as a perfect opportunity to support her growing orchid collection and had four more greenhouses built on either side of the existing one.

Cutting Garden
The types of flowers grown and used to decorate the mansion were traditional in formal arrangements of the 1950s and 60s. Marjorie Post stipulated that, upon her death, Hillwood would be opened as a museum to the public and that the tradition of fresh cut flowers would continue. You may see some flowers that are not generally used as cut flowers today. Historic photographs determine the style and placement of the arrangements. Photographs taken in the 1960s suggest that flowers were chosen to complement the dinner service and the season. You’ll find that same level of attention given to them at Hillwood today.

Since its first one in 1997, Hillwood has presented a range of scholarly special exhibitions to build on the international nature of the collections. In 2012, with the presentation of Prêt-à-Papier: The Exquisite Art of Isabelle de Borchgrave, Hillwood launched a new program that adds contemporary initiatives to the ongoing presentation of exhibitions to offer added perspectives on the collections, gardens, and the Marjorie Merriweather Post life story.

The Hillwood established an advisory committee in 2001 for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community of Washington, D.C. The estate hosts events such as “Gay Day,” gay friendly concerts and film nights. Working closely with major events such as Gay Pride and numerous non-profit queer organizations in the region, the Hillwood serves as one of the few cultural institutions reaching out to the LGBT community. In 2007 the estate was awarded the Ally of the Year Award by the D.C. LGBT Chamber of Commerce.

Nestled in the hills of Northwest Washington, D.C., Hillwood welcomes visitors from around the world with its gracious hospitality. Escape into an oasis only five miles from downtown Washington and explore the pristine mansion, dine at the café, and enjoy the beauty of the formal gardens.

Bordering Rock Creek Park in the Forest Hills neighborhood of Washington, DC, Hillwood allows you to escape the bustle of downtown without leaving the city. Accessible by foot, bike, or car, Hillwood encourages you to choose the transportation option best suited for your visit.