Today’s superabundance of good streaming programming includes a plethora of outstanding design shows — and we don’t mean Fixer Upper. You can visit architectural masterpieces around the globe or some of Britain’s most famous gardens without ever leaving your couch. The challenge is choosing the series most worth your time. We’ve selected a handful of our favorites, all offering savvy takes on design, architecture and art. From reality competitions to documentaries to scripted dramas, these binge-worthy programs are a feast for your eyes.
Abstract: The Art of Design
This Netflix series, whose second season debuted in September, breaks down the creative process of some of today’s top design minds. The show itself is a work of art, with an exuberant soundtrack and graphics that dance across the screen. As one episode follows typeface designer Jonathan Hoefler around New York City, the fonts he encounters in daily life glow and morph under his gaze (at which point we learn whether they are Gotham, Sentinel or Helvetica). In another segment, Oscar-winning costume designer Ruth E. Carter (of Black Panther fame) addressing the camera head-on is performance poetry. The second season also explores the immersive art of Olafur Eliasson and the work of Neri Oxman, whose “bio-architecture” blends art, design, science and engineering.
If you missed the first season, it’s worth going back to the episode on British interior designer Ilse Crawford, who muses, “We spend eighty-seven percent of our lives inside buildings. How they are designed affects how we feel, how we behave. Design is a tool to enhance our humanity.”
This HBO dramedy about four children competing for control of their father’s media empire is whip smart — and topical, the Roys of the series being loosely based on the Murdoch clan. The sets by themselves are worth tuning in for; the shooting locations provide a tour of great estates. The family’s Summer Palace is, in fact, Henry Ford II’s 1960s Hamptons estate. When the Roys visit their blue-blood rivals in hopes of acquiring their company, they travel to Salutation, in Glen Cove, New York, an island mansion built by J.P. Morgan’s grandson that was also the setting for the 1995 remake of the film Sabrina. Inside the buildings, no detail is spared (1stdibs is among the set designers’ sources for antiques). In a Hungarian hunting lodge, horns and antlers are artfully arranged in a circular pattern on the wall of a formal dining room. In the Summer Palace, contemporary furniture in a palette of blue and white fits in seamlessly with exquisite original moldings.
Glassblowing is a painstaking, physically demanding process that’s mesmerizing to watch. And the results can be ethereally gorgeous. Both the process and the products are beautifully showcased in this addictive Canadian reality-competition series, which debuted on Netflix earlier this year. The 10 contestants, of varying ages and experience levels, create works of glass art ranging from Pop art-style sculptures to conceptual self-portraits — they’re even tasked with reinventing wine goblets and glass flowers. Their pieces are then judged by glass artist Katherine Gray, who decides who will win $60,000 and a coveted artist residency. Naturally, egos clash, but drama also resides in the medium itself. Artists gather molten glass from a 2,000-degree furnace using a metal blow pipe, then sculpt it with metal tools, reheating it periodically. If the glass cools too quickly, it will fall off the pipe and shatter, ruining hours of work and sending even the most confident glassblower into a frenzy.
The Great Chelsea Garden Challenge
This one-season reality competition from BBC Two (streaming on Britbox) is the gardening world’s answer to The Great British Bake Off. Six amateur garden designers compete for a prime spot at the Royal Horticultural Society’s world-famous annual Chelsea Flower Show, which is basically fashion week for flowers. In each episode, contestants have four days to design, build and plant a small garden, about 13 feet by 13 feet, with some contractors on hand for the heavy lifting. They create romantic cottage gardens, formal gardens with strict symmetry and perfectly pruned topiaries, even conceptual gardens that draw inspiration from childhood memories or their deepest fears. Above all, though, this show is a love letter to British horticulture, the episodes filmed at such jaw-dropping locations as Sissinghurst Castle, in Kent — whose garden was designed by writer Vita Sackville-West and her husband, diplomat and author Harold Nicolson — and Sudeley Castle, in the Cotswolds, which dates to the 15th century.
The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes
In this Netflix show, originally from BBC Two, architect Piers Taylor and actress Caroline Quentin travel the world visiting homes that are truly unique and over-the-top. One is completely circular, another is constructed out of bridge supports, another out of airplane wings. A five-story structure in upstate New York looks like a tower made of Legos, while a house in India has a wall of repurposed wooden doors, earning it the nickname Collage House. A desert hideaway amid towering saguaros features an artful-if-impractical entry path of uneven concrete cubes. In Florida, Canal House, by Marcio Kogan, is a tribute to Brazilian modernism, with a mix of geometric stones and lush landscaping. Taylor and Quentin meet with architects and owners to get a sense of how these unusual homes came to be. Why would a family want to live completely underground or suspended in a forest? Watch, and you’ll find out.
Netflix recently released the highly-anticipated third season of the beloved series, which follows the life and reign of Queen Elizabeth II. The third season will span 1964 to 1977, with the queen moving into middle age. And, as time moves on, so do the actors, with Olivia Coleman replacing Claire Foy as the queen, Tobias Menzies stepping in for Matt Smith as Prince Philip, and Helena Bonham Carter taking over for Vanessa Kirby as Princess Margaret. While most of the cast has changed, Academy Award-winning Martin Childs stayed in his role of production designer, recreating one of the world’s most famous royal homes and its array of stately interiors. For season three, Childs used both historic and abandoned houses to serve as the iconic grand spaces used by the royal family, such as Buckingham Palace’s state drawing room, where the Queen and several of her prime ministers have heated meetings; the ballroom; the high-ceilinged picture gallery and the throne room, among others. Unlike the first two seasons, the new one includes quite a few trips overseas, including Princess Margaret’s romantic getaway to her home on the Caribbean island of Mustique, whose interiors were originally designed by Oliver Messel as a wedding gift to the princess and her husband, Messel’s nephew Lord Snowdon.