Home Inspiration from Downton Abbey

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Before you start reading this post, I need to come clean about something: I am no crazed Downton fan. In fact, I haven’t watched it. Yet. There, it’s out.

So when my friend Natalie said she had booked high tea at Highclere Castle for Mother’s Day, I have to admit that I didn’t quite know what to expect other than a huge country pile and some cucumber sandwiches.

  

 

 

 

 

As we approached Highclere by foot on a sunny March afternoon, it was breathtaking. The majestic castle, set on beautiful grounds, is owned by the Carnarvon family and has a rich history. The welcome address by Lady Carnarvon herself made our heads spin.  She told us that Highclere was, before everything else, a home, and this became clear as we made our way across the many rooms. Despite their grandeur and at times decadent decor, the rooms never felt intimidating; they felt warm, welcoming and to my utter surprise, “lived in”.

I started wondering how this could be replicated at home and narrowed it down to five tips gathered from my visit:

  1. Vintage pieces will bring some “oomph” to a scheme: it’s hard to make a room feel warm with brand new furniture and accessories. Vintage pieces are an instant fix to give your scheme personality and depth. I am constantly on the lookout for vintage finds (often from charity shops in Surrey) and love curating items; this means that if I find something I like, I get it and worry about where it might go later.
  2. Think lights! I sat through the most inspiring session when doing a short interior design course at the delightful KFC school by alumni-come-lighting-guru Rebbeca Weir of Light.iQ.  Vintage chandeliers add instant grandeur to any room (as long as you have the ceiling height). There are some great repros out there or even original bargains on eBay so no need to break the bank.
  3. Move things around: you’ll be surprised what happens when you switch pieces of furniture around! I recently moved a vintage chest of drawers that was left in the house by the previous owners from the guest bedroom to our master bedroom and it looks a thousand times better there. In the previous room, you could only see it at an angle and it just didn’t work.
  4. Family photos offer an instant homey feel; obvious I know, but I am not one for family portraits or hand-me-down heirlooms, so I was a bit surprised to see the Carnarvon family was featured in most rooms. Pictures old and new added so much personality and made this giant palace feel like a home. Chose your pictures carefully though (twenty pictures of little Alfie on one wall isn’t probably what visitors want to see, but a couple chosen photographs elegantly shot can make a fabulous impact).
  5. Books, books, books: the double library, which boasts over 5,650 books dating back to the 16th century felt like the center of the castle, a focal meeting point for drinks and conversation both before and after dinner. We recently had built-in cupboards done in our sitting room, and I will be using vintage books left in the house by the previous owners to bring some warmth to those bare shelves! Stay tuned.

Should you ever have the chance to visit Highclere Castle, do it! If you can’t, Lady Carnarvon recently published a book on how to entertain at the castle, which might inspire you in ways you didn’t expect.

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