Interview: BBC1’s Howards End set decorator, Tanya Bowd

Sunday night rituals in the winter for me entail putting the fire on and settling in to watch the season’s best period drama. I was so excited and, if I am honest, a little worried that I would be disappointed with the current BBC 1 TV serialisation of Howards End. In the 80s and 90s, the Merchant Ivory team were the kings of bringing classic novels to the screen.  I haven’t re-watched the 1992 film but the location Merchant Ivory chose for Howards End is close to where we live. Every time I pass it, the camera work and the magical setting of that film comes flooding back.

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Location house for Howards End film 1992, Peppard, Oxon. Photo: Charis White

There are three reasons I shouldn’t have feared:

1. Kenneth Lonergan who won an Oscar for the stunning film –  Manchester by The Sea –  adapted the novel for TV. 2. The casting is on a par with The Durrells. 3. And the set has been in the very capable hands of Tanya Bowd  (Instagram @_tanyabowd). Tanya’s work includes the hysterical Green Wing series, the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2012 Olympic games, The Crimson Field, Victoria, The Roman Mysteries TV series as well as feature films such as Wilde and Cider with Rosie.

Film set design

If you are in the interiors industry, you will understand that I (almost) need to see a film twice. Firstly for set scrutiny and secondly for plot!

Stylists v interior designers v film set designers

There is generally a divide in the world of styling for print/retail/interior design/film set designers – occasionally a few cross the lines but most keep to their particular part of the industry. I am lucky to work with many talented assistants and one who has moved into TV/film from styling is Olivia Young @oliviayoungart. (Olivia has just added W1A to her art directing credits).

Blog Christmas present

There has always been a bit of a mystique for me as to how set design for film works. One of the main reasons is that journalists generally interview the actors, the director and very occasionally the production designer – but not often in the kind of depth that you and I want to know! So here is my blog Christmas present to everyone:

Tanya Bowd gives the blog a behind the scenes tour of BBC1’s Howards End production

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Where did you train to be a set decorator?

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Tanya Bowd, set decorator on Howards End.

I trained in Theatre Design, part of the course included the history of design, but I’ve honed my knowledge of historical interiors by visits to museums and galleries, in particular the V & A and the Geffrye Museum (well worth a visit for the historical rooms exhibition of Christmas Past which is on now until 7 January 2018). I predominently have worked on period productions, for film, television, theatre and opera, so find myself researching different decorative styles frequently. I tend to look at paintings and photography for visual research and to inform colour palettes.

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Edwardian Christmas living room at Geffrye Museum. Photo: Charis White

Where did you do your research for Howards End?

For Howards End, my team and I, which consisted of an assistant set decorator, production buyer and assistant production buyer, looked to arts and crafts houses such as Standen and Wightwick Manor to begin the process of creating mood boards for Wickham Place. At the time the Vanessa Bell exhibition was on at the Dulwich Picture Gallery, and her colour palette, and that of other Bloomsbury Set artists, began to inform the direction of the set décor.

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Duncan Grant reading, by Vanessa Bell.

What was the starting point for your designs?

We created mood boards for each main set. If you included every tableau we counted that we created 90 sets in 11 filming weeks! For Charles and Dolly’s house, the colour scheme initiated from a gorgeous Arts and Crafts rug I found to hire. It is often the way that a swatch of fabric, a piece of furniture, a scrap of wallpaper will start to inform the process of colour and pattern.

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Arts & Crafts rug that was inspiration for Charles & Dolly’s house. Howards End.
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Arts & Crafts fabric used by Tanya Bowd for BBC1’s Howards End.

Did you shoot Wickham Place interior on location?

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The Schlegel sisters’ house had to reflect their personality, and look lived in, as the crux of the story is that the lease is up and they must vacate their beloved home. Bohemian, beautiful, feminine, arty. I think that sums up the interior we created for them in Twickenham Studios.

Where did you source your props?

Referencing the Edwardian era of which the story is set, and with a nod to the Aesthetic, Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau movements, we scoured antique and flea markets, auction houses, shops and prop houses, as well as contacting our established network of collectors and dealers, to find beautiful and interesting pieces of furniture, textiles and objects.

(Props styled by Tanya and her team for BBC1’s Howards End).

Do you upholster furniture from scratch?

The sofa suite you mentioned on the street outside Wickham Mansions was bought as is, but often we would find vintage fabric to upholster some of our furniture finds. My favourite is an old Liberty peacock print that we found in two pieces that we used to cover an Edwardian two seater cane sofa and chair.

Were flowers important to your design?

Layer upon layer of detail was added to the sets to reference the characters inhabiting the spaces. An ink pot, a favourite tea set, a treasured book. Flowers were essential, our point of reference was Constance Spry. In conjunction with a florist, bouquets of seasonal flowers filled our eclectic collection of vessels, one of which included a sewing box!

Where is the Howards End location house?

Howards End was filmed on location at Vann in Hambledon in Surrey. We set about clearing some of the rooms of the owner’s house, with the help of a dressing team, and adding our decorative touches. Curtains were specially made, as the windows proved to be too small and plentiful to find hired stock. Being in the countryside, it was felt that nature should be referenced, and rather than formal flower displays, more natural arrangements were styled.

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Photo of BBC One’s Howards End location by Tanya Bowd
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Location house for Howards End 2017

The grounds of Howards End were delightful, some sections having been designed by Getrude Jekyll, so not much needed to be added. For the winter scenes, the snow specialists sprinkled the grounds with a dusting of biodegradable paper to create a magical winter landscape.

Look out for the set in Howards End in the final episode

If you know the story, you’ll realise that we created another set within the house. By watching the final Episode 4, all will be revealed (Sunday 3 December at 9 pm, BBC1 TV) …

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Thank you so much Tanya!

Thank you so much Tanya for sharing this with us in what I know has been an extremely busy schedule as Tanya is now working on a new production.  It is so lovely to find out in detail, first hand, how Tanya and her team put this all together. It is a huge amount of work and has been so beautifully done.

Charis White, interior stylist
Charis White – interior stylist/blogger

It’s good to be in the know

Thank you so much for reading. If you have enjoyed this post and would like to receive email alerts for future posts, then please press the large ‘Follow’ button either at the beginning or end of each post.  With best wishes, Charis x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 thoughts on “Interview: BBC1’s Howards End set decorator, Tanya Bowd

  1. What a beautiful blissful blog. Loved finding out all about the sets. It has been devine to watch and now I can look out for so much more in the final episode.

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  2. Hi Charis…very interesting to hear about Howards End..agree with you I was worried about the new production as the original was a firm favourite which I’ve enjoyed a few times…and yes, being a stylist, I love looking at the sets just as much as the plot. Interesting also because I always loved the original house, so very good to see your photo.. The area of the new one I know quite well as I went house hunting there a few years ago, there are definitely some hidden gems around there. Thanks so much, enjoyed it all.

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    1. Hi Hester, Thank you so much for your comment and for signing up for the blog! I am honoured. I hope you don’t mind me sharing that you were until not that long ago you were Country Living magazine’s Houses Editor and to my mind probably have one of the keenest eyes when it comes to finding exactly the right houses and locations. The original house looks across Rotherfield Peppard in Oxon and Merchant Ivory caught it in at least one shot when the grass was long with light shining through which was beautiful … But there have been some equally great shots and vistas in the new version which I am loving. As a friend said to me, she doesn’t want it to finish this Sunday – so that’s a good sign for the BBC! As we know from magazine sets, so much work goes into creating these things so I really take my hat off to Tanya with her 90 odd set ups.

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