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!

Comments are closed.