This article was originally published on Christie’s International Real Estate’s blog Luxury Defined.
If you’ve ever drooled over a Nancy Meyers’ kitchen or longed to get your hands on a Trading Spacesredesign, look no further: we’ve rounded up iconic design and architecture movies, television shows, and documentaries that are perfect for fans of visual culture. And all are available to stream right now. So, take your pick and settle back—a world of design-led thrills awaits.
1. Riviera (Amazon Prime, Netflix)
From the Côte d’Azur to Venice, Sky Atlantic’s original drama, Riviera, offers some of the most sumptuous European scenery and architecture to be seen on TV. Image: Courtesy of Sky these images are under embargo until w/c 5th October
Filmed in and around the Côte d’Azur, this television series’ stunning seaside scenes, jaw-dropping artwork, and incredible architecture are a lavish tour de force of the kind you’d ordinarily expect to see at the movies. The main storyline—an American art dealer, Georgina Clios, is trying to uncover the truth about the death of her French billionaire husband—takes a backseat to the show’s incredible settings. The most impressive of these is Villa Carmella, an exquisite Renaissance-style palace with its own vineyard, two helipads, and three swimming pools, which serves as the Clios family’s primary estate. (In real life, the privately owned palace is Château Diter in Mougins, France.)
Riviera‘s other architectural highlights include the five-star Grand-Hôtel Du Cap-Ferrat in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat; the historic Massena Square, and landmark hotel and restaurant, Negresco, both in Nice; and the rococo Chapel of the Pénitents-Blancs located inside the Place de la Conception in the French commune of Menton.
2. Downton Abbey (Amazon Prime, Google Play, iTunes, Peacock)
Highclere Castle, the majestic set of Downton Abbey, was originally built as an aristocratic country house in 1679 and was renovated nearly 200 years later by Victorian architect Sir Charles Barry. Image: Alamy
This beloved series chronicles the fictional Crawley family’s lavish lives inside Downton Abbey, a sprawling English estate. In real life, the 300-room property is Highclere Castle, located in Berkshire, England, which has been owned by the Carnarvon family since 1679. Many of the castle’s incredible antiques and original artworks are featured on the show. And with three lakes, rolling hills, and 56 Lebanese cedars within the grounds, the show’s outdoor scenes are as enjoyable as those shot indoors, partly because it’s when you’re truly able to appreciate the exterior architecture of this grand home.
Inside, each of Highclere’s rooms is designed in a different style, with period-appropriate furnishings and accessories in every nook and cranny. From the ancient Victorian porcelain urns above the mantels to the Gothic arches of the entrance hall and the French silk-covered walls in the drawing room (where the Crawleys retreat every night after dinner, naturally) this British masterpiece is a living museum—and worth a watch.
Proof that you need not head to the movies for your architecture and design fix, Mad Men has all the hallmarks of a Mid-Century Modern masterpiece—think everything from Herman Miller office chairs to a bar cart stocked for midday martinis. The show had enormous influence on interior design while it was on air, and the buzz has yet to wear off. In fact, many designers report that they still field requests for offices and lairs in the spirit of Don Draper—whose sharp TV penthouse features exact replicas of the Danish modern design style made famous by designers like Knoll, Miller, and Thayer Coggin.
Even the home Draper shares with his wife Betty is a marvel to behold, with its American Colonial Revival-meets-French provincial aesthetic. If you’re a sucker for modern anything, shake up a cocktail and watch this “mad” series.
4. Eames: The Architect and the Painter (Amazon Prime)
This documentary captures the extraordinary collaboration of husband-and-wife designers Charles and Ray Eames, the pair behind the Eames chair—a seat so impressive that Time magazine deemed it “the greatest design of the 20th century.” Thanks to Ray’s talents as an artist and Charles’s training as an architect, the couple married striking design and impeccable craftsmanship, creating everything from furniture to housewares, and films and artistic exhibitions.
In just under an hour and a half, this fascinating portrait explores the eccentric couple’s lasting influence on the world of design, as well as the sexism that existed in the industry at the time—examining why, for instance, Charles’s name alone appeared on every project. For design enthusiasts, the film does a fantastic job of celebrating both the beauty and the heart underpinning the design duo’s impressive accomplishments.
5. Amélie (Amazon Prime, iTunes)
Shot in 80 scene-stealing locations throughout Paris, this quirky visual masterpiece was named the one of the best shot movies of the decade by American Cinematographer magazine, and offers a chance to revel in the architecture of the French capital. The plot centers on a young woman, played by Audrey Tautou, who is determined to bring happiness and cheer to whomever she meets, despite her rocky past, and predominantly takes place in the Montmartre neighborhood. Look out for Rue Lepic—a picture-perfect, ancient street filled with butcher shops, flower stands, and quintessential French brasseries—which features as Amélie’s daily runway.
From the centuries-old Gothic masterpiece Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris (before it was damaged by fire in 2019) to the white-domed hilltop Basilica of the Sacré-Cœur, with its astonishing views, the City of Light’s architectural landmarks shine throughout this film.
6. The Birdcage (Amazon Prime, Google Play, iTunes)
In 1996, The Birdcage—starring Nathan Lane and the late Robin Williams, who plays an eccentric, gay cabaret owner—drew as much attention for its portrayal of the Art Deco Historic District in South Beach as for its plot about a gay couple pretending to be straight to appease their son’s future in-laws.
With nearly 800 pastel-colored buildings, the Florida district has the largest concentration of Art Deco-style buildings in America, many of which serve as secondary characters in the film. In fact, the movie’s Birdcage Club is actually The Carlyle hotel. With a 1939 façade that is still virtually untouched, this building is one of the most celebrated Art Deco landmarks on Ocean Drive, South Beach’s main thoroughfare. Today, socially distanced walking tours are led by the Miami Design Preservation League for those who want to take a closer look.
7. Philip Mould: Art in Isolation (YouTube)
One of the world’s most respected art dealers, Philip Mould is perhaps best known for being the star of BBC’s Fake or Fortune?, the most-watched arts program in the U.K. But in this series of short movies, he takes viewers on a tour of the glorious architecture of Duck End—the restored 17th-century manor house in Oxfordshire, England, which he shares with his wife Catherine.
As the owner of London’s famous Philip Mould & Company gallery, it’s no surprise that he also takes great delight in showing off the exquisite artworks on display, including masterpieces by Cedric Morris and Vanessa Bell. But the home itself offers just as much a reason to watch: the stone building is a rare and near-perfect example of the compact gentry houses of the late 16th and early 17th centuries, and the Moulds have gone to great lengths to restore it. Overall, the home—and these short snippets, which allow you to explore it—are a visual feast of antiques and treasures.