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:

  1. Ron Ross 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.

  2. Chad 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.

  3. 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!

  4. 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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