Home Decor

Just like 'Downton' : Historical patterns for interior design enjoying a resurgence courtesy of popular PBS series

2013-01-22T00:00:00Z 2013-01-22T10:12:04Z Just like 'Downton' : Historical patterns for interior design enjoying a resurgence courtesy of popular PBS seriesBy Philip Potempa philip.potempa@nwi.com, (219) 852-4327 nwitimes.com

Cecilia Zubler, center director for the Barker Mansion at 631 Washington St. in Michigan City, has been known to use a magnifying glass for the purpose of capturing history's decorating designs of the day, and their detail. 

By examining old Barker family archive photos, she's been part of the successful Sherlock Holmes team matching exact patterns and fabrics to assist with the recreation of wallpaper prints, paint finish and custom woven area rugs.

She's also one of the many viewers who can appreciate the fine attention to detail used in the popular PBS series "Downton Abbey," which launched its third season last week.

"The rooms and furnishings are beautiful, and I'm sure it's part of the reasons that some viewers are attracted to tune in," said Zubler, who has been the mistress of Barker Mansion for more than two decades.

"As someone who has also had to work with interior design firms to recreate and restore the history presented in room decor, I can appreciate the precision and resulting beauty."

The British period drama TV series, created by Julian Fellowes, is set in the fictional Yorkshire country estate of Downton Abbey, depicts the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants in the post-Edwardian era around 1912.

And according to Sarah Cole, marketing director for Farrow & Ball, based in the UK, the popularity of "Downton Abbey" is having a favorable impact on her company's specialty: lines of historical decor in the form of unmatchable paints and wallpapers.

Founded by paint pioneers John Farrow and Richard Ball, the company has been around since 1946, earning a reputation for producing paint using only the finest ingredients and age-old production methods.

"We have showrooms around the world," Coles said during an interview Tuesday.

"But when today's internet and web site capabilities, we can ship any paint or wallpaper to anywhere in the world in three working days."

Coles said the company's paint colors are made using high levels of rich pigments to original recipes and their wallpapers are hand crafted using their own paints and traditional printing methods, as showcased at farrow-ball.com.

Everything is created at their factory in Dorset, England, home to Farrow & Ball since its launch decades ago.

As for the design trends which link the real Barker Mansion with the fictional Downton Abbey estate portrayed on TV and Farrow & Ball, the trio are proof that interior design trends can return centuries later.

As Coles explains, the grandeur and opulence of the interior design choices of homes from this past era not only represented wealth and status, but also function.

"The colors from this period, which we are seeing as back in demand, are much more rich and bold so rooms appear brighter and more inviting," Coles said.

"Since the construction trend of that time included so much heavy wood paneling and marble and stone, the color of walls needed to contrast those tones."

She recommends using a traditional English damask paper, such as Farrow & Ball's Silvergate BP 841 to create what she describes as "an opulent scheme fitting for Lord and Lady Grantham," the aristocratic couple who head the family in the PBS series.

"This paper creates a relaxed feel while retaining the formality inherent in damask designs. Use creamy neutrals on woodwork with suggestions like Cord on the baseboards and Matchstick on window frames and doors allows the wallpaper to remain the feature of a room."

The reason goldleaf was so popular, during the days of candlelight and gas lamps, the metallic quality helped reflect light, as did glass and crystal accents. Even the floral patterns popular of wallpaper allowed the recreation of lush gardens and landscapes for the inside of home which might others seem bleak during long and gray winter days.

She also reminds that wallpaper is really just "painted paper."

"Of course, we've perfected and refined our formula so today's wallpapers are easier to clean," Coles said.

"It used to be if you scrubbed too hard, the painted designs would come right off the paper. And today, our paints are all water-based rather than oil based."

Zubler said while restoring room decor at the Barker Mansion in recent decades, she has relied on companies very similar to Farrow & Ball.

"We are fortunate to have our own foundation which assists with the funding of our projects, since our handwoven rugs and custom wallpaper needs cost thousands to be created to our specifications," Zubler said.

For the Barker projects, Zubler and her staff often turn to the leading American purveyor of decorative fabrics, wall coverings, trims, furnishings and accessories, an 80-year-old New York based company called Scalamandre.

"At times, we've given our designers something as small as a scrap of fabric and they can recreate a forgotten interior design feature treasured from the past," Zubler said.

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