Design on Film
Design on Film

At the end of this month, the KDR showroom at International Market Square (IMS) will take part in a creative new event welcoming both designers and the public to the design center. On the evening of September 29th, IMS will introduce guests to well-known, local film directors at the IMS Film Showcase. The film festival will include screenings of six short films, all inspired by design.

For a sneak peek, view the event trailer.


Design in its various forms plays a vital role on screens large and small, from costume to lighting, but nothing defines a sense of place and time like the set decoration. And while one could go on for days examining the history of art direction and influential designers up to this moment, and I certainly could, this is but a blog post, so I must narrow my focus a bit.

However, if this topic is of interest, may I suggest Cathy Whitlock’s Design on Film: A Century of Hollywood Art Direction.

Design in Film

Downton Abbey was filmed at Highclere Castle

I would like to take this opportunity to discuss two dramas that aired earlier this year on the small screen, both pay tribute to the dedication of art directors who bring homes, furniture, color and textiles to life in authentic detail.

For fans of Masterpiece Classic (formerly Masterpiece Theatre), you are likely familiar with the much-praised series Downton Abbey and Upstairs Downstairs which aired on PBS. If this is not the case, I encourage you to seek these out, not only to witness the historically accurate interiors, but the magnificent performances, stunning costumes and a storyline that will keep you on the edge of your…bergère.

Design in Film

Cora, Countess of Grantham in Downton Abbey

Scriptwriter Julian Fellowes of Gosford Park fame has bestowed upon us a costume drama unlike the familiar Austen tales to which period film lovers are accustomed. As The Telegraph’s reporter David Gritten explains, “these characters travel by car or train, not by carriage…and on the main floor of this house, characters flip a switch and an electric light turns on.” It’s 1912 and this tale is of a family moving into a modern age.

Interior Design in film

Lady Edith amidst soft, pale walls

While the series aired I happened upon an interview conducted by Kansas City designer, Patricia Shackelford, author of the well-known design blog, Mrs. Blandings. Shackleford spoke with Donal Woods, Downton’s production designer who shared his insights, particularly with regard to his use of color in the home. He explained his use of a restricted, muted palette in the servant’s quarters in striking comparison to the palette of the family’s rooms. “We wanted the contrast to be dazzling.” He also discussed his effort to design rooms that personify the characters that would inhabit each space.

Read the entire interview and tune in December 18th for the re-airing of season one .

Interior Design in Film

Foyer at 165 Eaton Place of Upstairs Downstairs

You may already be familiar with my second recommendation, the 1970’s British television series Upstairs Downstairs which gives viewers a look into the lives of a well-to-do family, and the lives of those in their service. The recent remake of this beloved British drama showcases the talents of production designer Eve Stewart, who has formerly earned an Oscar nomination for her work on the set of The King’s Speech.

A PBS interview with Stewart reveals her approach to the design as being much like her experience working in theater. Beginning with a model to better convey her instruction to directors and cameramen, Stewart also felt that the model brought the set to life more than any line drawing on paper could hope to achieve. Her dedication to authenticity is apparent in every detail, from sourcing period furnishings to the creation of the black and white pattern on the main floor. After extensive research a pattern was copied from a home in central London, each tile cut and laid by hand to replicate the original.

Read more about Stewart’s design process and the complete interview.

Production Interior Design

Rendering by the Upstairs Downstairs production designer, Eve Stewart

Hopefully these previews have you inclined to watch something new, or simply watch them again if they are already favorites. And make sure to tune in to the Emmy’s—both series are nominated for Outstanding Art Direction.

IMS Film Showcase

And more importantly, plan to attend the IMS Film Showcase where our own Minneapolis showroom manager, Lacy Armstrong, is set to make her on-screen debut. Guests will gather in the Atrium after the screenings for discussions with the directors, and of course, drinks in the Prima Bar, so don’t miss this unique, free event.

Photos and rendering from

Emily Faber
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