On Set With PBS's Mr. Selfridge

Star Jeremy Piven and executive producer Kate Lewis share how a surprising location was transformed into an opulent set for the British period drama.

You can’t help but marvel at the authentic sets in PBS’s Mr. Selfridge, a British period drama series that profiles the life of legendary department store owner and innovator, Harry Gordon Selfridge. Currently in production for season three, airing on Masterpiece, the lavish series stars Emmy Award-winning actor Jeremy Piven as the savvy American-born founder of Selfridges department store, which first opened in 1909 on London’s Oxford Street.

Mr. Selfridge Set

Photo © ITV Studios 2013 for MASTERPIECE The opulent interior sets of the period drama Mr. Selfridge are filmed in a converted carpet warehouse in northwest London.

Considering the opulence of the sets, you may be surprised to learn that many interior locations – including Mr. Selfridge’s plush mansion and the impeccably designed department store – are filmed in a converted carpet warehouse in the Neasden area of northwest London. During a panel discussion at the TV Critics Press Tour, Piven noted his favorite details found in his on-screen home. “There are these incredible, brilliant blue Moroccan tiles that are in a couple of the different rooms,” he says. “As you walk into the house, there's a very big, grand room and the ceilings are enormous. And if you saw where we shot it, you wouldn't believe it.”

Piven gives credit to the show’s production designers for creating such beautiful sets in an old factory. “It's a tribute to everyone involved that they transform the space into this breathtaking place. It’s amazing what they're able to accomplish,” he says. “They paid such attention to detail that as an actor, it gives you a real sense of the ‘where.’”

“While a carpet warehouse is not the most glamorous location in the world to shoot in, it’s really big – three cavernous rooms – and we can fit all our sets in there,” adds Kate Lewis, the show’s executive producer. While the interiors are all shot in London, the exterior shots of Selfridges are filmed in the county of Kent, where the crew built an elaborate set that emulates the glamour of early 20th-century London.

“We are on location around and about in London, apart from our exterior store set, which we call our Selfridge bungalow,” Lewis says. “We film in the historic Chatham Dockyard in Kent, which is the same area as PBS’s series Call the Midwife. We constructed this incredible first tier of the exterior of Selfridge’s that people just can’t believe looks as good as it does.”

Jeremy Piven in Mr. Selfridge

Photo © ITV Studios 2013 for MASTERPIECE Actor Jeremy Piven stars as retail magnate Harry Gordon Selfridge in the PBS series Mr. Selfridge.

If the show’s sets felt more lavish in season two, you can thank production designer Sonja Klaus, who previously worked with Ridley Scott on Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven. She came onboard for the second season, and Lewis says the results are unmistakable. “Sonja has imported material from all over the world. She attends second-hand carpet sales, goes on eBay and speaks to antique dealers she knows,” she says. “She is just brilliant. I feel like she has brought this cinematic flair to our production and has completely redressed the mansion and the store. I truly hope the audience can appreciate how much care we have put into these rooms.”

Off set, Lewis describes her own interior design style as “quite Swedish and vintage. It’s not Harry’s style at all. I like quite neutral colors and modern art.”

When the show is in production, Piven lives in both Los Angeles and London. “I love the architecture there, the vibe, the energy and the people,” he says. “It’s all perfect for me. I love the authenticity of the time period; people were actually conversing face to face.”

Season two of Mr. Selfridge is out on DVD/Blu-ray, in case you missed an episode. And if you’re a super fan, you can learn about the real Mr. Selfridge and his impressive collection of homes. Next up for Piven: the Entourage movie, which will surely showcase some stately mansions in Hollywood.

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