Designing Paradise

Production designer Alison Riva discusses the challenges of bringing this ‘magical world of dreams’ to life.

The art department arrived at Lambton Castle one snowy day in March ready to design The Paradise, Series 2. The construction crew, who had built the sets for the first series, were pulling off huge black plastic sheets from the Tollgate Street set which had been literally “wrapped” up to protect it from the harsh northern winter. A complete programme of restoration then commenced of painting, plastering and carpentry to bring the existing set back to life.

All the props previously used in the Great Hall and Ladieswear had been packed up in a dizzying array of boxes which stood tall, piled up to the ceilings of the castle. Our prop master and his team began the long process of unpacking.

Although this was the second series we were faced with some very exciting new challenges.

A number of new sets were built in rooms of the castle. The first was the interior of the Three Crowns Tavern, a small but jewel-like set where we built a Victorian bar and old oak settles surrounded by stained glass screens to create a warm, glowing space where the shop staff could meet.

Dudley’s Office, from Series 1, was transformed into a Victorian kitchen with cream glazed tiles, washed wooden units and a vast array of copper pots, pans and china bought from antique and flea markets all over the country. A large Victorian range was built in wood and painted to look like cast iron. Jars were filled with jams and jellies, vegetables had to look like they were from the garden, everything had to be correct for the period.

Thirdly an Oriental Room was created in the old glassware set, filled with rich and colourful wares from the East; huge Chinese vases, Indian wall hangings, exotic silks, Oriental paintings, palms and Japanese screens. This was perfectly in keeping with the very popular fashion of this period, the beginning of imports from Asia, a whole new world introduced to Europe.

The pictures on the left show our original drawing of the Oriental Room and the fully dressed finished set.

We extended and re-built the Delivery Yard at the back of the store, Moray’s Office and the Refectory were significantly altered and a bedroom for Flora, a new character in the story, was created at Biddick Hall. Throughout the series more sets are revealed.

The question arose as to how to change the overall store itself, how to make it more beautiful, how to move it on and keep it transforming constantly, reflecting the ever-changing times.

In order to achieve this I introduced many more props on a much larger scale, some bought, some made, some hired, from huge pots and elaborate blue china displays to gold plinths, lavish flower displays, more parasols, exotic fans, feathers and fabrics, and much, much more colour. Green and gold oriental panels were put into the dark wood of the back corridors which immediately created more light.

We added more detail and more sparkle, everything to dazzle and catch the light in what is, after all, supposed to be Zola’s magical world of dreams.

Many props, from hats to boxes, from drapes and costumes to period graphics were made within the art department, which was a constant place of industry and creativity for many months. Everyone in the team was truly outstanding and we are all very pleased with the result.