Bringing the Downtown Abbey look into your home

The holidays are over and the next big event happens tomorrow night: the return of Downton Abbey! And if you are like me, you can't wait for the new season. Check out my article in the Fort Myers-News Press today for a few tips on bringing a bit of the Downton look into your home. 

Wrenda Goodwyn • special to the Fort Myers News-Press• January 4, 2014

It begins again at 9 p.m. Sunday on PBS — the fourth season of the award-winning “Downton Abbey.”

We pick up six months after the shocking finale that ended with the death of Matthew Crawley. And now we will find out how Lady Mary and baby George are coping. Will she be able to save Downton? What dark secrets and new romances will unfold upstairs and downstairs? We have so many questions.

But let’s face it. The star of the show is the house, a manor house set in Edwardian England at the turn of the 20th century. The show revolves around the estate and it details the daily life and scandals of the family of wealthy Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham and his American wife, Lady Cora Grantham; their three daughters and household staff.

Photo provided by PBS.

Photo provided by PBS.

Each week it lets us peek into life inside the manor house. It is as though we should not be there listening and watching. But we can’t turn away. The captivating writing and stunning appearances transport you to a time that marked a turning point for England and the entire world. And for the Crawley family, it is about holding on to a lifestyle that is slowly slipping away.

Inspired by the opulence of Victorian English chandeliers, this Rococo iron and crystal chandelier from Restoration Hardware adds sparkle to any room. Photo: Restoration Hardware. 

Inspired by the opulence of Victorian English chandeliers, this Rococo iron and crystal chandelier from Restoration Hardware adds sparkle to any room. Photo: Restoration Hardware. 

Inspired by the opulence of Victorian English chandeliers, this Rococo iron and crystal chandelier from Restoration Hardware adds sparkle to any room. Photo: Restoration Hardware. And it is the lifestyle that captivates us. Even though we don’t have a library that holds 5,500 books, some dating back to the 15th century, and a dining room table that seats 32, we still long for a tiny bit of the feeling of opulence, taste and sensibilities of that period.

As a Fort Myers interior decorator, I always ask my clients how they want their home to feel when they walk in the door. Not look, but feel. So if you would like to put a little of the Downton Abbey feeling into your home, think about these tips.

Pottery Barn gilt finish frames. Photo: Pottery Barn.

Pottery Barn gilt finish frames. Photo: Pottery Barn.

Pottery Barn gilt finish frames. Photo: Pottery Barn.

• Add some gold touches. Gilded is the look and you can achieve this with metallic paint or spray paint on chairs or the legs of a table. Find a small chair (or two) that needs some work. Paint it gold and reupholster in a beautiful new fabric.

• Hang family portraits. If not yours, purchase some at flea markets. Stack them on top of each other and cover entire walls. Forget all of the rules that I have previously given you for hanging artwork. Stack them!

• Display crystal candlesticks. The more the better. They add sparkle and in the evening give that beautiful color that we love about this show. Purchase from consignment shops or flea markets. If crystal isn’t possible, try the beautiful antique mercury glass pillar and candle holders from Pottery Barn. They provide the dramatic display of silver and light that is so much a part of the Downton lighting.

Mercury glass pillar candle holders from Pottery Barn. Photo: Pottery Barn.

Mercury glass pillar candle holders from Pottery Barn. Photo: Pottery Barn.

• Hang a chandelier. For sparkle and a beautiful, warm reflection off the walls like in the Downton drawing room. And sconces, especially in the bedroom and bathrooms.

• Embellish. With tassels, add them to lamps or for a more subtle touch, use them to tie back thick drapes. Or just loop a really gorgeous one around a doorknob.

• Create a library. It doesn’t need to be huge but a wall or part of a wall will allow you display your books and achieve that Downton look. If that doesn’t work, try Brunschwig & Fils outrageously fun, faux, library print wall covering and instantly add floor-to-ceiling built-ins packed with wonderful books.

 • Don’t forget the kitchen. One of my favorite Downton Abbey accessories is the wonderful standing tiered pot rack in the corner of the kitchen. Use colorful pots and of course, a few copper ones. A hammered steel cookware stand with the look is available at Williams-Sonoma.

Add functional style to your kitchen with a hammered steel cookware stand from Williams-Sonoma. Photo: Williams-Sonoma.

Add functional style to your kitchen with a hammered steel cookware stand from Williams-Sonoma. Photo: Williams-Sonoma.

• Add a lady’s writing desk or vintage writing secretary. You may not wish to spring for the original rosewood Edwardian version, but the beautiful Bramwell writing desk from Pottery Barn works with its antique brass hardware and is an updated option.

• Display china and crystal. Bring it out of storage. Display it on a sideboard, shelf or arrange decanters on a silver tray. And to dust all of this, you will need an ostrich feather duster like the sassy one on the show!

• Layer everything. Drapes. Pillows. Rugs. This may be a little too heavy for Southwest Florida but layering can be done with lighter fabrics.

• Add damask paper to an accent wall in a modern color.

• Purchase something tufted. A sofa, ottoman or chair. This is a popular look now for any home.

• Oriental carpets, whether original or copies, are classic Downton Abbey.

• Add architectural details. Colorful moldings and chair rails. Paint inside doors panels a color for pop.

• Mirrors, mirrors on the walls. Gilded, patinaed or whitewashed. My favorite: the manor house whitewashed mirror from Restoration Hardware. The whitewashed look is casual enough for Southwest Florida homes and is a great statement piece.

Make a statement with this Manor House Whitewashed mirror from Restoration Hardware. Photo: Restoration Hardware.

Make a statement with this Manor House Whitewashed mirror from Restoration Hardware. Photo: Restoration Hardware.

• Color your home in Downton Abbey tones. The beautiful rose wall covering in Sybil’s room. And the wood tones, cornflower blue walls and the white ceiling in Cora’s room. The kitchen’s grays, browns and ivory. The reds, greens, blues and browns of the library. And that red velvet sofa.

The drawing room’s pastels and creams, the yummy green/aqua, pale rose and ivory. You can add touches of these colors by coming up with a palette and using splashes of color in accent pieces, fabric or on walls.

• Include palms for an opulent touch. The larger the better to fill corners. Palms were the hallmark of Victorian homes. This is the easiest tip of all for Southwest Florida homes!

Wrenda Goodwyn is a Southwest Florida interior decorator. Home Inspirations appears the first Saturday of each month. Visit her website at Call her at 949-1808 or e-mail For more decorating tips, visit

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Time to hire a professional? Read my tips for working with an interior decorator in the Fort Myers News-Press. 

Always in Style: Stickley furniture offers history lessons

Wrenda Goodwyn • special to the Fort Myers News-Press• Feb. 23. 2013 

For many, it is an acquired taste.

But homeowners who love Stickley furniture are addicted to its style, design and quality. Collectors search in earnest for antiques — early Stickley pieces are recognized as gems of the American Arts & Crafts movement — and can add new pieces because the furniture is still made today, in the company’s factory in Manlius, N.Y.

Photo of Stickley Furniture Mission Dining CollectionMission Dining Collection.“The quality of construction is amazing. Each piece is built when it is ordered ... the name of the customer is on the piece and remains on it as it progresses down the assembly line,” said Larry Norris, founder and president of Norris Home Furnishings, Southwest Florida’s exclusive Stickley dealer.

“And Stickley is delivered on its own truck. When you purchase a piece of Stickley, you are buying a collectible of tomorrow.”

Stickley furniture is known for its hand-finished, solid wood furniture in styles including Mission, Traditional and Metropolitan. Founded in Fayettesville, N.Y., in 1900 by Gustav Stickley — considered to be one of the country’s most legendary furniture makers — Stickley is seen in museums from the Metropolitan to the Museum of Fine Arts.

Today, Stickley has more than 1,600 employees and produces furniture collections ranging from the company’s early Mission Oak and Cherry to Classics, Modern, John Widdicomb, St. Croix and more.

Photo of Stickley Furnitiure Willow Bed Willow Bed: From the modern collection, the willow bed is part of the Edinburgh line. This beautiful bed was inspired by the Willow Tea Room in Sauchehall Street in Glasgow.

The company burst into international prominence in the early 20th century with its Craftsman/Mission Oak designs. These were based on the notion that furniture should be “honest” — a reaction against the fake joinery, unnecessary gaudiness and shoddy workmanship of many of the pieces created in the early days of industrial furniture making.

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Back from the past: restored 1890's ice box is ready for its closeup

It may come from the fact that I was born and raised in Virginia's Peninsula area. Surrounded by the history of Yorktown and Williamsburg. The ghosts from our country's past were everywhere.

I've always held a fascination and wonder for antiques from the past – primitive furniture mostly – that was used by our ancestors in their homes, shops and workplaces. From dry sinks to pie safes, from step back cupboards to wooden iceboxes and farm tables and beyond, their faded paint, worn patina, scrapes and knife cuts almost speak out loud their past and individual stories. And as a Fort Myers interior decorator, I love working vintage pieces into the beach houses, traditional and contemporary homes where a little wow is needed.

In fact, with a little imagination, sometimes one discovers a piece that almost cries out to you, “Look at me…if you only knew the history I have been through…the people who have used me in their daily lives…the conversations that I have heard from owners long-since gone.  And while my looks have long since diminished, I am still standing.”

Such has been the case with much of the antique furniture I have found and collected over the years, one-of-a-kind pieces that I will always treasure. And up until recently, I thought I’d seen just about every antique that could possibly take my breath away.  I was wrong.

Last summer, on a website of a well-known architectural salvage firm in Roanoke Virginia, I stumbled upon an offering of what can only be called the “mother of all ice boxes.”

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The Little Rowboat That Could (Be Saved)

Vintage row boat repurposedAlways on the lookout for imaginative and yes, even quirky, decorating ideas, a magazine photo spread featuring a Boston beach cottage grabbed my attention several months ago. Hanging from the 12 foot high open beam ceiling in the master bedroom was a full size boat – actually a 12 foot racing skiff- mounted upside down complete with oars, refurbished paint and teak railings. Talk about a “gee whiz” focal point for a room!

I was quickly able to visualize how a similar nautical approach could be equally dazzling in an open, tin-roof outdoor Key West style gazebo. So my husband and I began a search of local marinas and newspaper ads for the “perfect boat” (“perfect” meaning small, lightweight, wooden and extremely old, with classic lines and the potential to be refurbished!) Months passed by with no results, and we began to think that our dream boat just didn’t exist. Then suddenly, a newspaper ad offering a “small decorative rowboat that spent many years as a display at a long since - closed Naples seafood restaurant---and not floatable” gave us hope. It was from the northeast, the seller said.

Vintage row boat repurposedWe hurried down to the owner’s house. And there, in the dirt underneath her stilt home was the remains of what I was sure used to be one of THE most charming ten foot row boats ever built. If boats had souls – and they may very well have – this one was barely alive. It had sat in the damp soil for years.  Huge gashes in the cedar shiplap showed daylight along one side, the walnut seats had collapsed, most of the supporting ribs had rotted away, and several layers of gray and green paint were peeling everywhere you looked. The keel had pushed up along the boat’s center, mis-shaping the floor of the little craft, and the fiberglass that remained on the lower portion of the hull was mostly torn away.

My husband looked at me with a “I’m just not sure we can save this---itVintage row boat repurposed may be too far gone” expression. And for someone as handy and resourceful as my husband to acknowledge that possibility, well, it was clear that this boat maybe had passed the point of no return. But there was something about it that made us both hesitate. The brass oar locks were intact, the original oars lay off to the side, and it met all the criteria we had been looking for. My husband ran his hands over the key structural features, as if examining a terminally ill patient. He lifted up the stern to check the weight---and to make sure it would survive even a short trip to a flatbed trailer without collapsing or falling completely apart.

After a short pause, we both came to the same realization,  that maybe – just maybe -  this sad littleVintage rowboat repurposed boat might be brought back to life. And even if we failed, our relatively small investment of the $100 we had negotiated as a purchase price would be worth the challenge and the experience.

Vintage row boat repurposedSeveral days later, we returned with a trailer and hauled our new acquisition home. The disassembling and cleaning process took days. Hours of pressure spraying and fiberglass removal revealed the enormous task that lay ahead. But the initial cleaning also showed that the curved lines of the boat were still true and unwarped, as well as the beautiful workmanship that had gone into its building, probably in the late 1890’s. I know it was my imagination, but I could almost see a slight smile on the front of the bow once the refurbishing had begun. Anything that could be saved was, and any structural members that needed replacing or reinforcing were carefully attended to. Vintage rowboat repurposed

A newly-painted, white hull and turquoise and gray interior was “aged” to pay respect to the little boat’s history and character. After the two oars were put back in place, antique floats and netting were added, and a special moveable cradle was built to cushion her from underneath. We named her (what else?) “Urchin.”  If she could talk, I am fairly sure it would be something like “…thanks for finding me…and for saving me.”

Vintage row boat repurposed Vintage row boat repurposed

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Repurposing Objects from the Past Can Turn “Worn” into “Wow.”

Wrenda Goodwyn • special to the Fort Myers News-Press• November 29, 2011

Decorating your home with things that have already seen a long life – furniture, art, sculpture--man-made or from nature --- can bring a unique, one-of-a-kind charm that shopping for something new can never achieve. And when objects that were intended for one purpose are given a brand new life as something entirely different ---well, the word “creativity” can take on a whole new meaning.

Photo of steel hatch cover tableA steel hatch from a salvaged Navy warship, still with its original rivets and brass fittings, becomes a wonderful coffee table in a local Captiva beach house.

Everything old is new again, as the saying goes.

The word “repurpose” appeared in Webster’s in 1984.  The definition: to change something so that it can be used for a different purpose. 

Repurposing is not a new concept. People have been looking for new uses for their “stuff” since the beginning of time. Sometimes out of necessity.  Often because it is just hard to part with something and you need to find a better use for it.  Repurposing is very popular at the moment,  a trend that is hopefully becoming a permanent part of our lifestyle.

Photo of handcrafted lentilA hand-crafted lentil that once hung over a window of a southern plantation home now serves as a wonderful display shelf for a collection of favorite shells and coral.There are some really good reasons to repurpose.  It helps to cut back on what takes up space in the landfill. You will save money repurposing instead of buying new.  And it gives a lot of satisfaction to know that you have “saved” a vintage piece that has been tossed aside.  

With antique fairs, flea markets and garage sales in full swing with the cooler weather, you may wantPhoto of vintage oarsFanciful-colored wooden oars, worn from years of service on row boats of all sizes, now hang as a striking nautical family on a rack that was originally designed for drying tobacco plants. to give repurposing a thought.  As you are browsing, remember that many items can be cleaned, painted or completely restored.  Look for items that can be used for functional, everyday uses or for an eclectic accent piece or as artwork.  The possibilities are endless if you develop a new way of looking at objects.  Several weeks ago I was going through an architectural salvage yard with a client who fell in love with two beautiful vintage doors.  She asked what she could possibly do with them.  I said:  "Headboards."  You will not find these new in a furniture store.

And repurposing does not have to cost anything. Think about the beautiful treasures from nature: wood and items that wash up on our beaches every day.  With a little imagination, they become art for our homes. 

And what will I do with the vintage ten foot Nantucket wooden rowboat that I just bought last week? It is falling apart, has charming but peeling turquoise paint and came with four antique oars.  And a big hole in the side. It cried out to me to be repurposed.  I am thinking of hanging it from an open beam ceiling over an outside gazebo bar!

Photo of vintage Nantucket boatOnce this vintage Nantucket rowboat is patched up and painted, it will be a focal point as it hangs from the open beam ceiling of a client’s outdoor gazebo bar.

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Travels: Haunting and beautiful Mendocino on my mind

Mendocino has cast a spell on me. A good spell.

It is probably the fact that it is a quaint, very rustic village that time has forgotten. Setting on a rugged Photo of Mendocinobluff overlooking the Pacific, two hours north of San Francisco, the journey to get to this paradise is not for the faint of heart. But the Mendocino coast rewards those who make the journey with a setting that is pure heaven.

Or maybe it is isolated enough that the 700 or so people who live there seem pleasantly far removed from what goes on in the world.  For a few days I was happily one of them. In this unspoiled paradise.

It is right out of a movie.  Literally.  Many have been shot in this picturesque town, including East of Eden.  The historic Blair House was the setting for Murder She Wrote.

But for me, it is always about the houses.  The people who live in them now and in the past.Photo of Mendocino House with Wildflowers

Mendocino was  settled in the mid 19th century during the lumber boom and then the gold rush. In the 1950's it was primarily an artist colony.  Today it has a handful of galleries, organic restaurants with names like the Moosse Cafe and a few shops.   The historic Mendocino Hotel where you can have a delicious dinner and wine overlooking the bluffs. A Mendocino beach with driftwoodbeautiful beach filled with driftwood.  Hiking trails at Headlands State Park that wind out to cliffs filled with wildflowers and overlooking the ocean and the village. 

The homes are an eclectic combination of salt boxes, cottages, Queen Anne and Gothic Revival. The town is on the National Register of historic places.

Nearby, you can go to Glass Beach and wade through the tidal pools and pick up bits of colorful glass left over from the days going back to 1949 when it was a public dump. Or take a scenic tour on the Skunk Train of the Redwoods east of Fort Bragg by the Noyo River.

But the best part is just being in the little village of Mendocino. Haunting and spiritual. It casts a spell  that follows you home and it lingers for a long time.