Upside Downton |

Upside Downton

Photo for The Union by John Hart
John Hart | The Union

Were you one of the 7.9 million viewers who watched the launch of the third season of “Downton Abbey?”

While mesmerized by the characters, storylines, costumes and Edwardian splendor, I also noticed the décor. Dramatic floral arrangements, ornate mirrors and brocaded sofas and chairs, as well as finely crafted furniture, are magnificent tributes to the past.

When Art and Marlene Katz gave me a tour of their Banner Lava Cap home, much of its character reminded me of “Downton Abbey”’s nostalgia and romance. Ironically, Marlene had just finished reading “Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey,” a book about the Countess of Carnavon and the legacy of Highclere Castle — the real-life inspirations for the award-winning TV series. Marlene is an avid reader and belongs to both the Jordan Street and Jewish Book clubs. Her sense of style reflects her own connection to family history. Many large, ornate mirrors add drama as well as increased light to the two-story home. You’ll also find many thriving plants and stunning flower decorations. The great room china cabinet is full of century-old Heysey Glass pieces, including a cake stand and berry dish that belonged to her grandmother. Antique Limoges china graces the dining area. It’s elegant, eclectic and gracious in a traditional European way, yet you’ll also find furniture and artifacts with a distinctly Far Eastern influence.

Marlene and her husband, Art (both Ph.D.s and retired college teachers) purchased the 2,100-square-foot home in 1988 when they moved here from Menlo Park.

“All it took was one autumn visit to Nevada County, and we both knew this would be our next port of call in life,” Marlene said.

Its four bedrooms (two are offices), two bathrooms and library area are just the right size for entertaining and family visits.

“The 1 1/3-acre property used to be designated parkland,” Art told me. “So we’re surrounded by mature trees that cast magical shadows.”

The many large windows provide ever-changing views of the surrounding woodland. In its midst is a charming playhouse, complete with a skylight where, after 41 years of marriage, Art and Marlene enjoy sharing summer picnic lunches.

“But the house is upside down!”

“We’ve been told that so many times,” Marlene laughed.

It’s true, when you come through the front door, the ground floor comprises two offices, a bathroom and a charming, old-fashioned guestroom with floral wallpaper. The great room, dining area, kitchen, master bedroom and bath are upstairs.

“That’s the way our Menlo Park home was designed, and we like it that way,” Marlene recalled. “It provides plenty of privacy. Moreover, the views from the top floor are especially beautiful — views you want to share with guests. Although it may seem upside down, there truly are many advantages.”

Height, light and surprises.

The Katz home has other unusual aspects. While some parts feature ornate, old-world style, you’ll also find artifacts from their many worldwide travels. China, Cambodia, Italy, Norway, Newfoundland, Guatemala, Egypt and the British Isles are just some of the destinations they have visited. Sculptures, tapestries, statues and paintings punctuate the entire house with memories of their many travels. (If only nations could live as harmoniously as these eclectic mementoes do!) However, the Buddhist table in the great room comes from Second Time Around in Nevada City.

The upstairs master bedroom is bright and large yet cozy, complete with a wood-burning stove, a skylight, home entertainment center, a massive cedar, walk-in closet that runs the entire width of the house, an en suite bathroom — and a breathtaking view. Use of cinnabar red fills the room with Far Eastern promise.

I particularly liked seeing the downstairs library with the piano and the wide range of books it stores. A landscape their daughter painted enjoys pride of place here. Books on the shelves and on the coffee table confirm that both Art and Marlene share an insatiable thirst for knowledge and new perspectives.

Marlene’s office, with its carved desk, large mirror and overstuffed chair and ottoman, has a traditional feel.

“The large mirrors by my desk enable me to enjoy a different forest view without having to turn around to look out the window.”

When does enough

become too much?

“I’m sometimes told that we have too much furniture,” Marlene revealed. “Again, we like it this way. I tend to have furniture groupings for intimacy and purpose, and we truly enjoy what we have.”

She also changes furniture and art placement routinely. The décor remains a work in progress with a fresh, free-spirit feel.

Elegant, eclectic and traditional? Absolutely, yet you can always expect to be surprised. However, this is a home where curious, imaginative people pursue their interests (including many community services) and enjoy their life adventures together.

Courtney Ferguson has written home-and-lifestyle articles for many years, both in Nevada County and in England. Contact her at

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