Hillwood Estate: Historic Homes with Mid-Century Flair

Visit-an-historic-house2.2Next in our series of mid century historic homes that you can visit: Hillwood Estate, with some mid mod surprises inside — like a 1950s pink bathroom to beat all pink bathrooms.

The Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens, an historic home in Washington, D.C., may be one of my personal favorites. Thanks to Reader Tina, who gave us the heads up on the place, with this note to Aunt Pam:

During the weekend, on a quest to visit a tourist destination I hadn’t yet seen in my own home town of Washington, DC, we went to Hillwood Mansion, the home of Marjorie Merriweather Post, the heiress to the Post cereal fortune. Her will stipulated that her home be opened to the public and house her fabulous collection of Russian and European decorative arts, including hundreds of pieces of porcelain. She bought and updated Hillwood in 1955 and it is beautiful. But of course, as a Mid-Century Classic myself, I fell in love with the kitchen, the pantry and… the pink bathroom! I took some pictures of the gorgeous green steel cabinets in the pantry and kitchen (and a green hamper that except for the color is identical to the one I inherited from my mom–that was in my parents’ bedroom my entire life) and the beautiful pink bathroom. They were taken with my iPhone, so I hope the quality shows….

Born in 1887, Marjorie Merriweather Post was bound to be remembered. As heiress to the Post cereal empire, she became the richest woman in America.  After her father’s death in her late 20s, she moved to Manhattan to take on her new responsibilities within the company. There she went shopping for art to furnish her new apartment — and, influenced by the spirit of collection common among the wealthy elite there, she developed a keen eye for art. She quickly learned how to tell the good from the bad – and the excellent from the good. As she became more involved in the arts and antiquities industry, she enrolled in classes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to expand her knowledge. During the Great Depression, Marjorie became more involved in charitable organizations like Salvation Army and the American Red Cross. By her third marriage she living in Russia and there, her collection expanded even more — today, the Russian decorative arts on display at Hillwood are considered among the finest in the world. The story goes: While planning her third and final divorce, Marjorie began searching for a new home to go along with her new life. Her main requests were large estate ground and 15-ft. ceilings. In 1955, she eventually settled on Abremont, a Georgian Colonial estate in  northwest D.C. She renamed it Hillwood (also the name of her former home in New York). Her new estate was originally built in the 1920s by another well known family, so it was by no means dingy. Although beautiful by most standards, Marjorie gutted all 36 rooms so she could redesign the interior. All the renovations were complete only a year after purchase. Finally, Marjorie officially moved into Hillwood. When it came to her design plan, Marjorie built off the European theme — from most of the art that she owned. Most of the rooms in Hillwood are reminiscent of historical Russian styles… but you walk into the kitchen & bathrooms then woah, 1950s.

I love, love, love this pink bathroom. Marjorie definitely liked her wallpaper- but I’m not complainin’. The crystal chandelier brings in a princess feel that is reflected in the white trim and inlayed mirror. Notice how she brings the gold hardware out with a few gold décor items strategically placed in the room.
Geneva steel cabinet alert! After Marjorie had hung her priceless Russian paintings, the gorgeous chandelier she bought from the historic Catherine Palace, many Faberge pieces, and hundreds of ceramic figurines (for a total of 16,000 items), she was soon holding the most lavish upscale parties DC could offer.  So… she needed a kitchen this big for all the preparations. Note the large steel island with the visible rivets on the end… the huge oven (with hood to match)… and the glass cabinet fronts on top that displays her plate collection. I didn’t think this kitchen could get any better but…
One of Aunt Pam and my favorite features is this separate pantry, which includes a built-in dumbwaiter.

Upon her death in 1973, Marjorie willed her final estate & all the art it contains to be opened as a public museum- it was perhaps the most charitable donation she made throughout her life. If you can’t tell, I really enjoyed researching and writing this post.  As with all the historic homes I feature, I want to give a special thanks to the Museum & its staff (especially Lynn). They are always so helpful and willing to answer any questions we may have. Click here to learn more and plan a visit to the Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens.

Finally, thanks to Tina for her additional photos.

Read all our stories about historic mid century homes you can visit here.

To view the slide show: Click on the first thumbnail to enlarge it, then proceed via the arrows below each image:


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  1. MbS says

    I somehow missed the kitchen in this house. The bathroom is a mash-up of Marjorie-Maime pink frosted delish! And, the referring Tina is my friend. Tina and I will have to plan a kitchen-adoration excursion with a re-visit of the bathroom of splendor.

  2. Adam Richards says

    My dad also has that same hamper as well. His is off white with a gold star/sunburst, and a shimmery dark gray/silver “mother of pearl” toilet seat type laminate lid. very cool house, the kitchen is so huge… it almost reminds me of a hospital or a school cafeteria.

    • Tina says

      Adam… when I was a little kid I used to like to twirl the star. Mine is white, with a “gold” star and a black sparkly top like you describe.

      The best part of the hamper (besides the awesome looks) is actually that there’s a laundry bag inside, suspended by two wooden dowels. Easy to take to the laundry room.

  3. jkaye says

    Wow, perhaps the most impressive detail is that sentence, “All the renovations were complete only a year after the purchase.” Thanks Marjorie, Matthew, and Pam, for sharing this great house with us.

    • pam kueber says

      Wow, Nina — the Dymaxion house is fabulous! We will for sure add it to the list, and plan a profile. Many thanks!

  4. Gavin Hastings says

    OK….before anyone asks “Why would anyone hang a portrait in the bathroom?” let me say I am pretty sure that it it is a photo of the fabulous Dina Merrill….daughter of Miss Post and E F Hutton….ex-wife of Cliff Robertson…actress, socialite, panelist on “Whay’s My Line”, “To Tell The Truth”, all around 50’s/60’s class act. Best known role was the maligned wife in “Butterfield 8” 1960. (the opening scene includes my favorite mid-century bedroom ever!)

    Do I love Dina Merrill?
    If I were a woman I would want to BE Dina Merrill!
    Google her name and anyone over 40 should recognise her, instantly.

    Her other childhood home was “Marilago”(sp?) in Palm Beach…last I knew, owned by Donald Trump. Miss Post tried willing that home to the United States Government, but they were not interested- a huge money pit.

      • says

        Dina Merill Alert! That’s what flashed across my forehead. I had just simply turned the corner and out of seemingly no-where a blonde woman obviously of means (you can tell it a mile away) walks directly to me, passes me on the left and quickly (and I mean quickly for her age) into the museum art gallery opening. I turned to my friend Maria and I asked, is that who I thought that was? “Yup. She’s a billionaire…now lets go get another box of cereal and make her a trillionaire.” Flawless is how I would describe Ms. Merrill. Money may not buy happiness but it doesn’t hurt to have some.

  5. nina462 says

    As for the Dymaxion house – if I stick to my vacation plans, I’ll take pictures. Can’t promise anything. But it’s really only a couple hours away & I’ve wanted to go this year. Just waiting for the kiddies to get in school, (and the weather to get cooler).
    Actually, the WHOLE Henry Ford museum is a huge treasure trove of stuff. + Greenfield village.

  6. says

    Did you see the “Ladies’ Power Room” on the first floor? Another great pink bathroom!

    I worked on that room back in 2000 or so. Man, oh man! That was a sweet project. (Assuming you like painting teeny tiny flowers on crown moulding with a teeny tiny paintbrushes.)

    I’ve got photos somewhere if you’d like to see ’em.

    Oh Hillwood….

  7. says

    Dear Pamela and Matthew.

    Thanks for letting your readers know about Hillwood. Looks like it’s right up their alley. And Gavin’s right, that is Dina Merrill. Do let me know the next time you have the opportunity to visit Hillwood!

  8. susan says

    I cannot contain my lust for those upper metal cabinets and dumbwaiter. Alas, my kitchen is small. That clinches it… I’m going to add a room on next to my kitchen and put in those cabinets in aquamarine. What the heck, I’m gonna build a dumbwaiter too. I’v been planning it for years now I’m just gonna do it. Thanks Pam!

  9. says

    It’s amazing that the tub in that bathroom is the exact same one that EVERYONE had. My grandfather’s house (1954), my parents’ (1951) and mine (not original to the house, so date is unknown). And from what I can see, it looks totally at home in a decidedly immodest pre-war house.

    • pam kueber says

      Yup — I have found, over and over, that the fixtures inside an expensive house and inside a modest house during the mid-century years were often exactly the same! The modests are mini-masterpieces!

    • pam kueber says

      I am sure the kitchen is akin to commercial — that is, they would have had a lot of staff doing all the cooking…

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