Inspirations from Downton Abbey

Highclere Castle

I admit it, I missed the first season of the Masterpiece Classics series  “Downton Abbey” on PBS, and I watched it in its entirety in one weekend, just in time for the second season premiere.  Just like so many I have also succumbed to its magic.  I think I would watch it for the dowager countess’ one-liners alone.  Maggie Smith is divine!  The writing is captivating indeed, but the visuals have everyone talking.   British Vogue devoted a fashion spread to the ladies of Downton Abbey in last year’s August issue. The Washington Post was drawing comparisons between the period costumes and current runway fashion.  Town & Country covered Highclere Castle in Berkshire, where the series is being filmed, and its real owners the 8th Earl and Countess of Carnavon who have had their own struggles in maintaining such a grand estate.  Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter and his wife Anna hosted a screening of the second season’s premiere, whose well-heeled international guests also included members of the cast.  Julie Bosman of the New York Times talked about how publishers have been increasing printing of period novels as a result of the series’ popularity.  The Daily Mail reported that Downton Abbey has been pushing up prices for stately homes and is sparking a new craze for corsets, cloche hats and cravats.

And now the Golden Globes bestowed Downton Abbey the award for “Best Mini Series or Motion Picture Made for Television”.  It had won an Emmy in the same category last year, plus five more for writing, directing, cinematography, costume and supporting actress, which went to my favorite Maggie Smith.  All so well deserved!

The Crawley family of Downton Abbey

Front entrance of Highclere Castle

A scene from Downton Abbey set during World War I

Of course the blogosphere has caught on too, from those who have devoted sites specifically to Downton Abbey and those who just can’t help themselves expressing their love for the acclaimed series.  Fellow design bloggers have not been immune either.  Grace Bonney of “Design Sponge” did a piece about “Living in: Downton Abbey”, Carly of “Covet Collect Connect” was literally drooling over Downton AbbeyScot Meacham Wood of “The Adventures of Tartanscot” shared a pictorial reminder for the season premiere, Linda Merrill of Surroundings concentrated on the show’s kitchen, Irene Turner of “Little Bits of Beauty” gave us an insight into the house behind the show, and Styleture shared Victorian inspired designs for the home.  As you may have guessed by now, I have also surrendered to the urge of sharing my own view of this fabulous period drama.  I am wondering if it may renew an interest in traditional English design.  Let’s take a look inside Highclere Castle and current interiors that embody some of its spirit.

At Highclere Castle

Entrance hall to Highclere Castle with view of salon

In 1838 Sir Charles Barry, one of England’s foremost architect of the time, was hired by Henry John George Herbert, 3rd Earl of Carnarvon to transform the Carnarvon family’s Georgian mansion into the grand Highclere Castle.  He designed it in the High Elizabethan style and faced it in Bath stone.  The Gothic-style entrance hall with its slender blue and red marble columns was designed later by George Gilbert Scott who was also the architect of the St. Pancras railway station and the Albert Memorial.

Inspired Entry Hall

Entry hall in Malinard Manor by Mark Cravotta (Photo: courtesy of Cravotta Studios)

At Highclere Castle

Saloon at Highclere Castle

The saloon at the center of the house was designed by Thomas Allom for Henry Howard Molyneux Herbert, 4th Earl of Carnarvon in the 1860s in a Gothic style.  The 17th century wall coverings made of leather came for Cordoba, Spain, and identical panels can be found at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

Inspired Family Room

Family room in Malinard Manor by Mark Cravotta (Photo: courtesy of Cravotta Studios)

At Highclere Castle

Characters of Downton Abbey: Lady Mary and the Dowager Countess in the library

View into second room of the library at Highclere Castle

A secret door from the library into an enfilade of rooms at Highclere castle

The double library, very popular during Victorian times, was designed in an English Palladian style, and it contains over 5,560 rare books, some dating back to the 16th century.

Inspired Libraries

Library in the Albemare house in Charlottesville, VA, designed by David Easton (Photo: Philip Beaurline)

Library in a country home in Hampshire, UK by Robert Couturier (Photo: courtesy of Robert Couturier Inc.)

Library by Miles Redd (Photo: Francesco Lagnese)

At Highclere Castle

Smoking room at Highclere Castle

The smoking room was a room designed for men to gather after dinner and it is decorated in a masculine style with velvet curtains to absorb the smoke.  The room is layered with 17th century Dutch paintings and early 19th century artwork from a Grand Tour.

Inspired “Smoking” Rooms

Sitting room designed by Charlotte Moss (Photo: Simon Upton for House & Garden)

Cigar room by Adeeni Design Group in an English Tudor cottage in Orinda, CA (Photo: Marc Angelo Ramos)

Sitting room by Scot Meacham Wood (Photo: courtesy of Scot Meacham Wood)

At Highclere Castle

Characters of Downton Abbey in the drawing room

Drawing room at Highclere Castle

The drawing room designed in the Rococo revival style was decorated by Almina, 5th countess of Carnarvon and the daughter of Alfred de Rothschild who gave her bolts of French silk damask, which she used to cover the walls.  Almina was also responsible for turning Highclere Castle into an officer’s hospital during the First World War.  Her husband George Edward Stanhope Molyneux Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon was the financial backer of the excavation of the Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922.

Inspired Living Rooms

Living room by Adeeni Design Group in a historic home in Diablo, CA (Photo: César Rubio for California Homes)

Drawing room in London’s Belgravia by John Stefanidis (Photo: Fritz von der Schulenburg)

Living room in a home in London by Nicky Haslam (Photo: courtesy of Nicky Haslam)

Living room in a home in Atlanta, GA, by Miles Redd (Photo: Francesco Lagnese for Town & Country)

At Highclere Castle

Music room at Highclere Castle

The music room features a baroque ceiling painted in the 1730s by Francis Hayman, one of the founding members of the Royal Academy.  The walls are covered in Italian 16th century embroideries.

Inspired Rooms

Dining room by Jan Showers (Photo: courtesy of Jan Showers)

Entry hall by Jan Showers (Photo: courtesy of Jan Showers)

Living room by Elizabeth Gordon (Photo: courtesy of Elizabeth Gordon Studio)

At Highclere Castle

Characters of Downton Abbey having dinner in the dining room

Dining room at Highclere Castle (Photo: Paul Hilton)

The grand dining room boast a mixture of period furnishings including shield-back chairs, as well as collection of family portraits flanking an equestrian painting by Van Dyke of Charles I.

Inspired Dining Rooms

Dining room by Miles Redd (Photo: courtesy of Miles Redd)

Installation by Adeeni Design Group at DIFFA’s Dining by Design 2007 (Photo: Kandi Carol)

At Eaton Square

Characters of Downton Abbey: Lady Rosamund Painswick, Lavinia Swore and Violet Dowager Countess of Grantham in Lady Rosamund’s drawing room

Set for Lady Rosamund Painswick’s drawing room

The set for Lady Rosamund’s home is a townhouse in  Eaton Square in London.  The drawing room is decorated in the English Palladian style, developed for the very wealthy upper class and it is represented here by the luxuriously gilded furniture.

Inspired Living Room

Living room by Miles Redd (Photo: Francesco Lagnese)

All photo, unless mentioned otherwise, are courtesy of Highclere Castle or Carnival Productions.

I am very much looking forward to Downton Abbey’s next installment on Sunday.  I would love to hear what you think of the series and its interiors.


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