Oh, your father also buttled?
“Oh yes, sir. Even my father’s father was a gentleman’s gentleman.”
Those lines are from a November 2000 episode of the TV sitcom “Frasier,” where the ever-aspiring lead character fulfills a lifelong fantasy and hires a butler. That situation, like similar ones in “Upstairs Downstairs” or “Downton Abbey,” is about as close as most Americans will ever get to the idea of a butler. Being “in service” is a concept that went the way of the dodo.
Or did it?
Not according to Andrew Lowrey. The tall, dark-haired man with perfect posture, impeccable manners and a native British accent is a professional butler and Baltimore’s very own staffer to the stars. Lowrey runs Precise Home Management, an agency that trains, vets and supplies domestic staff for households around the country. That means butlers, estate managers, housekeepers, chefs, personal assistants, you name it. If you have the money, you can have a little piece of “Masterpiece Theater” all your own.
Growing up in Cambridge, England, Lowrey says he always knew he was meant for “a life of service.” He has the kind of eye for detail you might attribute to an interior designer and a facility for order and organization akin to that of an engineer—attributes that propelled him from waiting tables in restaurants to serving tea in Buckingham Palace to presenting formal dinners at a 90-foot table aboard a Saudi yacht.
“They had Lalique crystal and Christofle silver,” he recalls of the Saudi royals. “The silverware had tiny little sapphires embedded in the handles. The tablecloth was linen with sheaves of corn embroidered in gold thread. It must’ve cost $20,000.”
Lowrey came to Baltimore in 1990 for a job: managing a 25,000-square-foot home for “a prominent Maryland family” (a butler-like discretion forbids naming names). He founded Precise Home Management eight years later. Housed in one of those grand Victorian mansions in the stately Belvidere Terrace block of North Calvert Street, the agency provides an ideal setting for training people in the arts of table etiquette, social manners, formality and hard-nosed business sense. It’s all well and good if you know a fish fork from a salad fork, but to be a good butler you also have to know how to get stains out of fabric, how to solicit bids from contractors for a landscaping project, how to troubleshoot a vast array of electronics and how to anticipate whether Monsieur would prefer Taittinger or Veuve Clicquot for this guest or that guest.
“We’re chameleons,” says Lowrey. “We adapt ourselves to our environments.”
He recalls one job in Florida where his employer kept a yacht that had to be winterized out of season. The boat, he says, was shrink-wrapped. But seagulls kept zooming in, breaking holes in the plastic. So Lowrey, in addition to his house duties, had to repair the holes with duct tape after every avian attack.
Ah, the glamorous life!
But a butler or housekeeper can make a good living, says Lowrey, anywhere from $65,000 to $250,000 a year, often with full health and retirement benefits. And the ranks are growing. The Domestic Estate Managers Association, a trade organization for domestic service employees, has more than 1,500 members in the U.S. and other countries.
But what about handling the quirks and foibles of the very rich, and, potentially, even mistreatment? Lowrey has a motto: “It’s not personal.” There’s a line, of course; certain things up with which he will not put. But in general, he says, he looks at the whole spectrum of duties as just doing one’s job, whether it’s walking the dog, packing a picnic lunch or setting and re-setting two different tables, over and over, depending on the whim of the employer.
That equanimity is an essential characteristic, one he can spot pretty quickly in a person interviewing for a job. He says he gets people from all walks of life, all ages, applying to be modern-day domestic servants. Some of them, he says, are looking for a “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” experience. “They think they’re going to be jetting off to all kinds of exciting places,” he says. Those get winnowed out right away. Others are just looking for a stable job in a decent environment. All, he says, have to be good at “noticing things.”
“I’m like a dating agency,” says Lowrey. “I match people up.”
Precise Home Management
1007 N. Calvert St.