Living Artfully – At Home With Marjorie Merriweather Post

Yoooo-hoooo… Helloooooo… Anybody home? I know, it’s been a while. I missed you. I did. You doin’ okay? I’m fine thank you and will explain my absence in a later post… so on that cliff-hanger…

Now that civilization as we know it has returned to the Colonies with the resumption of Downton Abbey, we may once again revel in the Crawleys’ gracious lifestyle. I look forward to the dinner parties as much as to what the dowager countess will say next. Or whom Lady Mary will snog next.

Meanwhile I’ve reveled in a gracious lifestyle this side of the Atlantic with the book Living Artfully: At Home With Marjorie Merriweather Post, by Estella M. Chung.

Cover photo of Living Artfully: At Home With Marjorie Merriweather Post

It is a marvelously illustrated account of the collections, people and parties of Post’s storied houses, which by the end of her life she had winnowed to three: Hillwood, outside Washington, D.C., where she was in fall and spring; Camp Topridge in the Adirondacks where she summered; and Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach where she wintered, now of course owned by the Donald.

Photos of the Kennedys and Ms. Post at Hillwood

The above photo was taken at Hillwood, where she lived from 1957 until her death in 1973. She wished it to remain open to the public as a house museum, and so it is. I hope to visit one day, but until then the Hillwood website is very well done and very informative. The book itself was written to accompany an exhibit at Hillwood that closed this month. (Dang.)

She entertained lavishly and impeccably, her invitations coveted by presidents and princes alike.

Sevres porcelain table setting at Hillwood

Post’s attention to detail was legendary. Blotting tissues for the ladies allowed them discreetly to remove their lipstick before gobbing it all over the exquisite linen napkins. You can still find these in specialty drugstores and the like, but I confess this detail in the book has inspired me to rub off my lipstick with the back of my hand before I swipe the old bouche with my vintage monogrammed treasures. I’ll have to track down some of these…

Blotting tissue for ladies’ lipstick

May I rant a sec? What people nowadays call “escort cards” are often simply place cards, as they have nothing to do with escorting one to the table. It is a shortcoming in my character, but things like this annoy the Emily Post out of me. (I do not know if Marjorie M and Emily were related, but I do know that Emily and her husband divorced because of his “affairs with chorus girls” according to Wikipedia, but I’m getting off the subject.)

This is an escort card:

Escort card at Hillwood

Told through interviews with her youngest daughter the actress Dina Merrill Hartley (now 90), her grandchildren, and members of her staff through the years, author Chung’s writing is lively and anecdotal, with charming and often amusing stories. One of the maids confesses to secretly trying on Post’s jewels. I love that.

MMP’s Cartier necklace and David Webb bracelet

Here is young Dina’s childhood bedroom at Mar-a-Lago.

Dina Merrill Hartley’s childhood bedroom at Mar-a-Lago

A guest room at Mar-a-Lago. I like how the bed curtain extends behind the bedside tables. 

For you younguns out there, underneath the beehive on the left is Lady Bird Johnson, former first lady.

Marjorie Post and Lady Bird Johnson

Looks like they had a lotta fun.

Back cover photo of Living Artfully: At Home With Marjorie Merriweather Post

Thank you my precious Godmother Caroline for giving me this wonderful book. For those of you whose godmothers did not give you Living Artfully, you may purchase it at Amazon here, or your local indie bookseller at here.

And just so you know, style and taste run in the family. Daughter Dina, “Deenie” to her friends, has a lovely house in East Hampton and is an accomplished watercolorist–apart from being a talented actress and extraordinary philanthropist. Granddaughter Nina Rumbough–all are derivatves of “Nedenia”–also has great looking houses and is a super talented photographer. I wrote about her here. And great-granddaughter Denia (Nedenia Hutton Craig) is the beauty and brains behind the new fashion line Dee Hutton.

Screen Shot from Dee Hutton website

 I am lucky to know them all, and we had a ball recently in Atlanta when the fabulous Denia came to do a trunk show at my darlin’ sister’s house.

Dee Hutton’s divine dresses

It didn’t hurt either that she brought her brother-in-law Nico Landrigan, who is adorable and president of Verdura.

Screen Shot from Verdura website

He brought his trinkets, and we all tried on everything, just like Miss Post’s maid. 

Verdura jewels




    1. Well now Gracious Posse you’ve got me there. You could fold them into the napkin? Insist they make out with their husbands or dates before coming to the table? No, then everyone would have lipstick on… Seriously, now you mention it, I wonder if MMP made them available to her guests or if she just used them herself. We’d love to hear more on this… Ideas, anyone?

      1. Krepe-Kraft can do a paper towel with LIPSTICK PLEASE to place in view near white towels. Helps..

  1. Love this, Frances! MMP was known for her square dances back in the day (when I was growing up down there), so the back of the book is PERFECT!!

    To answer Alison’s question (a fabulous Richmonder herself)…customarily (back in the good old days), women had these on their person, or they were discreetly placed in the powder room. Those were the days where the majority of people had good manners/knew how to behave. Sadly, we no longer live in that culture…but I am convinced we can bring (at least some of) it back if we try!!


    1. Thank you Liz! And yes, we can absolutely bring back a culture of courtesy and manners. You are doing it, for one, and doing a good job. I think we just keep at it. Hugs back, Frances

  2. Just ordered this book and cannot wait to see it! I grew up directly across the intracoastal waterway from Mar-a-logo, and it always fasciated me. As a child, I was convinced that fairies lived in the tower! My parents attended a couple of large parties there, and said that although it was enormous and palatial, it was also very warm and homey. The dog bowls were left out in the living area, and dogs and children WERE allowed on the exsquisite silk chairs. As she got older, Mrs. Post was quite hard of hearing, so she had a butler announce each arriving guest in a VERY loud voice. Then, in a normal tone of voice, Mrs. Post would greet each person by name when they shook hands. Alas, I never got to see the interior of the house, so this book will have to do! Thanks for alerting me to it.

  3. This book has been on my wishlist at Amazon for awhile; glad you featured it! Dittoes on Downton Abbey, we need to have DA parties every Sunday night! Glad to see this post; my sister and i have been wondering what you are up to; when can we see the new apartment again ?? 🙂

    1. Thank you Miss Sonya, and I will post something about the new pad when I get back to New York. Am madly hoping it is decorating itself in my absence. Hmmm.

  4. I, too, loved this book. I bought it as soon as it was published. My only criticism is that it wasn’t even longer and filled with even more delicious stories and fabulous photos of her entertaining and her life! Maybe there will be a Volume Two? Keeping my fingers crossed!

  5. Welcome back, have missed your posts! I remember my grandmother having those blotting tissues in her pocketbook, if I remember correctly they were made out of rice paper. Ordering the book. That is one talented gene pool. What a fun night you all had, dressing up and playing with baubles! I love the shoes casually tossed on the floor behind that absolutely gorgeous red dress.

  6. Received the book from my college roommate Ann Whitson Baker,we were roommates at Mt Vernon Jr.College in ’58 and ’59.Mrs Post had us to tea parties with real footman,Mt Vernon
    Jr College,no longer,was her school .The entertainer of the 50’s.Loved your column.

  7. How fun! I always love your posts. They either take me to places I would never venture (like those above) or touch my lil’ ol’ heart right where I live. I’m looking forward to visiting all those links and hearing from you again very soon. XOxo

  8. Dear Frances, I was so happy to open my mail today because I really missed your divine inspirations. Thank you for the post and introducing this beautiful book. It will make a perfect gift for my daughters.

  9. Frances,
    Loved this read this morning. Was given a copy of this book. Going to Hillwood is quite an experience not to be missed on traveling to Washington. Love the graciousness to soldiers in the war time, which everyone did in the 40’s. She was warm and human and one great lady in spite of the Post Toastie fortune and grandeur of her life.
    xo and thanks for writing today

  10. ED and I went to Hillwood last summer and it is AMAZING – the gardens and the collections are really really worth seeing – particularly the genealogy chart of the the house staff… I think there were 53!.. mom and Dad went to a couple of Square Dances at Mar -Lago in Palm Beach – another story another time.

  11. Frances, I love this post and am reminded of Dorothy Parker’s quote: “Take care of the luxuries and the necessities will take care of themselves.”
    Thank you for your blogs. I remain inspired by the “whatever sky is above, I will adapt” blog.

  12. Frances..nice to have you back at your blog..I have an acquaintance who’s grandmother was a friend of Mrs Post…when she mentioned to Mrs P one day that her was my friends mother..were going to Europe for the summer,Mrs P said..”oh ??let them take the Sea Cloud..we aren’t using it this summer..” And they did !!!!! And having been on the Sea Cloud I can only imagine how fabulous that would have been..2 American girls as passengers..roughly 60 crew..!!! Have been to Hillwood and one could spend a month just looking at her incredible collections name it..!!!!!

  13. Like the maid, I will gladly try on any and all jewels! I tried on a Maharaja $2M necklace at a trunk show once…can you believe I was the only one? Don’t leave me alone in your dressing room or I may come out wearing more than just lipstick 🙂 xo C.

  14. I received this fabulous book for Christmas.
    Love, love, love your mouth watering photos of the Verdura eye candy & sumptious dresses. Your blog was a ray of sunshine in these soon to be over dreary winter days.

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