Highclere Castle, although best known as the filming location for , is a beautiful, traditional and charmingly English stately home in its own right. With over 200 rooms and 5,000 acres of land, it's a full-time job making sure the castle maintains its opulent glory, as well as being a fully-functioning modern home and tourist destination.
Once described by Julien Fellowes as having a "cosy splendor," the interior design at Highclere is immediately striking but also feels practical, warm and homely.
Country Living UK spent the day at Highclere with the current Countess Carnarvon, who lives there with her husband, the Eighth Earl of Carnarvon, and their seven dogs. The real-life Lady Grantham talked us through what it takes to renovate and maintain the design of the most famous castle in the country, including the main building and the 40 within its grounds.
"It's about what makes people happy and what is going to give them some green breathing space in the middle of their busy lives," the Countess explained while she talked us through the five decorating projects she has on the go at the moment, which includes a private sitting room for her and her husband.
The Countess's decorating motto is, "I try to do it all really well and only once." We asked her how she turns this notion into a reality…
1. Always have the original spirit of the property in mind.
Highclere Castle was designed by Charles Barry, a premier Victorian architect whose CV also includes the Houses of Parliament in London.
"It's quite a masculine house so it needs strength wherever I'm looking. It needs to feed off the inspiration of what Charles was creating in 1842, when the first stone was laid," says Lady Carnarvon.
"We want to retain the character of the castle by keeping the original color schemes. I also try to strip back to the original wood floor or lovely old fashioned red tiles where ever I can."
2. Be practical.
Whether working on the castle itself or in the cottages, Lady Carnarvon always addresses the practical matters first and foremost when planning the design of a room, including lighting, plumbing, electrics, heating and safety.
The Countess must also consider the logistics of having so many visitors — 1,400 a day in high summer — passing through the hallways and rooms. "In the areas of the castle where lots of people walk around, we have to have put paint on the walls as opposed to wallpaper because they are going to brush against it with their bags," Lady Carnarvon explains.
"In the cottages, we need to have a shower as well as a bath, adequate storage space and a fence around the garden to make sure that dogs can't get out. I have also put speed bumps in so children can safely ride their bikes."
3. Keep a detailed record.
In such a large house that has multiple renovation and maintenance projects going on at once, Lady Carnarvon relies on keeping detailed records of colors she has used, materials she has tried and what did and didn't work well in each room.
She uses this as guide when she starts a new endeavor. "I know every single color I've used to paint the gallery, the staircases, the bedroom, the doors etc. This helps to make the castle feel consistent. For example, every single door and architrave is painted in the same to keep it consistent. Using the same paint is also better for our budget."
As well as reusing original features and designs where she can, the Countess also uses them as inspiration for a more modern approach. "I always check if we can reuse curtains or use them as inspiration. Or is there a beautiful fireplace I can draw ideas from?"
4. Use local suppliers and resources.
The hallways at Highclere are covered in deep, red carpets that maintain a warm feel throughout the castle. But the one thing more important than consistency? Where they came from...
"I only use English carpet makers. The red carpets were especially woven for us up in Lancashire so the color is always consistent. I try to always work with what's great about British makers and producers."
5. It's not the brand that matters, it's the item.
When choosing a new piece of furniture or an interior accessory to join the traditional pieces and antiques, Lady Carnarvon selects them based on their fit within Highclere, as opposed to just their designer name.
In fact, in one of the holiday cottages, the Countess has a much-loved IKEA sofa. "When you have a small or particular space, it's about finding what fits!" she explains.
6. Be prepared for unexpected costs.
With any decorating project in any house, you are likely to come across challenges you might not have planned for. These, in turn, can effect your planned budget. Lady Carnarvon knows this better than anyone.
"Until you start work in such an old castle, you haven't got a clue what you're going to come across," she explains. And, although this is part of the fun and satisfaction of achieving the end result, the Countess always allows a little extra wriggle room to avoid unnecessary stress when such obstacles arise.
Watch the tour of Highclere here...
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For more information about visiting Highclere Castle and their yearly events, visit . For more insights from Lady Carnarvon, visit her blog