Many of the centuries-old manor houses included dozens of bedrooms decorated to immerse family members and myriad guests in sumptuous style. After all, when high-society friends came for a fortnight, the upper-class host and hostess needed certainty that their guests would relay to others that everything was perfect. The Countess of Grantham would surely approve of this oh-so-feminine French-inspired guest room with its circa-1850 four-poster bed and late 19th-century crystal chandelier. A misty-blue French floral decorates the walls with delicate flowers repeated in the French-pleated window panels and in the bed skirt. Queen Anne-style chairs offer comfortable seating.
Now that you’ve browsed real-life country-house scenes from the pages of Traditional Home magazine, see the PBS version in Designing ‘Downton Abbey.’
This Parisian-style dining room with French blue wall color shows the elegant result when ornamentation is encouraged; in this case, pilasters, ceiling details, plaster swags, and a Versailles-style parquet floor. Louis XVI reproductions—the table, chairs, and console table—join a few antiques to keep the room elegant but welcoming for family life. The marble-top giltwood console and gilt-frame mirror are designed in the Louis XVI style.
Even the Dowager Countess of Grantham would have to approve of the comfort provided by a cushy sofa upholstered with a Rose Tarlow linen velvet the color of sand. Exquisite Blue Fortuny fabric joins a mix of sofa pillows and covers an armchair near the sunroom. In the background is another gilt-framed seascape painting and a George III Style demilune cabinet finished in black lacquer.
Ahhh, the early 20th century: a time of elegance, luxury, and gracious living—at least for the upper class. Nobility such as the Earl and Countess of Grantham would have paid great attention to the grandeur of their homes’ great halls to give visitors a preview of just how splendid other rooms would be. This gracious entry hall exhibits that same spirit with its antique carved mahogany console table, antique Charles X chandelier, and carved George III-style mahogany mirror. The only thing missing is Lady Mary checking her hat in the mirror before setting out for a stroll with Matthew.
In this corner of the living room, a young boy’s portrait is showcased against a neutral wall with millwork that echoes the edges of the frame. Beneath the portrait stand some examples of homeowner Dana Porter’s blue-and-white Chinese porcelain. The home’s color palette is repeated in the living room’s curtains, and molding on the ceiling ensures that no surface is left uncelebrated. With an eye toward family life, the room’s hardwood floor is protected with a decidedly 21st-century sisal rug.
Edwardian-era aristocrats considered themselves custodians of their estates, and therefore did not necessarily feel the need to follow the interior-design trends of the day. (The latest fashions from Paris and London, on the other hand, were a must-have.) They would likely have approved of architect Ken Tate’s own home, which proves that as Yves St. Lauren once said, “Fashion fades, style is eternal.” In this room, a 1910 Bosendorfer piano plays to a hand-carved angel from Italy and piano bench from India, inlaid with bone and horn. “We buy things that we like,” Tate says, “and put them down somewhere and see if they relate to the other things around them. If they don’t, we’ll move them until they do.”
As mistress of Downton Abbey, Cora Crawley would have had her own study in which to take care of menu-planning and important correspondence. The mistress of this modern-day Beverly Hills residence surely feels the same, taking the time to decorate her room with carefully chosen antiques, exquisite reproductions, and silk drapery. An 18th-century chinoiserie desk, an antique black-leather Italian chair, and a contemporary woven shade mingle happily as part of the homeowner’s “Old World meets comfortable California eclectic” approach to design.
Lest we forget that a dining room is more than what is found upon the dining table, this detail—with its painted commode, Louis XVI-style custom chair, and giltwood mirror—reminds us. The blues and golds of the furnishings complement the hand-stenciled, striated Damask-pattern walls.
Even the Earl and Countess of Grantham could not ignore the innovations of the 20th century, enjoying electricity—and later even a telephone—much to the Dowager Countess’s dismay. This elegant library exhibits the same practical attitude, with the homeowner’s laptop stashed away when not in use, and a printer hidden discreetly away on antique-oak shelves behind the black lacquer desk. An antique Gothic-inspired side table and French stool are at home with a modern silver-leaf coffee table. The room is paneled with reclaimed wood that is waxed for a soft finish.
Interior design: Joseph Minton, with Paula Lowes and Michelle M. Wade
Interior design: Joseph Minton, with Paula Lowes and Michelle M. Wade
In the great manor houses of early 20th-century England, the color of interior walls needed to show the peerage’s artworks at their best. The same could be said for modern times. In this Texas home, the walls reflect the colors of sand and sea, all the better to highlight blue-and-white Chinese porcelain and a painting of Monhegan Island that harks back to homeowner David Porter’s Maine roots. Instead of the expected high-contrast bright white, the ceiling and millwork are painted pale tan. See the next two slides for more details from this living room.
One hundred years ago, a manor-house butler would have taken great pride in overseeing the preparations for a dinner party. His goal? To make sure each upper-class guest enjoyed great comfort (e.g., no need to reach for the salt; every place setting had its own salt cellar). That effort also meant making sure the dining table—and therefore each guest—was surrounded by beautiful things. This dining room would surely please Downton Abbey’s Mr. Carson with its soft blue-and-cream color palette, gleaming wood furniture, golden accents, and crystal chandelier. Even the opulent centerpieces are designed to impress visitors, something that Carson would surely understand.
Devotees of Downton Abbey recall that the importance of the Crawleys’ wine collection; stealing a bottle from it was a fineable offense. This handsome wine cellar contains such eye-catching details as a massive Provençal farm table, a rare 18th-century French painted-linen wall hanging, and wine storage niches entered through arched doorways. The space was inspired by architect John Milner’s visits to European wine cellars, featuring white oak ceiling beams salvaged from old barn timbers and antique heart-pine flooring in random widths. “Some of the boards are as broad as 20 inches; they have a depth and richness of color not found in newly milled material,” Milner says.Architect: John MilnerInterior Design: Bill Brockschmidt and Courtney Coleman
Interior design: Eric LysdahlSee more from this Connecticut location.
While the manor house showcased a family’s lineage and wealth, the land also provided a great deal of enjoyment to Edwardian gentility. Of course the men tended to indulge in hunting, shooting, and fishing. But the grounds also offered beautiful settings for garden parties and therefore needed to stay in perfect order, without a stray leaf or weed to be seen. This modern-day Edwardian garden is actually a series of separate but linked and unified gardens terraced to create level spaces as well as garden areas. See the next slide for another view of this landscape.
You may not run in quite the same social circle as the Earl and Countess of Grantham, but your home can still shine with that Downton Abbey decorating vibe: traditional, elegant, and always impeccable. From fashionable front entries to gorgeous English country gardens, these manor-house style decorating ideas will inspire your own sense of style.
In the early 20th century, a house like Downton Abbey would have been filled with great works of art collected by generations of pedigreed ancestors. Along with tapestries, sculptures, and landscape paintings, the walls would likely have displayed commissioned portraits by prestigious artists of the day. For the Earl of Grantham, that may have meant John Singer Sargent, the most celebrated portrait painter of his time. Sargent was at the peak of his career in 1903, when he painted this portrait of Ella P. Widener, great grandmother of Cortright Wetherill, whose home is seen here as well as in the opening slide. See the next slide for another view of the living room.Interior Design: Bill Brockschmidt and Courtney Coleman
Let your home can shine with that Downton Abbey decorating vibe
The garden’s 40 different gardens are seamlessly connected by pebbled or grassed walkways. In this view, a 300-foot walkway of pollarded sycamores is supported by a pair of native-stone retaining walls. The trees’ branches are trimmed to emphasize the straightness of the path.
Sargent’s portrait of Ella Widenor influenced color choices for the Wetherills’ living room, which showcases a graceful grouping of period American and English chairs with a custom Chippendale-style sofa. “We often take our cues for paints, fabrics, and trimmings from our clients’ favorite possessions,” says interior designer Bill Brockschmidt. “The portrait certainly inspired the oyster silk curtains with coral and pale blue embellishments. Even the tassels and tiebacks were custom-matched to the distinctive blue of the painting.”Interior Design: Bill Brockschmidt and Courtney Coleman
In a different but equally enchanting landscape in the Hamptons, an enormous urn mounted on a pedestal displays a stately air. Surrounding it are boxwood hedges, which provide the garden’s bone structure. To maintain harmony and flow, the garden repeatedly uses great quantities of specific roses in two or three shades of a certain color. Hardy floribundas rather than hybrid tea types were mostly chosen to withstand the region’s rainy and/or hot summers.