If you’ve been swept in the Masterpiece/PBS soap opera that is Downton Abbey, you are likely to appreciate the exceptional attention to every detail of the houses (make that castles) and costumes on display in this Edwardian period piece. Beginning in 1912 and moving through WW1 into the 1920’s, Downton Abbey is the story of the aristocratic Crawley family, their servants and the 19th century castle in which they all live in Yorkshire, England.
Highclere Castle in Newbury, England is the actual setting for the exteriors and “upstairs” rooms. Highclere has been the seat of the real aristocratic Carnarvon family since the 17th century and the current castle was built in the 19th century during the Victorian period. Unlike many period dramas set in old English castles, this show makes use of many of the existing furnishings and artwork in the “house”.
When it comes to furnishing places like this, as one of the characters said in a recent episode, “We don’t purchase our furniture, we inherit it.” The furnishings, carpentry, art and accessories all have the feel of having always been there, with certain updates to accommodate modern conveniences and sensibilities. For example tables, sideboards and dining chairs may date to the early 19th century and even earlier, but comfortable sofas and upholstered armchairs are more common later in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Artwork, china and silver would assuredly be from any and all periods.
Of course, if you were to emulate the Downton look with real period antiques, or even high-end reproductions, you would likely be spending a fortune. And really, if you don’t already live in a castle, why spend a fortune to achieve the look of living in a castle? However, this doesn’t mean you can’t achieve the look and feel of an English country manor house on a budget. It just takes an eye for detail and a little creativity. Here are a few finds to get you started:
Dining, Downton Abbey Style
Hartland Sling Chair from Value City Furniture: While it’s very difficult to find budget conscious formal dining chairs that match those in the series, the Hartland Sling Chair offers a sense of importance and luxury at an excellent price. $249.99
Urban Living Round Dining Table from Value City Furniture: A dining table that can accommodate 20+ people is neither inexpensive nor really necessary. The Urban Living Round Dining Table is a classic dark wood table that sits on a pedestal. Despite its name, this piece mimics nicely the period table in the television show and at 48” round, will comfortably seat 4. $349.99
Chamberlain Sideboard from Value City Furniture: You may not have a butler to serve you dinner, but you will need a place to store linens and other dining room necessities. The Chamberlain Sideboard offers ample surface space as well as inside storage. $499.99
Beacon Hill Mahal Red Oriental Rug from Wayfair: This classic red and green oriental rug really sets the stage for a classic Downton dining room look. The deep, rich color palette and dense design pattern are dramatic and bold without being at all modern looking. $350.59-$658.59
Formal Living Room, Inspired by Downton Abbey
Erin Loveseat from World Market: The Erin Little Tufted Loveseat is a perfect period style sofa that has the feel of a Victorian piece without the heavy brocade fabric and fringe common with that era. $449.99
Mantel Façade with Mirror from World Market: Naturally, rooms in period homes dating before central heating all included fireplaces. The Mantel Façade offers you the opportunity to get the look of a beautiful fireplace, "without the mess of construction" or schlepping firewood. Simply lean against a wall and you are done. $349.99
Darby Foyer Table from World Market: A simple and elegant side table, the Darby Foyer Table would work well with the Erin love seat to hold a table lamp or hide the remote. In the heyday of the English Manor house, coffee or cocktail tables were rarely used. Taller side tables could double as tea tables or to hold a cognac as needed. $139.99
Vintage Look Horse Pillows from Horchow Collection: The Vintage Look Horse pillows are decidedly not budget items, but they certainly add to the feeling of period décor and might be worth the splurge. Or, use them as inspiration to find a fabric with a similar theme and make your own posh pillows. $375.00