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.
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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 starts its fourth season Sunday 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 (and inspirations) as the new season premieres.
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.
Bay Area-based Kelly-Moore Paints, for example, put together a list of suggested colors that match the abbey’s rooms.
Mary Lawlor, Kelly-Moore’s manager of color marketing and a fan of the series, studied individual rooms to come up with a “Downton Abbey” palette to help with requests. Like me, customers don’t necessarily want to live like a lord, but they like his abbey’s color scheme. And depending on how they’re used, these colors can feel quite modern.
“The style and décor of the most loved show, ‘Downton Abbey,’ are the influencers of (these) colors to inspire that look in today’s home,” Lawlor said. “Rich deep reds, wood-toned browns, refreshing pastels and creams grounded by utilitarian grays – each inspired by the amazing settings portrayed on the show.”
Take Cora’s drawing room (the same one that inspired my green bathroom). “Influenced by the refreshing pastels and creams of the drawing room, a pale green-aqua is further softened with the use of pale rose, classic ivory and gold gilding,” said Lawlor. She boiled down those colors to Kelly-Moore’s Somona Sky (green), Cupid (pink) and Summer Sandcastle (off white).
“Yet another drawing room is drenched in warmer yellow and peach,” she noted. Make that Roadster Yellow and Sonora Apricot.
Oxford Brick and Drive-In Cherry are “influenced by the intensity of color in the library, the dramatic rich oxbloods and carnelian reds beautifully compliment the walls of books,” Lawlor said. “Influenced by the femininity of Sybil’s room, the rose-colored walls combined with green, rosy orange and cream floral draperies inspire the following colors: Calico Rose, Trumpet Teal, Poodle Skirt Peach and Maybeck Muslin.”
Lawlor also picked Maybeck Muslin (a classic soft beige) plus Buckingham Palace (a woodsy brown) as contrast to Jitterbug, “the striking blue walls” used for Cora’s bedroom.
Don’t forget the downstairs. The abbey’s kitchen (which is portrayed by a set in the TV series) is full of those hard-working grays (such as Volcanic Rock) contrasted with polished silver and ivory.
“Downton Abbey” style conjures up a wide range of possibilities. A recent search on Houzz.com, the Palo Alto-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 that has an engrained appeal. 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-based rose breeder Weeks Roses to develop its “Downton Abbey” collection of roses.
“Our Downton Abbey roses will be elegant, beautiful, and romantic but also surprisingly dramatic and tenacious … just like the show and characters that so many have come to love,” said Karen Kemp-Docksteader, Weeks sales and marketing manager.
Hybridized by Tom Carruth, the first is a copper-toned grandiflora named Anna’s Promise after stalwart 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?