Design Lesson: Go English with Downton Abbey Style

downton abbey decorating style

We are all obsessed. With the lovely Abbey, it’s Lords and Ladies, the servants, and all that delicious drama. The show is so visually stunning, with the fashion and set design it is truly a feast for the eyes. I feel like you could watch it numerous time to soak it all in.

Last night, I found myself fixated on a Queen Anne Chair in the background. It was so superb and set just so. Living here in Shaker Heights, we get to see much beautiful traditional design. But everyone asks for clean, simple, modern these days. Have we lost the art of elaborate, overdecorated, traditional design? Not if you are a DA fan, Hooray! So if you want to do it right, remember these rules.

Deck It Out – Windows and Trim: At Downton Abbey, the windows are layered in miles of silks, tapestries, damasks and more, and loaded up with trim. And truly, doesn’t that just look luxurious? I know we don’t want all that these days, but it does add a layer of elegance. So the take away, is attention to detail, layers of treatments, and elements of style. Clients sometimes are shocked when they get the bill for window treatments. No Pottery Barn panels are going to achieve this look. Custom window treatments with stellar pleats, tons of interlining, trims, and gorgeous hardware are expensive but worth it. Prepare yourself for sticker shock, but know that this makes all the difference in the world when it comes to finishing your Manor.

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Load It up – Brocades, Damasks, and Velvets – Layers and layers of rich fabrics can be seen on all the elegant furniture, wallcoverings, pillows, windows, and beds at the Abbey. It’s astounding. I love the red velvet sofas in the Library at Downton, not to mention all those books and oil paintings! People are shocked at how much good design costs. But that’s because we have retailers that promote, and furnishings that come from China, and are truly disposable these days. Back then, they layered their walls in silk. I have not done this today, but I hear it is done. It is truly cost prohibitive for even the healthiest design budget. But even investing in a few of these fabrics and details will provide the elegance. We often have clients that want to stop after the furniture and lights arrive, the room needs to be finished to the last detail for a true Designer effect.

downton abbey decorating styleFiddle-o-Sophy

Pile it On – Bed Décor – Linens, fabrics, and drapery – Don’t you love how much time Cora spends lounging in bed, and at her dressing table,…and on her chaise lounge. To truly not have to worry about anything except where your next maid comes from. But don’t overlook those bed details. The carvings on the bed, the chinoiserie inlays on the nightstands, the layers of canopy design, are worth noting. You had to have beautiful things to look at while you lounged around back then. Even though we are always on the move now, it’s still nice to fall into a gorgeous bed of sumptuous linens and cottons. Don’t underrate the furniture and linens on your bed. Decking out a king size bed can cost in the thousands. Yes, I said thousands.

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Pimp It Out – Crystal, Table Setting, Gilded Mirrors, and Floral – You have to be a good entertainer when you are English. I love the gowns these ladies wear to dinner. And it has been interesting to see how the fashion and room décor has evolved over the years at the Abbey. Elegantly and properly set tables, crystal, gold, and mirrored décor are a must for even the most casual of dinners. Crystal is on everything these days. Even my most modern-minded client said he would “tolerate” crystal in his master bath because it was true to the home. Even modern lighting incorporates crystal, but there is nothing like the real thing, such as Schonbek or Fine Art Lighting. As are as decking out the table, if you are looking for table and floral ideas see our post from November 2013, (Entertaining by Design II-Setting the Perfect Table).

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Keep It Real – Classic English Furnishings – I think my favorite design element in Downton Abbey is the juxtaposition of Mrs. Patmore’s simply elegant kitchen with the big farmhouse table and the classic white pottery next to all the glamour above. We get asked for this look a lot these days because this is how we really live. Designer Jennifer Monachino of Monarch Interiors calls it “Modern Farmhouse”. We get asked for this look a lot these days, especially with younger clients. On the flipside, the upstairs stays true with authentic Chippendale chairs, that lovely Queen Anne chair I admired, and other elements of classic 18th and 19th century English furniture. Even if you aren’t an antiques connoisseur, it still is important to recognize the iconic design elements that still lend themselves to good design today.

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In the words of Mr. Carson, “If you are tired of style, you are tired of life.” – Downton Abbey

Reference: Classic English Design and Antiques, Period Styles and Furniture, Emily Eerdmans, 2006

 

Opening Image Source: Home DIR

 

  • Michelle January 27, 2014, 5:35 PM

    Once again, I have been able to learn something from your blog post. I did have custom window treatments in my previous space, but I selected the fabrics from Bilt Rite and had them made for my home. Now I can say it was actually a blessing that they tossed out my custom treatments for JCP specials. What a difference hiring you and Linda Mauck Smith has made to my home. One look at my bathroom window treatment and I will never design my own treatments again!

  • Connie January 29, 2014, 7:21 AM

    Loving that old English kitchen! Especially the white shelving with the beautiful arrangement of bowls. The framed art on the exposed beams is just stunning too. If I worked at Downton, I think I’d prefer to work downstairs with the help! Seems to be more fun and scandalous!

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