Design a la dowager.

Salon-style art grouping in the dining room of Kristie Barn- ett adds an aristocratic "upstairs" air.
Salon-style art grouping in the dining room of Kristie Barn- ett adds an aristocratic "upstairs" air. (The Decor- ologist, Melanie G Photography)

Down the 'Abbey' road of decor

Posted: March 30, 2013

Intrigued by the drama and inspired by the sophistication of British aristocrats in Downton Abbey, some fans are plotting to bring the series' style into their own homes, from gilded finishes to opulent upholstery to portrait paintings.

"We've gone so casual in the last decade in terms of home decor. I think there is a desire to be a little more formal, or a little more glamorous," says Kristie Barnett, an interior design blogger in Nashville, Tenn. "That doesn't mean it can't be family-friendly."

Downton Abbey, in production for its fourth season, features the noble Crawley family "upstairs" and its servants "downstairs" in a sprawling country estate. The characters are struggling to bring the estate and their traditional sensibilities into the 1920s, a time of social and political ferment.

Ornate drawing rooms, flowing boudoirs, vibrant gardens, and crisp, clean servants' quarters make the gorgeous backdrop for the PBS Masterpiece melodrama.

So how do you bring some of that aristocratic look into a comfortable modern home?

Gilded for glamour

One of the simplest ways to achieve the "upstairs" look of Downton Abbey is to apply gold metallic paint for a gilded finish on wood furniture, picture frames, mirror edges, and other decorative items, including bookends and lamp stands.

In her living room, Barnett, who blogs at, used gold paint to make a barley-twist coffee table appear worthy of nobility. Golden candlesticks and a crystal doorknob sit atop piles of books.

Furniture with flourish

Richly upholstered settees, footstools, chaise longues, and bergere chairs can add a touch of bygone beauty, but you should allow plenty of space for more livable pieces such as a traditional sofa. If you can't afford new furniture, consider adding silk or damask throw pillows.

Tapestries and Oriental rugs can be affordable and add the feel of affluence. Check out for Downton Abbey-style fabrics and textiles.

Lovely lighting

Another easy way to achieve the upstairs style, while keeping things practical and comfortable, is to hang an ornate light fixture or chandelier. Affordable plaster or stencil medallions placed around light fixtures can be another eye-catching element.

Windows and walls

The return to detail and decoration includes opulent upholstery, drapes, and wall coverings, says Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan, founder of

"People seem to be ready for more and more luxe materials and dramatic finishes," he says. "Even wallpaper, which was trending modern, is back to classic floral patterns and English traditionalism, but often with a bit of a twist."

Painted walls are darker, with a gloss finish, experts say. You can create the upper-crust feel with bold jewel tones, including emerald and sapphire.

 The British nobility takes its heritage seriously, and there are painted portraits and landscapes throughout the show's castle. If you're at a rummage sale or consignment shop, pick up similar art and create a small grouping on one wall. You don't have to be descended from these somber-looking subjects to bring their sophistication home.

Lure of the library

While many elements of Downton Abbey style have a feminine appeal, there's no mistaking the bold, masculine feel of Lord Grantham's library. Add jewel-toned leather furniture or leather throw pillows to your reading areas for a twist to the muted espresso brown that has been popular in recent years.

Consider turning a little-used dining room into a study, using the table as a desk fit for the lords and ladies of your home.

"People are wanting to do something different in their dining rooms, so a lot of dining rooms are being filled with bookcases," Barnett says. She advises painting bookcases the same shade as walls, but in a gloss or lacquer finish.

Simple sensibility

Contrasting with the rich decor of the show's upstairs rooms is the subdued, neutral palette and texture of the downstairs staff's living and working quarters.

"Think natural materials like linen, cotton, raw wood, and a simplistic farmhouse-type aesthetic that is influencing DIY projects," says Becki Speakman, trend and design director for Michaels Stores.

One way to fashion the look is to use washed and softened painter's dropcloths for inexpensive curtains and slipcovers.

Mary Lawlor, manager of color marketing for Kelly-Moore Paints, recommends a palette of grounded grays and varnished ivory.

Creating flourishes of Downton Abbey style throughout a home can add interest and refinement. But give just a nod to the era - don't try to replicate it.

"The idea is to incorporate some of the glamour of that time in our modern-day setting," Barnett says, "without creating a museum in our homes."

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