KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Americans like their Brits to be snobs, rich and veddy, veddy proper — or at least they like their PBS British costume dramas that way.
“Downton Abbey” has been delivering the goods for two seasons.
The drama features a magnificent house that influences the destinies of every character. Their roles, aristocrat or servant, are played out in the rooms where they live — “upstairs” boudoirs and opulent sitting rooms or “downstairs” scullery, pantries and starkly furnished bedrooms.
American fans 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 America: bedding and bath, home furnishings and décor, housewares, kitchenware and apparel.
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In the meanwhile, why not incorporate a touch of “Downton’s” elegance into your 21st century life? Plan a dinner party that takes the formality quotient up a notch. If nothing else, the preparations can help pass the time until the show returns.
The key to realistically adding a little “Downton” to your life is to keep the focus on the dining room, where so much of the delicious action takes place. Don’t take any of this too seriously: No footmen are required and finger bowls are definitely passé. But there is a way to have fun getting dressed up and putting together a well-appointed table.
Your “Downton” theme can best be executed using what is called “tabletop” in interior-design parlance: all the china, crystal, chargers, napkins, tablecloths, candles, centerpieces, demitasse cups and place cards that make a dining-room table look like the most delicious eye candy. Many venues offer this merchandise, from Target to furniture purveyors to linen stores.
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 CuriousSofa.com.
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 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 showstopping 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 wineglasses or champagne flutes.
The mood was more important than the objects.
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.