Season 4 of Downton Abbey has been attracting a 50% larger audience than last year. I thought you will enjoy the 24 things you didn’t know about Downton’s fashions, interior decor, paintings, decorative rugs, furniture and most importantly, how you can create the Downton look and feeling yourself.
1. Downton Abbey is filmed in Highclere Castle, the home of George Reginald Oliver Molyneuz Herbert, 8th Earl of Carnarvon, godson of Queen Elizabeth II. The castle with it’s 6,000 acres of farmland, manicured gardens and hiking trails is valued at more than $240,000,000.
2. The real Downton Abbey is filled with valuable antiques such as a mahogany desk and chair that once belonged to Napoleon.
3. Lady Carnarvon, the mistress of the real Downton, says she’s not sure how many bedrooms the castle has, but guesses it is between 50 and 80. A canopy bed, floral needlepoint rug and gilded French chairs with Aubusson tapestry adorn a guest bedrooms.
4. To create a sense of heritage, the show’s props team intentionally mis-matches Aubusson rugs, furniture and needlepoint pillows to create a look that suggests that these were acquired over many decades or even centuries.
5. The sitting room in the real Downton Abbey illustrates how Lord and Lady Carnarvon actually live. Floral upholstery is complemented by an English needlepoint rug, French and English antiques and family pictures.
6. The Downton Abbey look depends on juxtaposing colors that do not match, such as the red oriental rug and the sea green and gold wallcovering. Lady Edith and Gregson are seated on gilded French chairs below oil paintings that have been collected over generations.
7. You can create the Downton Abbey look with high ceilings, neoclassical wood panelling, tall drapes and a rug in an English geometric pattern such as this custom colored Asmara Chipping rug. Interior design by Lisa Torbett.
8. By the 1920’s English stately homes had stopped using table cloths, but the cast at Downton uses them to protect the antique dining tables.
9. You can evoke the Downton ambiance with an equestrian wallcovering and anchor the dining table with an oriental rug inspired by an 18th century Adam’s ceiling design such as this Asmara Directoire rug. Interior design by Bunny Williams.
10. The Downton props team avoids using real cream in desserts because it can start to smell after a long day of shooting under hot camera lights.
11. Fashion designer Tom Ford is a huge fan of Downton Abbey.
12. Downton’s historically accurate costumes help the cast get into character. “Normally we fit the actors a day or two before they wear their clothes” says Sarah Humphrey in the behind-the-scenes book about Downton Abbey.
13. From a distance Maggie Smith may look like a lady in black. But when the camera zooms in, rich details emerge on her bodice.
14. Real-life people inspire the costumes, says Susannah Buxton, Downton Abbey’s costume designer. For example lady Violet’s wardrobe is modeled on the clothes of Queen Alexandra, the mother of King George V. Finding fabrics that are authentic to the period is highly challenging and time consuming.
15. A new series requires all new costumes such as this coat for Lady Edith in series 4. Original costumes require constant vigilance, says wardrobe mistress Asia Macey, “They are very fragile and can get damaged, so you have to keep stitching and fixing them to get them through the scenes.”
16. Colin Edwards the real life butler of Highclere Castle wishes he had the same staffing that the fictional Mr. Carson has in Downton Abbey. In it’s heyday Highclere’s staff numbered 150 and today it’s 70 staff members must also cater to guests who rent Highclere for special occasions.
17. “Carson would never have a hair out of place, whereas Jimmy is a bit of a rogue so it’s nice to have some hair around the face,” says Downton Abbey’s make-up artist Magi Vaughan.
18. The men’s starched, stiff collars are so painful, they can even draw blood, but Hugh Bonneville (Lord Grantham) looks on the bright side, “… they affect your bearing and make you stand in the right way.”
19. Phyllis Logan the actress who plays Mrs. Hughes is a Scot with a thick Scottish brogue and she rolls her R’s and stretches out vowels. “.. I read the part and looked at the scenes and I thought, ‘Oh, this would also work quite well as a Scottish character,’ ” the actress told the Washington Post. The producer was delighted at the audition,’Oh, you’ve got such a nice accent, maybe we should try Mrs. Hughes as Scottish.’ “
20. Costume designer Susanna Buxton told Time that when the real-life servants from Buckingham Palace visited the Downton set, “They went up to the actors dressed as servants and said how much they preferred the gowns of staff on Downton than the ones they wear now.” “Apparently on a Sunday night at 9pm, nothing happens at Buckingham Palace because the top of the house is watching Downton,” recalls Buxton.
21. The props team makes sure Downton Abbey adapts to technological advances while still keeping it’s traditional English stately house look.
22. You can create the look of Downton by using a large damask patterned oriental rug in muted antique colors such as this Asmara Morena rug and pairing it with tapestry pillows, and furniture from several different stylistic periods. Interior design by Lisa Torbett.
23. A Downton library does not have to look dark. You can create an airy, light filled English stately house look by using cream and white Neoclassical bookcases, a beige and gold Aubusson rug and choosing furniture from different stylistic periods. Tree patterned wallcovering and distressed wood floors complete the antique look. Interior design by Alidad.
24. If you like a refined but also comfortable Downton look, pair yellow walls with gold fabrics, rustic wood ceiling and muted red and a gold and muted red Bessarabian rug such as this custom rug from Asmara. Interior design by David Easton.