On the Set

ON THE SET: DOWNTON ABBEY

cast shoot

If you haven’t watched Downton Abbey… you are no longer my friend. Kidding! I’ll just be that annoying friend that will continuously ask you if you’ve watched it yet. After the third, “No”, I’ll simply tie you down, pop you some popcorn and make you watch all 12 episodes. Don’t put it past me.

downton abbey behind the scenes

Needless to say, I’m a huge fan of Downton Abbey. And, lucky for me, Greg is too. Well, he’s not as “fangirl-ish” about it as I am (I’d be worried if he was), but he really enjoys watching it. This past season, I even caught him double-checking to make sure the TiVo was going to record it. Twice. Yep, it’s in writing now.

I first heard about the show when my cousin, Danny, recommended it. He has a good track record of recommending good films so I was game. Then… it began. I became a Downton-Abbeyite. I’m not the only one, though. It seems like there’s a lot of Downton fans coming out of the woodwork. Celebrities such as Harrison Ford, Kristen Bell, Ted Danson, Reba McEntier, Tom Hanks, Katy Perry, Mindy Kaling, Martha Stewart, Kristen Chenoweth, and even Prince William and Catherine are all self-proclaimed fans of the show. In 2011, Guinness World Records claimed it to have the “Highest critical review ratings for a TV show”. Now that’s some serious street cred.

For those of you who haven’t seen Downton Abbey, and therefore have no idea what I’m talking about, here’s the general synopsis without giving anything away: Downton Abbey is a television series on PBS that follows the lives of an early 20th century noble family, the Crawleys, and the servants that make their home, Downton Abbey, function. The show starts off on the day the Titanic sank, and we watch their lives–both the “upstairs” and the “downstairs”–begin to change and intermingle.

For this edition of Around the House, we thought it would be fun to explore behind the scenes of the show and the castle that is Downton…

downton abbey behind the scenes

Highclere Castle “plays the part” of Downton Abbey – which is more like a character of the show rather than just a “set”. The castle sits on 1,000 acres in Berkshire, England, and belongs to the Earl and Lady Carnarvon, whose family has owned the property since 1679. The writer behind Downton Abbey, Julian Fellowes, is a longtime friend of the Carnarvons and had the castle in mind as he wrote the show. The castle is used for exterior shots as well as the “upstairs” interior scenes. The servants’ living quarters are filmed on a soundstage because the “downstairs” area has changed so much since the 1920’s.

downton abbey behind the scenes

Let’s talk size. When Lady Carnarvon was asked by the LA Times how many rooms and bedrooms the castle has, she didn’t know! She said their are “probably” 200 or 300 rooms, and 50 to 80 bedrooms. These days, they only use 14 to 15 bedrooms, and the others are used for storage and archives.

downton abbey behind the scenes

With that many rooms, they need a loooooot of help. The house employs around 70 people, whose ages range from 16-years-old to 80-plus. They have a designated electrician, painters, farmers, chefs, office staff, and house staff. Many of the staff members have been there for 25 to 30 years, but one has been there for almost 52 years.

downton abbey behind the scenes

In the way of decor, Highclere Castle is very much like it was in the 1920’s – with the exception of updated lighting and modern items such as heating and telephones. They’ve also updated the servant living quarters and the private living quarters of the current Earl and Lady Carnarvon. I assume they have a television… right?

downton abbey behind the scenes

Notice the two-tiered egg holder in the middle of the table? That’s so neat! The Downton Abbey set designers pay very close attention to detail in making sure everything is reminiscent of the early 19th century. Because of the preserved style of the castle’s interiors, they have only had to make minor changes – like switching out lamps.

downton abbey behind the scenes

Everything from the furniture, artwork, to the wallpaper are dripping with history. For instance, the desk and chair in the Music Room belonged to Napoleon. I’m not 100% sure, but I think it might be the same desk Lord Grantham is sitting at in the photo above. The third Earl of Carnarvon purchased it in 1821 after Napoleon’s death. Both the chair and the desk were with Napoleon when he was exiled to Longwood House on St. Helena.

downton abbey

The gold wallpaper in the Saloon Room is actually 17th century Spanish gold-embossed leather wallpaper. I don’t think Lowe’s carries that.

downton abbey behind the scenes

Queen Elizabeth was a good friend of the seventh Earl of Carnarvon and was a frequent overnight guest of the Castle before his death. In a recent interview, when Lady Carnarvon was asked about it, she replied with a simple “Cannot comment” due to the fact that it’s apparently highly improper to discuss the Queen’s personal life in public.

downton abbey

Back in 2010, Andrew Lloyd Weber offered to buy the castle. It’s rumored that he wanted a “place to hang his art collection”. That must be some art collection. Although the family declined the offer, it’s said that if the house were to go on the market today, it would list at around 150 million pounds – that’s $237,275,000 US dollars.

downton abby behind the scenes

The Downton crew films an average of 4 months out of the year, but when the cameras stop rolling, Highclere is open to the public for tours and… get ready… you can have your wedding at Downton Abbey Highclere Castle! I know, right?! Style Me Pretty would be all over that one!

No Around the House feature would be complete without a mood board. For this board, I decided to go with a “downstairs” theme. Even though together the pieces may look really rustic and “servant-like”, pair them with a modern setting and you’ve got a piece of Downton without going overboard with a set theme…

1. Tea Time Chandelier ($1,800! But very cool, you’d have to admit!) | 2. Mason Cash Embossed Batter Bowl ($39.95) | 3. Toulouse Towel Set ($14.95) | 4. Butler’s Bell Wall Plaque ($40) | 5. Bequest Knob ($8) | 6. Benchwright Extending Dining Table ($1,699) | 7. Vintage Telegram Guest Book Cards ($20) | 8. Copper Sauce Pan ($49.95)

So how about you… are you a Downton fan too? Or do I need to get a rope and pop some popcorn? If you are a fan, who’s your favorite character? Do you have a favorite room in Downton Abbey? Share by leaving a comment…

All behind the scene photos found in this awesome database. Downton Abbey facts found here, here, and here. Highclere Castle facts found here.

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17 Comments

  • Reply
    Stephanie
    March 9, 2012 at 1:56 am

    I’ve seen lots of people mention the show recently and last night I eavesdropped as the table next to us at dinner chatted about it. Just watched my first episode earlier tonight and love it!

  • Reply
    Emily
    March 9, 2012 at 2:10 am

    Ahhh I love this show and I love your mood board! Great selections, that table to to die for!!

  • Reply
    Amanda @ willful/joyful
    March 9, 2012 at 2:11 am

    I love this mood board. That table is amazing!

  • Reply
    Brenda H
    March 9, 2012 at 6:16 am

    First of all, our family loves Downton too so I was really happy to see this post! If I had to chose, I think I’d live “upstairs” but I LOVE your mood board. It’s so nice to bring “old” things in a “new” space and these are great items to do it with. Great job!

  • Reply
    Carrie @DreamGreenDIY
    March 9, 2012 at 8:45 am

    Just recently watched the first episode and loved it! Thanks for all of the behind-the-scenes info and photos – So neat!!

  • Reply
    Lori H
    March 9, 2012 at 8:54 am

    Great post! Please, get some rope and pop some popcorn! We dropped out of Netflix, but this one show may make me go back! I am anal about starting a series front the beginning and I am looking forward to getting into this series. Everyone I know is talking about it! Love the mood board, esp those towels (and I can afford them!) Thanks as usual.

    • Reply
      Ashley
      March 9, 2012 at 10:19 am

      I’m the SAME way when it comes to having to start a series from the beginning! They have Season 1 on iTunes (http://bit.ly/zCaKQE)! Actually, you can sign up for Netflix again and get 1 month for free! Score!

  • Reply
    Barb
    March 9, 2012 at 9:18 am

    I live for Sundays when it is on. I can’t believe it is over for the season. Can’t wait for the wedding…love, love, love the show!!!!!

    Simply the best!

    B.

  • Reply
    Katie
    March 9, 2012 at 9:57 am

    Oh, I’m so Downton obsessed – just started the second season, and it’s hard to stop myself from watching it all at once. I’m doing my best to savor each episode! Haha. And wow, Downton as a wedding venue?! You’re blowing my mind. My fave characters: Matthew, the Dowager Countess, and of course, Mr. Bates. πŸ™‚

    • Reply
      Ashley
      March 9, 2012 at 10:16 am

      Ah, yes! Greg’s fave is Mr. Bates (he says he’s “legit”, haha) and I’m all about Dowager Countess Violet! Her one-liners are hilarious!

  • Reply
    Ellie
    March 9, 2012 at 9:57 pm

    I haven’t seen the show but thanks to this post I really want to! Love the history you provided on the real castle. Thanks for this!

  • Reply
    Ellie
    March 9, 2012 at 10:05 pm

    By the way, I just checked Hulu and it looks like they have episodes 1-7. They’ll probably add more later, in typical Hulo style. Can’t wait to watch it!

    • Reply
      Vee
      March 10, 2012 at 11:20 pm

      Thanks for the Hulu info, Elie. I’ve never seen the show and will be traveling this week. My iPad and Hulu will bring me up to speed. I have heard good things about the show and reading Ashley’s post it makes me want to see it even more!

  • Reply
    CHANDRA P
    March 10, 2012 at 11:30 pm

    I LOVE Downton Abbey! And you are spot on with your mood board. Interesting facts about the Castle. I’ll will enjoy watching even more now that I have a little background history and backstage facts:) Thanks and I enjoy reading our blog. You always keep me coming back:)

  • Reply
    Joanna sunderland
    January 2, 2013 at 6:50 pm

    Loved this! Thank you!

  • Reply
    Elaine
    June 10, 2014 at 11:13 am

    Downton and all the people who live there are part of my family. Just visited Highclere and the ‘Downton” village Bampton so every scene now is even more fun and excitingly nerve tingling!! LOVE IT!!

    • Reply
      Ashley
      June 10, 2014 at 2:27 pm

      Very neat!

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