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February 08, 2011

Inspiration: Downton Abbey on PBS Masterpiece

Movies and TV shows can be a great inspiration for color. Let's face it--an art director was on the job, making sure every hue, every piece of furniture, every flower set exactly the right tone.  Think of the pastel-crazy sets (and outfits) on Miami Vice; Rhoda’s fuchsia studio on Mary Tyler Moore; Rene Zelwiger’s pink and white pad in Down With Love; the austere, Nordic palette of Woody Allen’s Interiors; the blazing reds and golds of Bertolucci's Last Emperor.

For the last couple of months, Downton Abbey, a modern-day Upstairs, Downstairs set in 1912 in an Edwardian country house. It's the story of the lives of the Crawley family and their staff, filmed in a castle in Hampshire, England, and filled with a top-notch cast of characters.  Taking place when it does, it's partially about new attitudes--the servants want better lives, women loosen their corsets and talk about the vote, and telephones are all the rage.

While the Victorian era was cluttered and masculine, with deep reds, forest greens, and often excessive ornamentation, the Edwardian age saw fresher, lighter colors, less decoration, and a more feminine bent.  Pastels predominated, fresh flowers were used liberally, and the feeling was generally less stuffy and formal.  Take a look at a few of our favorite rooms from Downton, matched with colors mostly from Benjamin Moore's Historical Colors.



Southfield Green HC-129; Beacon Hill Damask HC-2

This shot, from the opening credits, nicely demonstrates chromatic themes that occur throughout the series--the use of pastel colors on the walls, pale drapes, and sunlight.  The rooms are not exactly "bright" in the modern sense as there are still plenty of shadowy areas, but the pale wall colors deepen beautifully in the depths, becoming jewel-like there.



Paladian Blue HC-144; Lancaster Whitewash HC-174

A scene between Cora, Countess of Grantham, her daughters, and her ever-looming mother-in-law, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, played to the hilt by Dame Maggie Smith. The dowager’s heavy dress, giant hats, and prim attitudes mean she acts as a lingering Victorian presence. At one point, she asks, in all seriousness, “What is a weekend?”, and shields her eyes from the newfangled electric lighting. This drawing room has beautiful pale greenish aqua wallpaper and rosy cream (and gold) trim.




Wickham Gray HC-171; Kendall Charcoal HC-166

Two views of the kitchen that, while a bit gloomy (certainly for the staff), has a tailored and handsome gray and charcoal palette.  Here we see housemaid Gwen (above), who has ambitions of becoming a secretary, and William, the second footman (below), his heart breaking with unrequited desire for Daisy, a kitchen maid. With a bit more sunlight, this room (and their lives) would be nicer.



Odessa Pink HC-59

The kind-hearted Anna, the Head Housemaid, who falls for the Head Valet (it's a period Peyton Place), in one of her ladyship's rooms.  The colors of the bedrooms are pastels, but not child-like, each just slightly dusty and muted. 



Hawthorne Yellow HC-4; Georgian Green HC-115; Valley Forge Brown HC-74

Mrs. O'Brien, a Lady’s Maid, and Thomas, the First Footman, scheming (as they always seem to be doing) in a stairwell.  The hallways of the staff quarters and back stairs all have this clever tri-tone pattern of yellow, green, and brown.  It's a bit like wainscoting but without the expense and installation headaches.



Marlboro Blue HC-153

The Earl and Countess of Grantham in her bedroom. She's pregnant, and it could be a boy.  The plot thickens.



Inner Glow 348; Hathaway Peach HC-53

The lady of the house in a particularly bright drawing room.  The wallpaper is vivid yellow and most of the furnishings a dusky peach.  As everywhere, there is abundant use of gold trim, which glints in the sunlight.

We'd like to know your favorite movie- or tv-inspired color palettes.  Let us know what's inspired you on screen and if you've ever translated the colors into your own home.

By the way, the full, unedited original British version of Downton Abbey is available on iTunes.  And stay tuned for the upcoming second season--we can't wait!


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what about the Earl of Grantham's dressing room. I bet it is something like Benjamin Moore * Kendall charcoal* HC - 166

So happy I stumbled upon this. Thank you! I don't suppose you can suggest what colour adorns the walls of Matthew Crawley & his mum's sitting room?

Thank you! Do you know the NCS for Marlboro blue HC-153? It's the perfect blue!

Desperately seeking color ideas for boring kitchen...maple cabinets with black (with green) granite and gunstock maple floors......HELP....like the idea of doing a blue/green color but not sure....need to match with a family room and dining room redo in a very open floor plan.

I love your variations in decorating- we have so many similar likes I'm a decorator as well, wish I knew how to create my own web page(smile) KEEP up the great work Love the picture with the gray accent wall and taffeta royal blue curtains very similar to the room I'm working on right now !!!!!

Just taking a break from adding some intense turquoise to our bedroom and thought I would check out what your up to lately.
My jaw dropped too when I saw what you posted about today. That fabric looks to me like an incredibly fresh contemporary interpretation of the great William Morris and his fabric and wallpaper patterns.
So stunning. It would be a great way to decorate an Arts and Crafts home and bring it into this century.

This was fantastic. Thoroughly enjoyed this. I research the history of paint and colour, and found your article was well done. Now if you can just do something on the Titanic that would be great.

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