Back and forth, hither and yon – whether on my habitual trajectory between Touraine and Paris or further afield… destinations, encounters, events and observations I can’t resist sharing.

A kitchen worthy of Julia Child

September 7, 2012
Hillwood Island

In 1955 when American heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post purchased the 25 acre Hillwood Estate in Washington DC, she remodeled the house and gardens to reflect her passion for European decorative arts and landscape design. Upon her death Post bequeathed the house and collection to the public, and the museum provides a window onto the world of the original owners of the art as well as the lifestyle and taste of the woman who collected it.

The mansion’s reception rooms showcase Mrs Post’s collection of French and Russian imperial 18th and 19th century paintings and furnishings. Portraits of French and Romanov royals survey the Louis XVI furniture resplendent with marquetry and gilded brass, Sèvres porcelain, Beauvais tapestries and Fabergé eggs.

The much married heir of midwestern entrepreneur C.W. Post, founder of the Postum Cereal Company, looked to America’s eastern establishment and European aristocracy to fashion her identity and ambiance of her home. The result is a bit of an aesthetic hodgepodge. When well advised by influential art dealers like Sir Joseph Duveen, her purchases were sure, but left to her own devices she veers into pastiche. Glamour portraits by contemporary artists of she and her daughters (including hollywood actress Dina Merrill) dressed to the nines, dripping in jewelry and frippery are pretty dreadful.

When wealthy Americans try to emulate historic European homes and decor it inevitably comes off as false. The patina is missing. Not enough dust balls, worn parquet and frayed upholstery.

The real treasure at Hillwood is the kitchen and pantry. Talk about authenticity. 100% American ingenuity. Julia Child would think she’d arrived in heaven. After her father’s death, Mrs Post became involved in the family business and her second husband businessman Edward F. Hutton acquired Birdseye frozen food as part of a series of acquisitions that transformed the company into General Foods.

The kitchen and pantry are models of 1950’s modernity. Each utensil and appliance is left in place as though the staff are about to show up to prepare for the next function. For foodies and lovers of Americana it’s not to be missed.

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