Bringing 'Downtown Abbey' decor home

  • Article by: DEBBIE ARRINGTON , Sacramento Bee
  • Updated: January 13, 2014 - 2:29 PM

The popular TV series whets appetites for Edwardian-style elegance at home.

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Maggie Smith in "Downton Abbey"

Photo: Nick Briggs, Star Tribune

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My anglophile roots are showing, but I’m not alone. Like millions of Americans, I love “Downton Abbey.”

It’s not just the complicated upstairs/downstairs drama of romance and relationships in early-20th-century England that has me hooked. I adore the house.

Don’t get me wrong; I could never live that way — in a Jacobean castle with masses of help and endless protocol. But I’m fascinated by Edwardian style. Everything seems to glitter or shine; no wonder this was the gilded age.

As I view “Downton Abbey” episodes, I want to touch the textiles, the endless yards of brocades and lace. The furnishings seem so sumptuous, as if the silk can spill out of the TV screen. With so much gleaming oak and mahogany, I can almost smell the Old English furniture polish.

While watching scenes, I particularly gravitate to the wall colors, saturated hues in a rainbow of jewel tones. I admit, “Downton Abbey” influenced the soft mint-almost-jade I painted our hall bathroom; it matches the green wallpaper of Lady Cora’s drawing room.

Creators of the internationally acclaimed TV series used Highclere Castle — the real-life mansion and 1,000-acre estate in Hampshire, England — as the set of “Downton Abbey,” which started its fourth season last week on PBS. The set designers pretty much used the castle’s opulent rooms as they found them, full of priceless art and antiques.

But that look — that sparkling, rich and royal spectacle of interior design — has fueled an appetite for Edwardian elegance among us Yankee folk. So, expect a coast-to-coast roll-out of “Downton Abbey” products during the new season.

Knockout Licensing, the company charged with partnering the “Downton Abbey” brand with appropriate products, has plans for abbey-inspired furniture, bedding, kitchen accessories, lighting, timepieces, tableware and formal attire. It also has licensed a rose collection.

Kelly-Moore Paints put together a list of suggested colors that match the abbey’s rooms. Mary Lawlor, Kelly-Moore’s manager of color marketing, studied individual rooms to come up with a “Downton Abbey” palette. Take Cora’s drawing room (the one that inspired my green bathroom). Its pale green, pale rose and ivory color scheme is replicated in Kelly-Moore’s Sonoma Sky, Cupid and Summer Sandcastle.

“Downton Abbey” style conjures up a wide range of possibilities. A recent search on Houzz.com, the Palo Alto, Calif.-based home design platform, found 246 photos posted with “Downton Abbey” mentioned in the captions. Yet, flipping through those images, few looked as though they truly fit into the manor. It was more about mood than historical accuracy.

Put simply, it looks classically rich. In “Abbey” style, that translates to crystal chandeliers, velvet throws, gold leaf and silk fringe. But there’s also an underlying duality. Delicate bone china contrasts with sturdy oak antiques. Persian rugs soften stone floors. Abundant mirrors catch flickering firelight. Like the show itself, warm and soft details balance hard, cold history.

Of course, what would an English castle be without an English garden? That inspired California rose breeder Weeks Roses to develop its “Downton Abbey” collection of roses. The first is a copper-toned grandiflora named Anna’s Promise after lady’s maid Anna Bates. Scheduled for 2015 release, Anna’s Promise is available this spring from Breck’s mail-order nursery and a few other sources.

What would the Dowager Countess say about that?

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