WASHINGTON — The piles of old family china sitting forlornly in the sideboards, cabinets and boxes of many homes reflect the current state of entertainment. Many millennials aren’t crazy about the flowery formal plates of their grandmothers, preferring their own white wedding dishes. Gen Xers and Baby Boomers, who often gravitate to a kitchen island, rarely bother to pull out the “good stuff” and are already trying to unload it.
The curators of Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens, the grand home of the late hostess Marjorie Merriweather Post, had this lifestyle change in mind when they designed their latest special exhibit. “The Artistic Table: Contemporary Tastemakers Present Inspired Table Settings” highlights Post’s collections of 18th-century Imperial Russian and French porcelain and other luxurious tableware from his entertaining years. Curators commissioned a group of interior designers to combine Post’s formal china, glassware and silverware with contemporary pieces, to showcase new tabletop decorating ideas.
Post entertained lavishly at Hillwood and his other estates, including Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., now owned by President Donald Trump, and Camp Topridge, an Adirondack lodge. If there was one lesson to be learned from Post, it was to not be afraid of your beautiful things, according to Estella Chung, director of collections at Hillwood, the estate Post bought in 1955 and owned until his death. in 1973.
Every few weeks, Post would throw a formal dinner, garden party, or tea party, bringing out his silver lobster forks, 18th-century Russian goblets, and gold jelly spoons. She was keen to preserve her collections and her lifestyle for future generations. “She knew an era was ending,” Chung says. “Her home was the American version of a European country house, and she knew that style of entertaining and staffing was coming to an end.” Imagine: all his dishes were always washed by hand, by his qualified staff.
In this exhibit, Post’s historic tableware is on display throughout the mansion, from a formal dinner party featuring seven Russian courses in the dining room to a breakfast tray with violet dishes in his bedroom. “We still have porcelain on display, but in this exhibition we wanted to present even more pieces in a new way and show that it is relevant to contemporary life,” says Wilfried Zeisler, Hillwood’s chief curator.