Jan’s Notebook

THE COLORS OF DOWNTON ABBEY

Highclere Castle
If you haven’t watched the PBS series, Downton Abbey, you may be inclined to stop reading now. Please don’t!! It is such an amazing series-- the production values, the set design, the costumes and perfect casting make this show one that is worth spending a weekend or two watching.
The show is actually filmed at Highclere Castle---thanks to the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon. Because of Downton Abbey, they have been able to make over $11,000,000 in improvements to the castle. The “below stairs” scenes are filmed at Ealing Studios in London, which is an hour away from Newbury, the location of Highclere.
I consider the main character of the series to be the great house itself.
Maggie Smith as Violet, the Dowager Countess
PURPLE IS A NEUTRAL
As a designer and an art lover, I am always struck by colors. The set and costume designers have such an amazing color sense. Of course, many of the costume choices are dictated by the interiors of Highclere. The first colors that caught my eye were Maggie Smith’s (who plays the Dowager Countess of Grantham) wonderful costumes in violet/purple, and how delicious they look with the interiors of her house which has the freshest light peridot colored walls, very similar to Benjamin Moore 527 Warren Acres. Lady Mary, who is always impeccable, wears aubergine, oxblood and claret consistently as those colors are wonderful with the interiors as well as with her coloring.
Benjamin Moore 527 Warren Acres
Lush purple mixes with ivory, blue and pale peridot in my Dallas showroom
Seeing all of these purples, amethysts, aubergines and oxbloods has inspired me in so many ways, particularly since I am so fond of the greens that look good with them.
Here are some of the shades of violet, purple and oxblood used in the costumes.
Violet, the Dowager Countess
The Crowley sisters
Lady Mary
IVORY
Lord and Lady Grantham
I adore ivory (yes it IS a color), and has always been a staple in my designs. It is used so beautifully in this show. Ivory looks soft and ethereal in outdoor settings. Some of my favorite ivories are Benjamin Moore Lancaster White and Donald Kaufman DKC-71.
Benjamin Moore Lancaster White
Donald Kaufman DKC-71
The Crowley Sisters
Cora and Lady Edith
Violet, The Dowager Countess
A room with all ivory upholstery against a luscious wall color is so sexy and glamorous!
All ivory upholstery with HC-108 and pale shell drapery.
THE ROOMS OF DOWNTON
The colors of Downton are best represented by the interiors. I am enchanted with the main rooms in the show---the reception hall, drawing room, library, dining room and Lady Mary’s bedroom, as well as the servant’s quarters.
RECEPTION HALL
Reception Hall
The reception hall is grand----the Christmas special in Season 2 is particularly wonderful with a huge tree in the middle of the room.
DRAWING ROOM
Drawing Room
The lime sorbet color of the drawing room is complimentary to all of the costumes. I especially love Lady Sybil’s very avant-garde blue flapper outfit against this green---such a fun scene which also tells you that Lady Sybil (who is a gorgeous Catherine Zeta-Jones type) is quite the rebel.
Lady Sybil in her flapper costume
I love putting turquoise/blue and green together----you should always look good in your rooms, and both colors are universally flattering.
Benjamin Moore HC-143 walls with sea green drapery and soft blue sofa.
Benjamin Moore HC 143
DINING ROOM

Violet and Lord Grantham in the dining room
Some of the best scenes are in the dining room. Maggie Smith has the best one liners in any show I’ve seen in recent years, and does she ever know how to deliver them! My favorites so far are “Oh my dear, nothing succeeds like excess” and “Vulgarity is not a substitute for wit”. Another one---“What is a weekend?”
Gloves are de rigueur for the ladies before and after dinner. I adore gloves and would love to see more of them in today’s fashions---they have been appearing on fashion runways for the past couple of years.
Dining Room Drapery
The lush drapery is always drawn in the evenings for dinner.
MARY’S BEDROOM
Mary’s Bedroom
This is where lots of drama occurs, and the claret wallpaper is a great contrast to Mary’s coloring. Watch for a scene in this room in Season One that affects the entire storyline. Hint: it’s steamy and involves a Turkish gentleman.
Lady Mary and Mr. Pamouk
LIBRARY
Highclere Library
Lord and Lady Grantham and the Dowager Countess in the library
The rich oxbloods and carnelian reds in the library compliment the extraordinary collection of books, and, the color of the costumes are obviously selected to add to the intensity of the hues in this room.
Benjamin Moore PM-17 Classic Burgundy
This rouge color is one of my favorites for a cozy, intimate private study or library.
KITCHEN/BELOW STAIRS
Servants dining hall below stairs
The Servants of Downton
The characters below stairs are just as interesting as those upstairs, and some of the most interesting scenes are between the two groups. Color is missing but the graphic quality of their uniforms and livery is very striking.
Interior with a graphic quality
This show is very much about the British class system that existed until the late 1960’s when the social revolution of that period changed everything. Of course, there are still great houses and castles in England, but the lines of class structure have been blurred to a great extent.
Those of us who find the British Royals and the traditions of the monarchy fascinating at times---royal weddings and such----and still enjoy the pageantry of these events find Downton Abbey captivating.
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