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Set Pieces: 'Upstairs Downstairs' paints a colorful picture of 1930s London

May 3, 2011 |  7:07 am

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If you missed the premiere of the new "Upstairs Downstairs," you've got a second (and third and fourth) chance to see the work of production designer Eve Stewart, featured earlier this year in a Set Pieces post on "The King's Speech."

For "Upstairs Downstairs" -- now on DVD and iTunes and streaming free on the PBS website -- Stewart created the look of London in the 1930s and transported the audience to Eaton Place, the posh London address of wealthy Hallam Holland and his wife, Lady Agnes, locked in an embrace above. 

01_21_40MB The staircase, Stewart said in an email, was based on the one in the original 1971 series, with an additional flight to a gallery and a more gracious landing at the bottom.

The iron work on the stairs would have been relatively new around 1915 and was installed in tall Georgian houses for elegance.

In "The King's Speech," Stewart used wallpaper to denote changing times and prosperity. Here, paint colors serve a similar purpose. She found the blue of the hallway on an original paint chart from the period and had it mixed as distemper, a paint with a soft sheen that is made with pigment, water, chalk and hide glue.

"I love this sort of paint as it catches the light in loads of different ways at different angles,"  Stewart said.

Keep reading for more of the story behind "Upstairs Downstairs."

Downstairs, where the cooks, butlers and maids work, the walls are a somber, grayish green. But upstairs in a grand hall where Lady Agnes holds her first cocktail party, shown below, the green is cheery and chic.

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"The wall color was based on the Farrow & Ball color Folly Green with a touch more yellow," Stewart said. "The molding pattern is based on a house in London that was photographed in the 1920s and published in a then-contemporary magazine called Country Life. I also wanted to portray Lady Agnes' personal taste as forward-looking. We felt that Agnes would have embraced the more sleek notions propagated by the fashion magazines."

Stewart integrated then-fashionable Art Deco pieces into the interior of Eaton Place and also used the historic ballroom of the Park Lane Hotel, below, for a scene.

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"This is one of the few remaining original Deco ballrooms in London and is still used for society functions today," she said. "The carpet is a complete replica of the original, woven from a scan of a fragment of the original 1930s rug, which resides in the Victoria and Albert Museum. The satin chairs are French Deco with gilded Egyptian motifs purchased from an amazing auction house just outside London."

The chairs were only 150 pounds, or about $250, for the pair, Stewart said. "A bargain!"

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Photos: BBC for Masterpiece

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"The wall color was based on the Farrow & Ball color Folly Green with a touch more yellow," Stewart said. "The molding pattern is based on a house in London that was photographed in the 1920s and published in a then contemporary magazine called Country life. I also wanted to portray Lady Agnes's personal taste as forward looking. We felt that Agnes would have embraced the more sleek notions propagated by the fashion magazines."

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