Come home to Hillwood Estate & Museum for the holidays. For the last two years, this is what I have done since I discovered how the museum decorates Hillwood founder Marjorie Merriweather Post’s mansion. Come with me to see five fabulously-decorated Christmas trees on display at Hillwood, one of my favorite places to celebrate the holiday in Washington DC.
From the second I walked into the Visitor’s Center, I was transported to Christmas Past—garlands loop over the stair banisters, and ornaments sparkle on the tall Christmas tree.
Striding up the staircase, I passed Marjorie’s portrait in the lounge, noting her presence is felt everywhere in this bucolic retreat.
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Stepping outside the Visitor’s Center, I surveyed the lush grounds. Marjorie’s estate borders Rock Creek Park in the Forest Hills neighborhood of Washington, D.C. It resembles a castle tucked deep away in a forest.
I saw late-blooming flowers lining the borders to the conservatory, even though the temperatures are now dipping below 30F. An ornamental kale plant surprised me as an example of a new holiday greenery!
Live Christmas trees and bushes sparkle in front of the mansion. My favorite discovery was the marble statue of a dog, who is wearing a yellow holiday bow around his neck!
You will want to linger as you walk along the path up to the mansion. Post moved to Hillwood in 1955. She decided that she would turn her home into a museum.
I signed up for the 11:30 a.m. tour to learn more about Marjorie’s house and art collection. The docent led us into different rooms where she could provide a history about the paintings, ceramics, rugs, and (even) photographs. I was fascinated to see framed portraits of past presidents casually displayed on a table—Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and John F. Kennedy. The intimacy touched me.
The theme at Hillwood Museum is “Making Spirits Bright” for the 2023 holiday celebration. The interior decorations draws inspiration from the special exhibition “Glass: Art. Beauty. Design.”
Hillwood is indeed “resplendent” with its Christmas trees and holiday decorations throughout the estate. The house shines brilliantly; the ornaments gleams.
It’s impossible to choose my favorite Christmas tree at Hillwood because they are each splendid. But I probably was most touched by the florally-festooned Christmas tree in the foyer of the mansion, due to its significance to Marjorie. Orchids dangle from the branches of the Christmas, casting a rainbow across the expanse of greenery.
“Delicate live orchids nestled in glass vases adorn this tree that evoke the botanical creations of artist Debora Moore.”Hillwood
Obsessed with Orchids
Moore’s two artworks (Blue Orchid Tree and Red Lady Slipper) are displayed at the Adirondack Building. Hillwood’s holiday trees take inspiration from the exhibition Glass: Art. Beauty. Design.
Our docent told us that Majorie had a “lifelong love affair” with orchids. It was her favorite flower. In fact, Hillwood’s collection contains over 2,000 orchids of approximately 1,200 different species, hybrids, and clones.
I loved seeing this personal demonstration of what Marjorie cherished in how the Christmas tree was decorated.
Note to self: Return to Hillwood in March to celebrate “Orchid Month.” According to the website, Hillwood is one of the only public gardens in Washington, D.C. that offers daily access to a working greenhouse. Orchid Month focuses on these exotic beauties with workshops, tours, and colorful displays.
Our tour at Hillwood Museum proceeded down the hallway toward the formal drawing room at the far end of the house. Visitors crammed into the space, nearly blocking the view of the third Hillwood Christmas tree.
Sparkling crystal ornament glittered like diamonds. This is the ice queen’s tree, sparkling white.
“This opulent tree is decked with glittering ornaments and garlands of crystal, echoing the magnificent candelabras by Baccarat Glassworks.”Hillwood Museum
French Drawing Room
Orange-color ornaments and exotic white flowers festooned the Christmas tree in the music room. Framed black and white photographs of her family dangled from the fir’s branches.
“The shades of green, orange, and yellow brightening this tree suggests the natural elements found in Tim Tate’s A Century of Longing. Framed images of two men dancing draws from a mid-1890s brief film central to Tate’s piece.”Hillwood
I could just imagine the who’s who of Washington strolling down the carpeted runway to attend one of Marjorie’s soirées. An ivory grand piano takes center stage at the back of the room.
This room also converted to a dancing salon when the carpets were rolled up. She required her female guests to wear heel protectors to safeguard her wooden floors. Our tour guide told us Marjorie loved square dancing!
Next up, we proceeded to the dining room. The mansion is a warren of rooms that must have driven the maids mad to keep dust-free. Thankfully, our guide masterfully led us through the series of rooms displaying china, jewelry, and (my favorite) exquisite Faberge eggs.
The palatial Christmas tree stood guard, like a fir butler dressed in a tuxedo. The top of the tree almost grazed the ceiling. Black-and-white glass ornaments liberally hung from the branches.
This mirrors the motif of the intimate breakfast room (nook). Black and white Italian china sat on the the round table. “The porcelain plates and glassware, recent gifts to the museum, are examples of the lavish settings that Post preferred while living in New York City …
“The glassware’s designer took inspiration from the Renaissance period in Venice, where the island of Murano evolved into the capital of artistic glass production in the 1400s and 1500s.”Hillwood
I lingered near the rope that prevents eager guests from touching the china or furniture. But I could easily imagine Marjorie sipping her coffee while she looked out on her sloping lawn and pool.
Red poinsettias sat on the window ledge, the only holiday decoration in the breakfast room. What a backdrop to the elegant black and white decor.
Fred Wilson designed the “exquisite” black chandelier hanging in the room. He collaborated with Italian artists to “reimagine” traditional Venetian and Ottoman shapes and forms for mirrors and chandeliers in black-colored glass.
Hillwood Museum organizes a holiday open house each year in late November for members. (The cost is $60 for an annual membership.) Members are offered a free holiday tea with cookies. This tradition honors Post’s legacy entertaining guests and veterans at Hillwood Museum.
“A renowned hostess, the cereal heiress had entertaining down to a T – or perhaps that should be ‘tea’ — and took her accomplishment in stride.”Palm Beach Daily News
The banquet table featured an array of decorated Christmas cookies, brownies, chocolate candies, croisssants, and mini macarons (my favorite). I chose a hot cider but Hillwood also served coffee, tea, and hot chocolate.
I hope you can attend Hillwood Museum’s Holiday Open House. I found it a Very Merry Merryweather Christmas indeed!