Bought by Marjorie Meriweather Post in 1955, the Hillwood estate was intended to serve as a showcase for its mistress' collections alongside its functions as a home and venue for legendary parties. Mrs. Post decorated her Georgian mansion primarily in the 18th century French style, but she was also passionate about Russian imperial art after spending the 1930s in Moscow as the wife of the American ambassador to the Soviet Union. Today, Hillwood is maintained as Mrs. Post intended when she first opened it to the public in 1977: as part residence and part museum, surrounded by 25 acres of landscaped gardens and serene woodlands.
Mom, an amateur expert in 18th and 19th century Russian history and an actual art professional, led me through the house; she gestured at one portrait or another hung along the walls of the grand staircase as she explained the sordid relationships between the royals, pointed out the differences between Louis XV and Louis XVI furniture, and waxed lyrical about the fine art of porcelain appreciation. We eavesdropped on a few guided tours along the way, too, but our ultimate goal was outside.
Designed as a succession of "outdoor rooms," each space is intimate while flowing naturally into the next. The French Parterre and the Lunar Lawn, guarded by a lion originally from Somerset House in London, transported me to Europe; the Japanese Garden inspired quiet contemplation in its subtle intricacy. Of course, Mom and I paused for a moment in the pet cemetery, similar to the one Jon and I saw at Sandringham on our honeymoon, before claiming a bench in the sun amongst the roses and peonies for a good chat.
We visited Hillwood just before the Cartier exhibition opened, but it sounds fabulous and I absolutely plan on going back later in the summer to check it out. They're also cohosting a Bastille Day festival on July 12 with the Alliance Française - who wants to come sing the Marseillaise with me? And Mom and I spoke to a gardener on the estate who said they are always looking for volunteers to help out in the gardens and the greenhouse. Apparently the volunteers get first dibs on cuttings that aren't used or are no longer needed by the estate! If only I didn't have such a brown thumb...