Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Dinner a la Downton Abbey

Were you as enthralled with Downton Abbey as I was? We are such PBS and Masterpiece nerds. What a fascinating look into the people who lived in that magnificent house both upstairs and downstairs. Many of my relatives are from England, so we've had the good fortune to tour estates like that. Watching the show made those tours really come to life for me.

I thought it would be fun to create a party around the Edwardian era, when dinner itself was an event worthy of proper attire and merriment. When A-Line magazine in Cincinnati asked me to style a celebration for their anniversary issue, I jumped right on it! I couldn't wait to transcend that romantic and fomal style into a newer, more modern form of entertaining.

I started styling the party with, of course, a color scheme. Colors that I would have in the past described as "old lady" colors, I've been viewing with a new enthusiasm. The soft, grayed out colors of peach, lavender, soft gold/silver and mauve are given a modern twist with pops of tailored and masculine navy blue. I can just see The Dowager Downton pursing her lips in distaste now. Ha!

For the table settings, I layered beautiful antique pieces like this delicate gold-edged china and cordial glass from Oma's Vintage Plates onto a slightly tarnished silver drink coaster. Those sat on top of a boldly shaped dinner plate (these I picked up from Home Goods), and a round gold brushed charger. Since my focus was to prevent the setting from being too formal and stuffy, I paired the feminine pieces with natural and more masculine ones. The napkin is a bold navy stripe amid the gold filagree plate. The lace tablecloth was draped over a round thick, unadorned walnut table and the chairs were woven with hemp cord which brought a natural and informal texture to the seating arrangement. The flowers were full of opening petals, varying shapes and loosely arranged in the classically shaped silver bowl.

The ribbon chandelier was really fun and simple to create. You know I don't sew, but I am capable of using a needle and thread when in the sights of a finished project. I purchased large plastic crystals from Michaels Craft Stores and sewed them to the cut ends of 1.5" and 1/2" navy grosgrain ribbon. I then printed out letters on cardstock to spell out the honored birthday girl's name. To install, I folded the top of the ribbon over the arms of the chandelier and taped together with double sided tape. Easy on, easy off and no damage to the existing lighting. That's how I like it!

The invitation and ephemera were hand painted by me--shocking if you know how much I love my sweet computer. I pulled out the trusty water colors and created little floral vignettes and navy pinstripes for the envelope liners. I had a good time with wording on the invitation, referring to "Lord and Lady Madison of Hamilton County" and adding a little bit of fun at the end suggesting that English accents were optional. I want guests to expect a fun time, rather than a party where they'd have to recall Miss Manners on which fork to use and when.

I left the food decisions to my able foodie experts. Look at that incredible painted cake from Sugar Realm! Jen from Two Chicks Who Cater created the most inventive menu with the spirit of an Edwardian dinner party turned modern. I can tell you that those cornish pasty pops were fabulous. It was a brilliant update on the traditional foods of England at the time! The beautiful photo of Madisono's Pink Grapefruit sorbet ended up being the cover of the A-Line magazine issue. Beautiful work!

Lest the men think themselves at a ladies tea party, we gave them some man time in a separate "parlour" to taste some whiskey and smoke pipes just like their grandfathers did back in the day.

For the party favors, I filled mixed tea cups with moss and a sprouting spring bulb. Each had a thank you tag and were gifts to the guests from the conservatory gardens...I mean the the flower store. (It's so easy to get carried away in the aristocratic fantasy land.)

And since I'm a big fan of fun at a party, I adjusted this simple game to get people talking to each other comfortably. Laughter really loosens up the awkward moments when guests may be otherwise self conscious. This game had the guests creating their own aristocratic name. Mine is Lady Elizabeth Mills of Toronto! What's yours?

This event was so amazing to plan and see come to life. I couldn't have done it without all the vendors who helped me like Joni from Sprouts, Sharon D (you know who you are!), Lindsey & Sam Huttenbauer, April Combs, Mike Fleisch, Jeb Brack, Matt Madison (who always does my heavy lifting!) Ilene Ross and of course we'd have nothing to show if it weren't for the amazing photos taken by Gina Weathersby of Kiwi Street Studios. Thank you all again and again!


  1. Margot, this is amazingly beautiful, you are the best, I admire your creativity! Congratulations to you and all involved!
    Thank you so much for sharing with all of us, so proud of you!

  2. How fun, even the Dowager Countess would approve.

  3. Well done, Margot. So beautiful. I love how you can translate your creativity into so many very different styles and looks. Impressive. This post reminded me of walking with you in the gardens at The Getty. Sending best wishes from you friend, Lady Kaye Barrington of Honolulu.

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