By Laura K. Lloyd The Kansas City Star
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.
Ardent fans of the highly popular, Emmy Award-winning drama must wait until Sunday for season 3 to begin.
Like the last huge PBS success teeming with great rooms and the vagaries of the British class system — “Brideshead Revisited” in 1982 — “Downton Abbey” 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. Habitation determines the clothes they wear as well: velvet evening gown and serious diamonds or crisp white shirt and simple black uniform.
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 to look of “Downton” in North America: bedding and bath, home furnishings and decor, housewares, kitchenware and apparel.
Who knows what Knockout will offer? Perhaps replicas of hunting prints, worn Oriental rugs, faded cabbage-rose chintzes, Staffordshire dogs, Blue Willow china and leather-bound books: the tried-and-true elements of English country house design.
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.
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.
Why not incorporate a touch of “Downton’s” elegance into your 21st century life? Plan a dinner party for Sunday night when season 3 begins and have a leisurely “Downton-esque” dinner before you watch.
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.
No footmen are required and finger bowls are definitely passe. 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.
The ‘Downton’ Look
UPSTAIRS (The Crawleys)
• Crystal goblets
• Refined wood
• Embroidered linen
• Silver candlesticks
DOWNSTAIRS (the servants)
• Simple glassware
• Rustic wood
• Unembellished linen
• Oil lanterns
Mind your manners
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 (white and black), 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.
Source: Cathy Corey / National League of Junior Cotillions