Downton Detroit

The Downton-esque Meadow Brook Hall in Rochester Hills was built in the 1920s by Matilda Dodge Wilson and her husband, Alfred G. Wilson. The  Holiday Walk tours run through Dec. 23. Photograph By Jeffrey Bennett

Lady Mary and Lord Grantham become part of many of our families come Downton time — the season when Downton Abbey, the wildly popular PBS Masterpiece drama filmed at Highclere Castle in England, finds us gathered in front of the television on Sunday evenings. For an hour a week, we get to absorb life at the manor — all the intriguing upstairs and downstairs turmoil, and how it intertwines. Last year, Season 3’s seven episodes reached 24 million viewers. And many of those (an average of 65,000 per episode) are in metro Detroit. At 9 p.m. Jan. 5, throngs of area residents will once again tune in to WTVS Detroit Public Television for some honest-to-goodness elegant escapism.

Downton Abbey has something for everyone: fashion, jewels, a beautiful setting, and history,” says Susanne Simpson, Masterpiece senior series producer. Simpson, a Birmingham native who attended Birmingham Groves High School and the University of Michigan, says design devotees are especially captivated by the home’s interiors. “The saloon is magnificent,” enthuses Elisabeth Meda, a Grosse Pointe Woods-based interior designer. (The saloon is physically and socially the heart of the house.) “The high ceilings, natural light, and the gold-leaf details, along with the mix of styles … it is a beautiful space.”

Metro Detroit fans connect on many levels, says Rich Homberg, president and CEO of Detroit Public Television — including the fact that there is a lot of fascinating architecture and history here which echoes that seen on the show. On a tour of Meadow Brook Hall in Rochester Hills, for example, you may sense that Mr. Carson, Downton’s butler, is just in the next room, where he’s waiting to greet you. “And is there anyplace that is more Downton than Cranbrook House and Gardens?” Homberg asks.

On the following pages, discover more Downton, Detroit-style, in a Pewabic Tile bathroom in the most recent Junior League of Detroit Designers’ Show House, built in Grosse Pointe Shores in 1925 by Oscar Webber, nephew of Joseph L. Hudson. We also put the Downton microscope on an ultra-plush master suite designed by a local interior designer. And do browse our Downton gallery of goods, if you’re looking to create your own manor house looks.

Downton Design 101: Downton Abbey depicts the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants in the post-Edwardian era around 1912 and beyond. The grandeur and opulence of interior design in homes from this era represented wealth and status. Think rich colors, brighter rooms than in the past, wood paneling, and lots of stone. You can tour the setting of Downton Abbey at Highclere Castle in Hampshire, England. Visit Season 4 begins at 9 p.m. Jan. 5 in metro Detroit on WTVS Detroit Public Television.



Designs and appointments with early 20th-century style — from bed linens to bath tiles — are reminiscent of the Abbey set

Minimalism and contemporary design are great, but for those who prefer lush details, floral patterns and colors, and castle-like luxe, it’s here for the taking. Two area designers share their inspirations for creating Downton-like spaces.

1. Jane Synnestvedt

WHO: Synnestvedt is owner of the 10-year-old, Birmingham-based Jane S. Synnestvedt Interior Design, (248) 561-9309,


BEDDING: Sophia bed linens in Capri by SDH. Starts at $2,354, Cristions Fine Linen & Down, Birmingham, 248-723-3337.

TUCKED IN: Trousdale bed II, $16,500, Phyllis Morris Originals,

PATTERN: Lapchi, Ri rug in fir green. The Ghiordes Knot, Michigan Design Center, Troy. TEXTURE:  Schumacher’s Rapture in sand. Michigan Design Center, Troy. GLIMMER:  Schumacher’s Glimmer in bronze. Michigan Design Center, Troy.


TABLE IT:  Nightstand, $3,795, Phyllis Morris Originals,

INSPIRATION FOR A MASTER SUITE: “My client wanted a warm home environment with all the craftsmanship and ornamentation of an Old World estate,” interior designer Jane Synnestvedt says.

UNDERFOOT: Lapchi, Ri handwoven in Nepal 100-knot, 35 percent silk in light fir green, price available upon request. The Ghiordes Knot, Michigan Design Center, Troy, “The rugs are handmade in Nepal,” Synnestvedt says, “using only the traditional materials of silk and wool, which are colored using plant-based dyes — something that’s been done for hundreds of years.”

FABRIC FINERY: “Schumacher fabrics are famous for their quality and historic reproduction textiles.” Synnestvedt went with Rapture in sand, by Celerie Kemble; Glimmer in bronze, and Bristol Weave in espresso for fabric. Trim: Whitfield Braid in bronze. Prices vary. All from Michigan Design Center.

SUITE DREAMS: “The bedding should reflect the style of the space.”

SLEEP TIGHT: “My clients had seen some pieces in their travels, including furniture — the bed and nightstand became a couple of focus points for determining our design style,” she says.



2. Elisabeth Meda

WHO: Meda is an established 25-year design veteran who runs Elisabeth Meda Interior Design, Grosse Pointe Woods, (313) 640-9811.

PAMPER: Dusting brush with white bristles, $46, by Lady Primrose, from A Touch of Lace, Bloomfield Hills, SPRINKLE: Dusting silk shaker, $42, by Lady Primrose, from A Touch of Lace, Bloomfield Hills, BATHE: Arielle urn with bath salts, $242, by Lady Primrose, from A Touch of Lace, Bloomfield Hills,


ELEGANT LIGHTING: Says Elisabeth Meda: “Vaughan’s pieces are timeless.” Courcelles Giltwood chandelier, Vaughan Designs,

COLOR CUE:  Benjamin Moore #925 Ivory White, for local retailer.

INSPIRATION FOR A SHOW HOUSE BATHROOM: “There is a resurgence of clients wanting sophisticated but functional bathrooms,” Meda says. “More and  more, we are seeing them as retreats with a spa-like quality.”  The 2014 Show House is open May 3-18; info:

STORIED TILE: Mary Chase Stratton and her artists at Pewabic Pottery created the existing Pewabic tile, shown in this most recent Junior League of Detroit Show House (bathroom interior design by Elisabeth Meda), originally built in the 1920s.

PLAIN SINK: “Clean lines in design,” Elisabeth Meda says of 1920s-style sink appeal. “Feminine and fussy” should be avoided.

IF WALLS COULD TALK:  “A soft white wall paint provides a contrast between the turquoise tile and the walls.”

DESIGN DETAILS: “Crystal and sterling silver help to soften the space.”


TILE STYLE: Interior designer Meda says close tile matches to the original Pewabic Pottery creations in her Show House bathroom, far left, could include Fire and Earth, in blue/green/silver/gold; Sicis, in waterfall; and Ananas blend, at left. Ann Sacks Showroom, Michigan Design Center, Troy.

SIMPLE FUNCTIONALITY: Kallista, Tuxedo by Barbara Barry basin faucet set, starts at $1,095, Ann Sacks Showroom, Michigan Design Center, Troy.

ON A PEDASTAL: “More masculine and/or transitional than feminine.” Kallista, Tuxedo by Barbara Barry pedestal sink, starts at $1,295, Ann Sacks Showroom, Michigan Design Center, Troy. “The fixtures that were used in bathrooms in the 1920s were more functional.”



Channel the Abbey with scents of lavender and currant, high tea and historic details

TEA SET: Enjoy an English high tea (or even coffee) with the silver-plated Reed & Barton Loveland Rose five-piece tea set. Price upon request, LaLonde Jewelers & Gemologists, Grosse Pointe Farms,

MASTERPIECE ART: While women of Lady Mary’s stature inherited their art, an archival-quality print Flowers in a Glass Vase by Rachel Ruysch, 1704 (original at the Detroit Institute of Arts), is a fine stand-in. $29, Or pick up a postcard and a poster of the Ruysch image at the DIA gift shop. $0.75, $12.95, DIA, Detroit,

LAUNDRY FRAGRANCE: Your fine linens can be infused with the essence of lavender, which grows abundantly in Highclere’s gardens, with Good Home Co.’s Lavender Laundry Fragrance. $25, Union General, Clarkston, 248-620-3800.

NIVEN MORGAN CANDLE: Envision yourself in Mrs. Patmore’s kitchen with this English currant-scented candle from Niven Morgan London. $32, Talulah Belle, Rochester,

HOUSEHOLD MANAGEMENT BOOK: Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management by Isabella Beeton — the bible for a Downton-era home of distinction. $57.59,

 WINGED SEATING: Visitors almost always flock to a statement-making wing chair. The Catania style from Arhaus showcases luxe fabric and details. $1,699,

COPPER PANS: These essential tools are often seen downstairs at Downton. Mauviel M’héritage seven-piece set, $1,614.95, metro-area stores,

REGAL RED CARPET: Bloomsburg’s classic patterns abound. Bitterman Crimson, red.PCL Carpets, Brighton, price available upon request. 810-333-1928,

HUNTER GREEN CARPET: Bloomsburg’s Granoble/hunter green bring elements from royal residences into your home. PCL Carpets, Brighton, price available upon request. 810-333-1928,