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