If you are captivated by the drama series Downton Abbey you have probably also enjoyed looking at the gorgeous costumes and the warm and elegant Edwardian interiors.
In today’s post we will try to gain some insight into what makes the interiors of Downton Abbey so inviting and elegant.
In addition to Downton Abbey we will also look at rooms by Nancy Lancaster and John Fowler. These two together created the English country house look in the 1950’s. We will also look at two fabulous rooms by their most talented modern proponent- David Easton. All three design legends strove for the “un-decorated” look. They discovered the design principles for creating interiors that felt comfortable and looked elegant. You will see that all three designers chose gold colored Aubusson rugs and orange-yellow walls to bring the feeling of warm sunshine into their rooms.
If your taste runs to more contemporary styles, this post is still valuable. Once you become familiar with Nancy Lancaster’s 7 rules you will see how they apply just as much to contemporary decorating as they do to the English country house.
1. In the drawing room of Downton Abbey, youngest daughter Lady Sybil shows off her evening gown by taking a turn on a gold and red Aubusson rug. The addictive PBS drama has sparked a revival of Edwardian fashions and a heightened interest in classical interiors with Aubusson rugs. Image courtesy of enchantedserenityperiodfilms blog.
1A. Lady Grantham rests imperiously on a pink upholstered chair in the drawing room of Downton Abbey. Why do Downton Abbey interiors feel warm, inviting and elegant? Is it because they do not look “decorated”? Did you notice that the colors of the pink chair, the gold Aubusson rug and the sea-blue wall covering do not coordinate? Image courtesy of enchantedserenityperiodfilms blog.
The Edwardian dis-regard for color coordination arose from the fact that their furnishing had been acquired over many generations. Each objects had an aura of ancestral history and the fact that the had aged together gave them a certain visual harmony and a look that can never be replicated by “decorating”.
Downton Abbey’s color mis-matched interiors have been so widely admired, fashion designers ranging from Ralph Lauren to Dolce and Gabbana designed dresses inspired by Aubusson rugs- see the recent blog post Gold on Black Aubusson Rugs Inspire Fall-Winter 2012 Womens Fashions.
Ralph Lauren was one of several designers whose Fall 2012 runway fashions were influenced by Aubusson rugs. See more examples in the blog post. Image courtesy Harper’s Bazaar Fall 2012 Fashions.
Nancy Lancaster chose a gold and cream Aubusson rug for the gothic bedroom at Hasley Court designed in the 1950’s with the help of the legendary John Fowler. Image courtesy cotedetexas blog.
The color coordination in this bedroom is so subtle you have to look closely to see the greens in the medallion of the Aubusson rug picked up by the yellow-green chair on the left. But the yellow green of the chair is so different from the dark green of the Aubusson rug, the color link feels natural.
There is many subtle links in this room- such as between the tan-apricot color of the walls and the dark apricot in the Aubusson rug. The angled ceiling subtly suggests a canopy on top of the actual canopy on the bed and the oval frame around the mural on the ceiling echoes the oval medallion in the Aubusson rug.
The story is often told of how Nancy Lancaster initially employed John Fowler to help her with the decoration of her homes, but soon became so fascinated with decoration, she ended up buying the firm that later became Colefax & Fowler from the retiring decorator Sybil Colefax.
Nancy Lancaster and John Fowler strived to achieve the look that can only happens naturally over many generations of acquiring and living. Lancaster enunciated 7 rules for making a room look “comfortable” and not “decorated”:
“1- In restoring a house, one must first realize its period, feel its personality, and try to bring out its good points; 2- Decorating must be appropriate; 3- Scale is of prime importance, and I think that oversized scale is better than undersized scale; 4- In choosing a color,one must remember that it changes in different aspects; 5- Understatement is extremely important, and crossing too many t’s and dotting too many i’s make a room look overdone and tiresome. One should create something that fires the imagination without overemphasis; 6- I never think that sticking slavishly to one period is successful; a touch of nostalgia adds charm. One needs light and shade, because if every piece is perfect, the room becomes a museum and lifeless; 7- A gentle mixture of furniture expresses life and continuity, but it must be a delicious mixture that flows and mixes well. It is a bit like mixing a salad. I am better at mixing rooms than salads”. Quotations from Wikipedia.
3. A muted gold Aubusson rugs defines a seating area in ambassador David Bruce’s 1970’s Washington, DC living room designed by John Fowler. Image courtesy Architectural Digest via whitehaveninteriors blog and Aesthete’s Lament blog.
Even though the Aubusson rug in this living room has muted colors-gold, taupe and blue, John Fowler chose a vibrant orange-yellow color for the wall and a bright lemon yellow fabric for the sofa. The orange-yellow has the warmth of sunshine while the lemon adds freshness and zest. The fact that the wall colors are so vibrant and the colors of the Aubusson rug are so muted is what makes this room feel “un-decorated” and comfortable.
4. David Easton chose a Bessarabian rug custom made by Asmara for this elegant living room. The contrast between the vibrant yellow of the wall and the antique coral colors of the Besarabian rug reminds us of John Fowler. Image courtesy Elle Decor’s 9 Grand Masters of Design.
David Easton builds on the discoveries of Nancy Lancaster and John Fowler and creates an even more beautiful and inviting living room. Easton’s Bessarabian rug is grander than anything Fowler and Lancaster had to work with- 400 custom dyed colors and five different kinds of wool yarns were used to achieve the antique look of this rug.
Following the tradition of Lancater and Fowler, Easton artfully mixes rustic elements with refined objects. This living room is elegant and at the same time it makes you feel completely relaxed. The exposed wood ceiling looks weathered and evokes the comfort of a romantic farmhouse. Then you notice the refined surface of the marble fireplace and carving of the gilded mirror frame and you know this is no ordinary farmhouse.
5. Even though the gold, brown and blue Directoire Aubusson rug looks grand, by placing the bed right over the ornate medallion suddenly makes the room feel more relaxed. David Easton chose an orange-yellow color for the walls in the tradition of of John Fowler’s living room for Ambassador David Bruce. Image courtesy Alix Perrachon, The Decorative Carpet.
In an interview with Alix Perrachon, David Easton revealed his preference for rugs with a thin, ribbed textural surface- a characteristic of worn, older rugs. He likes rugs that have “a grace of age”. He does not like the “the cut pile look”. “Never buy a rug that is too sharp in color” he advised. “It should blend into the totality of the room and the scale of its pattern must be in proportion to that of the room.”
What if the rug he likes is not in the perfect size? “I would still buy it, if I really loved it!” exclaimed Easton. from David Easton’s interview with Alix Perrachon, The Decorative Carpet.
A fun way to incorporate the decorating approach of Lancaster, Fowler and Easton is to print out Nancy Lancaster’s 7 Rules and have them next to you as you look again at each image. As you do this, you will begin to notice details that contribute to achieving the overall look that combines comfort and elegance.
As you become more familiar with this approach, you will be able to apply it to your preferred design style.