December 9, 2012

Take a trip down 'Abbey' road

Borrow decor cues from the wildly popular PBS period drama 'Downton Abbey' for a party or a more permanent look.

By LAURA K. LLOYD The Kansas City Star

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

Elizabeth McGovern (center), who plays Cora Crawley, in an elegant upstairs dining scene from “Downton Abbey.”

McClatchy Newspaper photos

click image to enlarge

Maggie Smith and Hugh Bonneville, the Dowager Countess and Earl of Grantham respectively, “at table” in another scene from the show. American fans of the PBS series will be able to imitate this marvelously styled fantasy of British life when a company called Knockout Licensing launches multiple brands that seek to replicate the look of “Downton” in North American homes.

Additional Photos Below


EVEN IF YOU don't have a "Downton Abbey" watch party, keep proper etiquette in mind.

CATHY COREY has taught manners to thousands of schoolchildren, as well as college and law students, for more than 19 years through the National League of Junior Cotillions, a national franchise (though she recently sold hers).

Never begin the meal until everyone has been served; the hostess will be the first to begin eating.

Dinner rolls are to be broken in half; then a bite-size piece is again broken off, buttered and eaten. Your knife should never touch the bread, except to add the butter.

The resting position of your utensils is across the top of the plate - do not "build a bridge" by resting knives or forks on the lip of the plate and then leaning them on the table.

Once a utensil has been used, it is never placed back on the linens. It must rest on plates or saucers.

Your drinking glasses are always positioned near the top of your dinner knife. Even if you are left-handed, the glass should be placed to the right after every sip.

The dinner napkin is folded into a rectangle, resting on your lap with the fold toward your stomach. It is never tucked into one's collar, unless one is eating lobster.

The salt and pepper shakers are always passed together, even if the request to pass was for only one of them. Like a bride and groom, they never take separate vacations!

The gentlemen should always rise when a lady approaches or leaves the table.

One always passes to the right with one's left hand (crossing over the front of your body), to shorten the range of motion. The person accepting the pass takes it in his/her right hand, then changes to the left hand when passing.

When finished with the meal, one should place the used napkin to the left of the place setting -- never wadded up on the top of dirty dishes.




Crystal goblets

Refined wood

Embroidered linen

Silver candlesticks



Simple glassware

Rustic wood

Unembellished linen

Oil lanterns

For a style that borrows from the spare black-and-white and rich brown of "Downton's" downstairs where the servants hang out (a look that really is the most modern and comfortable in the 21st century), look at the curated collection of

Whether channeling an "upstairs" feel or a "downstairs" look, your table will be crisp, clean and proper, and everybody who sits down for dinner will be inspired to try their hardest to be good company.

What effect are you after? If you are pretending to be "toffs," you are aiming for an elegant presentation but not a table dripping with gold vermeil, elaborate china, cut crystal wineglasses and ornate silver.

You are striving more for classic style: perhaps a printed invitation sent ahead to your guests, followed by a properly set table with everything in its place, white place cards, of course, and crisp pale linens with a special napkin fold and a monogram. Don't forget lots of candlelight, and be sure to keep spouses and couples separated to encourage conversation.

Most important: Present several courses. (Sorry. This isn't the 30-minute meal promoted in "Good Housekeeping.") The idea isn't to let down one's hair and relax but to make an effort to be one's best self over a dinner that shows the hosts have made an effort as well.

Carol Wallace, author of "To Marry an English Lord," a book that "Downton" creator Julian Fellowes admits inspired him to make Lady Cora a rich American married to a British peer, said the English of the early 20th century believed in "keeping up standards, even if fashions in food changed. The whole formality of the evening was something you would stick to if you possibly could," even if bank accounts shrank and new customs like the pre-dinner cocktail started to become popular in the 1920s (Season 3 covers the 1920s, so prepare to see martinis shaken, not stirred, in the drawing room).

The actual formal dinner tables at upper-class soirees in early 20th-century England were more likely to feature a somewhat pared-down look: a snowy white tablecloth, a couple of show-stopping candelabra holding fresh white candles, bone china with a simple rim of gold, and then a multitude of forks, knives and spoons laid on the table in the correct order, complemented with several stemmed wine glasses or champagne flutes.

The mood was more important than the objects, although high-class Brits were as materialistic as they come. The "tabletop" was there to encourage people to make good conversation and observe the best etiquette, all in a setting that was easy on the eyes.

Wallace even suggests a menu that would evoke the cuisine of "Downton" without being too slavish to food tastes of almost 100 years ago: a first course of vichyssoise, the cold cream and potato soup that has been a classic for many decades, followed by a main course of Cornish game hens (not quite as complex as pheasant but evocative of the same), with roasted root vegetables (must fit in Brussels sprouts somewhere) followed by a dessert such as the British stalwart trifle or the apple charlotte referenced on "Downton." Recipes are as close as your computer. Check out

An oddity of the British table in the early decades of the 20th century was the custom of women leaving to have coffee or tea in the living room while the men stayed for port, a savory bite after dessert and conversation about money, politics and other forbidden topics. Although this habit flies in the face of everything American and modern, it might be fun if approached in a lighthearted way.

And if you opt for the "downstairs" aesthetic of black clothes, white china and fine polished wood, know that you will be undeniably chic and ready for whatever drama transpires at your party.

In the dark days of winter, a little fantasy never hurt anybody, especially if a PBS miniseries is involved. Quite right, as they say in England.


Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors

Additional Photos

Capturing the aura of Downton Abbey
click image to enlarge

Bedding and bath accessories, home furnishings and decor, housewares, kitchenware and apparel that mimic the “Downton Abbey” aesthetic are headed to American retailers.

Capturing the aura of Downton Abbey
click image to enlarge

Having a “Downton” viewing party? To pull off a “downstairs” look, simple white china and polished wood will do nicely.


Further Discussion

Here at we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)