Many of us are experiencing a little Downton withdrawal. For me the series has been fast and furious. Like many love affairs, it came on suddenly then seemed over just as it began.

Part of the appeal, of course, are the homes, Highclere Castle being somewhat the star of the show, though, naturally, I prefer the cottage. I never seem to be able to just sit and enjoy this sort of thing, always my brain is click, click, click. What was the process of production design? How much was the house altered? Could it be that most are sets?

So I rang Donal Woods, the production designer for the show, and asked. (That’s normal, right? You would have done that, maybe?) “We moved out a lot of the furniture – about fifty-percent. We added palms and personal affects, removed the modern portraits and things,” said Woods.

“It was time to do a piece for the twentieth century; we’ve done Austen. We’ve done Georgian and the 18th century to death. We started looking for a house in 2009. We looked at about thirty houses; some were too big and some were too small,” he paused, “It’s a great job, really.” I’d say. Wood said they made a point of providing stark contrast between the family’s rooms and the servants’ spaces, “We only used three-to-four colors downstairs; we wanted the contrast to be dazzling.”

Woods said that screenwriter, Julian Fellowes, provided notes, character outlines and the first script to inspire the set. I’d assumed that the public rooms of the house were authentic, but that the bedrooms were likely sets, though this is not the case. A few of the rooms are sets, but mostly the series was filmed in the house. The girls’ rooms are particularly telling. Sybil’s room is a sunny yellow with wonderful floral curtains. Fresh and vibrant like its mistress.

“Edith,” says Wood, “is a plain girl. She has a plain room.” Indeed, though its paint is particularly lovely with her coloring.

But it was Mary’s wallpaper that sent me down this path. In every scene that it appears I can barely keep my eyes on the actors (except for that dashing Kemal Pamuk – on him, I focused.) Blood red with a creamy floral pattern, it seemed perfectly fitting for Mary, but an unlikely choice for a young lady of her day. The team considered other options, but “It’s pushy, strong, passionate. Like Mary.”
Downton Abbey has just finished running on PBS’s Masterpiece, but you can see the series on-line at or purchase it on iTunes. More information on Highclere Castle here. Woods reports that season two has just begun filming.
All images via
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmailFacebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmail      rssrss

29 thoughts on “Masterpiece

  1. a decorator sleuth – thanks for the run-down on the production set – just the thing to fill the Downton Abbey withdrawal – I came late the program and watched it all in a week – back episodes on the computer and then the final on the telly. This is a little extra treat

  2. How clever of you to actually call Woods! Always love a girl with initiative. Of course absolutely adored this since I am also experiencing Downton Abbey withdrawal – I was on the exact same wavelength today.

  3. I didn't get to see the series, but the house looks amazing, we'll be sure to visit when we spend the month of May in England.

  4. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Downton Abbey and SO very sad it is over. Cannot wait for season 2…btw you can purchase the DVD on Amazon for $16.99!!!!

  5. Was it really just that simple? You called and asked? How cool is that? I'm glad you did. The men in my house weren't interested in Downton Abbey AT ALL, so that'll be me under the covers with my laptop.

  6. Absolutely LOVE this series – can't wait for season two. Thanks for your post today – I, too, have been drawn to the beautiful decor of Downton Abbey.

  7. I just finished with the final episode in this first series. I was relieved to see that they are in production for more episodes. I loved the home and the cottage. In fact the main manor house seemed to feel more inviting than so many estates I've seen either in movies or on historical series such as Downtown Abby. Thanks for sharing the details behind the houses.

  8. This was most enlightening — I'm positively giddy 😉
    Of course you called him, what else, after all, is a gal to do when she wants to get to the bottom of a thing?
    Set design = a dream job with no equal.
    Cheers, Alcira

  9. Yes the four episodes seemed to make January fly by. Or was that the football playoffs? At any rate, I enjoyed the series and it left me wanting more as any good production should. As an Anglophile, I was pleased with the show but found it to be at a rather fast pace and the final episode left more unsolved story lines than a Lost finale.
    I want that red settee/sofa.

  10. yes, loved it as well even though there was NO resolution at the ending – indeed a huge cliff hanger rather!
    I too preferred the 'cottage' that the cousin lived in -even to the beautiful house the dowager countess, maggie smith, lived in!

  11. Thank You so much for this bit of insight.

    We, too, are sad to see the season end.

    But we have been watching all three seasons (we finished last night) of The Tutors.

  12. Bravo, Patricia, for supplying us answers to those
    burning questions. Glad to know that I'm not the only
    person on the planet distracted by set decoration
    and how historic family houses are used as film locations.
    It was a relief for once not to see Syon House as a setting~ distinguished though it may be, it's been overused in the past decade. Highclere was a stroke
    of brilliance.
    Loved the smaller house that the heir apparent was
    relegated to. Could move right in without a thought.

  13. So, I turned it on. The credits started to roll. I asked myself 'Do we realllly need another British drama filmed in a country house with lots of master/servant intrigue and slavish attention to period details?" My answer was about to be "I think not", when the first scene started, and I was irrevocably hooked–line and sinker. Absolutely wonderful. Turns out we did need another one.

  14. Oh my goodness, I was in the grip of Downton Abbey fever this past week and saw all four episodes on the PBS website. The interiors are to die for and I was also quite taken with this wallpaper!!! Thank you for sharing these little Downton details with us…Much appreciated.

  15. I was fascinated by Lady Mary's wallpaper, also. The choice was perfect for a young woman on the brink of passion. And the clothes! Oh, the clothes! Visual poetry.

    And I want to live in the cottage. With Matthew. And his mother!

  16. I need to watch this again with the sound off just to concentrate on the breathtaking sets. Surely this will win an Emmy for set design. It is pure eye candy.

  17. I need to watch this again just to concentrate on the breathtaking scenery. Surely this will win an Emmy for set design. Pure eye candy.

  18. Way to go! Love your drive to dig in deep!
    Only you could have thought of calling the production
    Great story! I certainly have a withdrawal syndrome after it is all over!
    Can't wait for season II !


  19. Patricia, did you get an comments on the production design of Lord and Lady Grantham's bedroom? For some reason, that room doesn't ring true to me.

  20. I feel absolutely bereft now that it's over. Sunday nights are pale and boring. I downloaded it on itunes and watched the whole thing all over again. Thanks for stirring the dreamplace again!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *