The tagline for Hillwood Estate is “Where Fabulous Lives,” and you’re bound to find yourself uttering that “F word” again and again during a visit there. Set on 25 acres bordering Rock Creek in Washington, D.C., Hillwood is the residence of Post cereal heiress, art collector and philanthropist Marjorie Merriweather Post, who moved into the home in 1957 with the idea that it would open as a museum upon her death.
On the outside, Hillwood is an imposing brick Georgian— not drastically different from the other houses in the surrounding neighborhood— but inside looks like an 18th-century palace, with marble columns, rock crystal chandeliers, silk tapestries and finely crafted furniture. In Ms. Post’s day, guests came to Hillwood for three types of occasions— a formal lunch or dinner, a garden party or an evening dance— but for many, the highlight of any visit was the chance to gaze upon Ms. Post’s stunning collection of Fabergé eggs, as well as the
diamond crown worn by Empress Alexandra at her marriage to Nicholas II.
Post began collecting Russian imperial art while married to the third of her four husbands, an ambassador to the Soviet Union in the 1930s, and though her collection is considered one of the best outside Russia, it represents just a portion of the beautiful objects on display at Hillwood. In the drawing room there’s a swivel chair that once belonged to Marie Antoinette. In the dining room is a spectacular Italian marble table with a mosaic top and seating for 30 that was originally designed for Ms. Post’s Palm Beach, Fla., home, Mar-A-Lago (which is now owned by Donald Trump).
It seems Ms. Post thought of every detail when it came to Hillwood. Throughout the first floor, illuminated cases display her unrivaled collection of Russian and French porcelain. In the Pavilion room, where she screened movies, the sofas have pop-up trays to hold drinks. When ladies came for dances, she supplied rubber tips for their high-heeled shoes in color-coordinated shades. She even left a lifetime supply of her favorite perfume for curators to periodically spray in her dressing room, where several of her couture dresses are on display, as well as her Cartier and Harry Winston jewels. Throughout July, a selection of Ms. Post’s Roaring ’20s costumes will be on display in the dacha on the property.
Just off the dining room, there’s a quaint breakfast room where Ms. Post would sit to taste new flavors of Jell-O or Pop Tarts as part of her role as a board member of General Foods Corp. Her father, C.W. Post, had started the Postum Cereal Co. in 1895; at his death in 1914, she inherited the company and his massive fortune, and on her watch, Postum expanded into General Foods. (It’s now part of Kraft Foods.) In the sunny café at Hillwood, you can order a cup of Postum, the “cereal beverage” that launched the family fortune (it tastes like weak coffee with a hint of molasses) or opt for high tea or lunch (the curried egg salad sandwich is divine). Either way, plan to take your time, strolling slowly through the home and taking in the 13 acres of formal gardens. 4155 Linnean Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. Open Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on select evenings and Sundays. Tickets, $12. 202-686-5807 or http://www.hillwoodmuseum.org.
Nemours Mansion and Gardens
A bit further afield, you’ll find plenty of fabulousness at Nemours Mansion and Gardens, the 300-acre country estate of industrialist and philanthropist Alfred I. duPont in Delaware’s Brandywine Valley. Constructed in 1910— and renovated in 2008— the mansion is an elegant example of the French château style (think Versailles), and one of the grandest buildings ever constructed in Delaware. Though the duPont family hasn’t occupied the mansion since 1970, the place looks much as it did when they lived there, with their family photos and personal collection of paintings, rare rugs, decorative objects and china on display. All of the home’s 102 rooms aren’t open to the public, but the key ones are on the two-hour guided tour, including the main entry hall, which is dominated by a crystal chandelier said to have belonged to the Marquis de Lafayette and the formal dining room, whose table is decorated with one of the floral arrangements that Mrs. duPont loved.
The tour groups are kept small, which helps you feel like an invited guest— that, and the fact that a docent greets you at the door with a flower. It certainly would be tempting to linger inside, but outside the largest formal French garden in North America awaits. As part of the guided tour, you’ll bus through the gardens, but at tour’s end, you have the option to explore on your own. Stroll from the French parterre garden to the sunken garden to the one-acre reflecting pool to the boxwood maze, which culminates in an elegant colonnade. Route 141 and Alapocas Road, Wilmington, Del.. Open Tuesday-Sunday starting May 1. Tickets, $15. Reservations recommended. 302-651-6912 (ext. 3) or 800-651-6912 or http://www.Nemours.org.
Evergreen Museum and Library
Back in the day, Baltimore wasn’t without its own fabulousness. You can find Gilded Age glamour close to home at Evergreen Museum and Library, former residence of the Garrett family of B & O Railroad. On a tour of the splendid 48-room mansion, you’ll be treated to a private theater decorated by designer Leon Bakst, a rare books library housing more than 8,000 volumes, drawings by Degas and
Picasso, and one of the world’s largest private collections of Tiffany glass, among other delights. Open Tuesday-Friday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, noon to 4 p.m. Tours offered on the hour. Tickets, $6, 410-516-0341, http://www.museums.jhu.edu/evergreen.