How To Decorate Your House ‘Downton’ Style

As our long time readers and listeners know, the Heatley Cliff is a pretend English manor, and while we do have a swarthy ensemble of Downstairs folk (Henry Cavill is our first footman and Tom Ford is my Lady’s Maid, to name a few), we are not nearly as big an operation as Downton Abbey.  The Abbey continues to inspire us (as well as millions of others) but truth be told, we were cheesy Anglophiles long before the series aired. I even moved to London right after college in hopes of finding my own Lord Grantham. What I got was an entirely different sort of person altogether, but that’s a whole other post really and perhaps not suited to an outfit entitled HelloGiggles.

I was fortunate enough, however, to stay in many gorgeous country homes abroad and the warmth and comfort I found there never left me. In point of fact, I would say that my aesthetic here at home is an attempt to recapture those lovely houses of my youth. I am often asked when people visit, how I achieve the “English” look and so I thought I would share some tips that are sure bring a little Downton style to your own living space.

  • Wallpaper. Wallpaper is your friend. Wallpaper is the best. I would probably marry wallpaper if I could. If you are at sixes and sevens over where to start in terms of decorating the blank canvas of your room, it would be here. You don’t need to do an entire room, just a wall or two. The colours and motifs that speak to you when you finally narrow down your choice(s) will help inform all your other decisions about paint and furniture. Really. I’m not kidding.
  • England is cold and damp. Above all else, the decor in an English home, even a big one, asks the home owner and visitor alike” “Can I cozy up here? Can I build a fire and curl up into a soft blanket?” It’s key, the climate, so always keep that in the back of your mind.
  • Books! Book shelves, stacks of books on a table, a run of a few books on a mantle- books will Manor-fy your space in two shakes of a lambs tail.
  • Bare floors are a no no. Turkish rugs, Kilim rugs, Persian rugs… you get the idea. The color does not matter, nor does it matter if they are a little worse for wear. You can’t, however, do a graphic rug. Too modern.
  • While English houses can be quite formal, they are also oddly, without an absolute style. Britain has seen its fair share of wars and reversals of fortunes. There is a “make do and mend” attitude even in the most affluent of homes. Furniture is usually a hodge podge, so one has to avoid “sets” of any kind. Most of these homes have pieces that have been handed down through generations- an art deco side board, a rococo table in the entry way, a Queen Anne chair. There is no particular style, just a non-hoarding-like ability to take care of really old things and refinish through upholstering and patching what has been worn down too much.
  • English Manor Homes love good needlepoint throw pillows and also, equine art.
  • Leaded glass is a big architectural element is English houses. Lattice work on windows and doors is great, but even a lampshade a la Tiffany will do nicely. Don’t worry, imitation Tiffany is just fine (I don’t have 20 grand for a lamp either).
  • Chintz! Toile! Brocade! Plaid! These types of fabrics are all over the place in the Manor. There is no matchy matchy in this type of design, so throwing these disparate styles together will be trial and error. Don’t worry, eventually a combo will come together in a way you never thought they could and look great.
  • Wondering what color palettes to choose from? Again, we are looking for cozy, so dark and rich is the key- Peacock Blue, Hunter Green, Garnet Red, you get the idea.
  • It’s all about your grandma’s china. Seriously. Leaving a set on your sideboard on a tray will Englishize your room in a snap because over there, most things come down to tea.
  • Blinds are not the done thing, dear. No way. It’s curtains all the way, the longer the better.
  • Adding notions like fringe and ribbons to the bottoms of chairs, couches and throw pillows somehow work in this world. Don’t ask me why.
  • When in doubt- tufted out. Seriously. Tufted upholstery is English Manor 101.
  • Paintings stacked one on top of each other on the wall really work. “But Amy,” you ask, “where can I get actual paintings? I am not an art collector and don’t have a gajillion dollars to spend on art!” Simple answer: antique bazaars. These are places where there are dozens of vendors in one building. Look for the old school oil paintings and portraits of people who look as if they might be related to you if one squints.
  • Paneled walls are so Downton, especially if they are wood. Not practical for you? You can create a faux paneled wall with paint and tape. Here’s a website with some tips on how to.
  • Gardens are a defining part of any English manor. Bringing the garden inside with fresh flowers and in the form of chintz and on china patterns as well, will make your room look quaintly English.
  • The Union Jack used sparingly (I have a UJ trunk) is a cheeky way to let your guests know where your heart lies.

I hope you are able to use some of these tips to create your very own manor space at home. Come on over to the Heatley Cliff this week as Sher and I are talking more about this on our podcast. The kettle has just gone, it’s tea time for me!

Featured image via chameleon interiors