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The Making of Harry Potter
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Image by Dave Catchpole
Warner Bros Studio Tour London: The Making of Harry Potter
Warner Bros Studio, Aerodrome Way, Leavesden, Watford, Herts, WD25 7LS

A great day out for every fan of the boy wizard.

The Making of Harry Potter studio tour, covering 150,000 square foot, on two soundstages opened on the 31st March 2012, with stars galore at the red carpet launch at the Leavesden Studios where all eight movies were produced.

The home for many film productions, including several James Bond features, before a relatively new production company arrived there to make a film about a young boy who on his 11th birthday discovers he is a wizard.

Over the next ten years, the cast and crew of over 4,000 in total used more and more of the studios as the popularity of the books and films grew. The three young stars lived, grew up, went to school and turned into adults there on those stages.

Your tour begins in the foyer, with a flying Ford Anglia hanging from the ceiling and the walls adorned with huge photos of the cast, along with a few props.

Passing by the set of the cupboard under the stairs, you enter a room with a number of vertical TV screens showing Potter movie posters from around the world, followed by a short video sequence showing the rise of Harry’s popularity, the production teams discovery of the stories and the enormous worldwide success of the books and films.

Moving into the cinema, a short film introduced by Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, talking about their experiences growing up on a film set for ten years, with clips from all eight films. The film ends with them standing in front of the main doors to the Great Hall and they walk in through the doors and invite you to follow them.

The screen at this point slowly rises to reveal the actual main doors to the Great Hall, surrounded with stone statues and carvings. What a wizard way to start the tour.

Walking through into the Great Hall we are told that we were now walking on the actual stone floor used in the films and seeing the actual tables where the actors ate their feasts. Dummies down each side of the hall wear the actual costumes used in the films. At the far end of the hall is the teachers’ table area, with more amazing costumes worn by Professors Dumbledore, Snape, McGonagall, Moody, Trelawney and Flitwick, as well as Hagrid and Filch too.

Leaving the Great Hall you enter the first of two vast sound stages. This includes sets for the Gryffindor Common Room and Dormitory, Dumbledore’s Office, Potions Classroom, Hagrid’s Hut, Burrow’s Kitchen and parts of the Ministry of Magic, also Umbridge’s gaudy pink, feline office. Each filled to the brim with props and costumes.

Props can be seen everywhere, with a massive cage in the centre, chock-a-block with goblets, chandeliers, wands and armour. A huge glass case contains the wands of 24 of the major characters – less than 1 percent of the total number of wands made for the films. The ornate doors to a Gringott’s vault and to the Chamber of Secrets are seen after passing a wall dedicated to the paintings produced to decorate the walls of Hogwarts.

Below the giant swinging pendulum of the Hogwarts castle clock there are several huge touch screens containing an interactive Marauders Map.

There are sections of the soundstage dedicated to various movie-making crafts. The hair and makeup section, costumes section, animal department, graphic design and production.
The final section in this first soundstage is dedicated to the Special Effects department with three huge video screens showing all the tricks and techniques, including greenscreen footage and CGI. Props attached to their motion rigs, include the Gringott’s Vault Cart and Mad-Eye Moody’s Recumbent Broomstick.

In separate room you can have a go on a broomstick or drive the Ford Anglia yourself, using the greenscreen technology.

The Backlot about half way round the tour is an open air section between the two soundstages where refreshments are available, including Butterbeer the popular wizarding beverage.

Also featured on the backlot are the Knight Bus, another Ford Anglia, Hagrid’s motorbike/sidecar, the Riddle family tombstone, a section of the rickety wooden Hogwarts Bridge, Potter’s burnt out cottage from Godric’s Hollow and Number 4 Privet Drive.

Entering the second soundstage you pass some of the giant chess pieces from the first movie. A number of video screens here progressively show what it was like to work in the creature shop, cleverly leading you from one screen to the next, past models of Fawkes, a snapping Monster Book of Monsters and a giant animatronic head of Hagrid. The next room has the life size (i.e., ENORMOUS!) model of Aragog the spider and one of three animatronic Buckbeak models.

Walking around the corner (WOW) you are transported into another world entirely. The dark lighting and cobbled street can only mean one thing – you have entered Diagon Alley. The shops using the original sets have been rebuilt– Flourish & Blotts, Eeylops Owl Emporium, Potage’s Cauldron Shop and of course Ollivander’s Wand Shop, each and every one them is crammed full of detail. At the other end of the street is Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, with the bright orange shopfront standing out from the crowd of blackness and featuring a moving model of one of the red-haired twins doffing his hat.

At the end of Diagon Alley you move onto the Art and Design department with walls covered with architectural drawings and detailed plans, accurate down to the millimetre, for many of the props and sets already seen. A draftsman’s table serves as a projection screen for another video about the work of the art department.

Moving on, up the ascending path are walls full of concept paintings and artwork, also intricate cardboard models of Hogsmead and the Hogwarts.

You are only looking at a model of the model though, as entering the next room, there, spread over at least 15 square metres is the most amazing, complex and elaborate model built to a 1:24 scale. It has a bigger footprint than the average house.

The last part of the tour is a fitting tribute to the crew and cast of the most popular film franchise of all time. A much tidier recreation of the interior of Ollivander’s Wand shop, with over 4,000 wand boxes lining its shelves – one for every single person who worked on the films.

Exit through the Gift Shop.

Beaulieu Abbey, Palace & Gardens 22-09-2012
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Image by Karen Roe
Formerly the 13th century Great Gatehouse of Beaulieu Abbey, Palace House is set in glorious grounds and gardens with immaculate spreading lawns and walkways overlooking the Beaulieu River.
This charming house, kept in the style of its later Victorian additions, has been in Lord Montagu’s family ownership since 1538, when Sir Thomas Wriothesley, later 1st Earl of Southampton, bought the Estate after the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
The monastic origins of the House are evident and, once inside, visitors soon succumb to its friendly atmosphere as they view the many splendid and varied family treasures, portraits, photographs and memorabilia. Above all, Palace House remains a family home still lived in by the present Lord Montagu and his family and much loved by them.
Palace House is proud to be one of the Treasure Houses of England, a collection of ten of the most magnificent palaces, houses and castles in England today.
Explore the beautiful gardens at Beaulieu – The name Beaulieu means ‘beautiful place’ and the gardens certainly live up to the name. They have been well loved by generations of the Montagu family and can now be enjoyed by all our visitors.
Originally the grounds of the Abbey, the gardens have developed into a mixture of formal and informal design and with loving care from our team of gardeners they continue to evolve even today. The varied gardens include the fragrant Victorian Flower Garden with a dedicated rose garden featuring a number of old garden roses, the informal Wilderness Garden where in March and April you will find a mass of snowdrops, crocuses, daffodils and bluebells, the Ornamental Kitchen Garden with its restored 1870’s vine house and the scenic Mill Pond Walk .
Whilst wandering through the gardens look out for the Rufus Memorial Cairn – historical research suggests that King William Rufus who was shot and killed by an arrow in 1100 actually fell here at Beaulieu and not, as is commonly believed, near Minstead some ten miles away. The cairn, made of stone from the Abbey ruins, commemorates this historical murder mystery!

Learn about the lifestyle of the Cistercian monks who founded Beaulieu Abbey in 1204 on land given to them by King John. Wander through the serene Cloisters and Herb garden in which the monks grew a number of aromatic plants for both cooking and medicinal purposes including penny royal and lavender. Although much of the Abbey was destroyed during the reign of Henry VIII, visitors can still learn about the magnificent buildings of the Abbey, originally called Bellus Locus Regis – the beautiful place of the King.

Leeds Castle 22-04-2012
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Image by Karen Roe
“The Loveliest Castle in the World”
Set in 500 acres of beautiful parkland. Bring the whole family to Leeds Castle with your Key to the Castle ticket and journey through 900 years of captivating history. Open all year round, there is something for everyone to enjoy.

The Below Stairs Tour – A brand new tour for 2012 shows areas of Leeds Castle not usually on show, telling the stories of the servants who once worked here in the late 1930s. Get closer to the stories of the house by joining an expert guide who will escort you through the hidden treasures of the magnificent rooms of the castle, as well as some areas not normally open to visitors, including the State and Battlement bedrooms on the upper floors.

Park and Gardens – During your visit to Leeds Castle, enjoy the fresh air and stroll through the beautiful grounds of the park estate.

The Cascade Garden – The garden that gives you your first view of Leeds Castle, with its beautiful water cascade falling from the Cedar Pond.

The Wood Garden – In spring, the Wood Garden alongside the River Len is a particularly lovely way to approach the castle. Its carpet of Daffodils, Narcissi and Anemones presents a vibrant burst of colour. Later in the year, the visitor is treated to the splendor of Azaleas and Rhododendrons.

The Culpeper Garden – Named after the family who owned Leeds Castle in the 17th century; the Culpeper Garden was originally the site of the castle’s kitchen garden. During Lady Baillie’s ownership it became a cut flower garden, but in 1980 garden designer Russell Page transformed it into a large cottage garden. With its informal layout and low box hedges as a border this very English garden features Roses, Lupins, Poppies and Lads’ Love, with exotic blooms mixed in to create a profusion of colour and scent.

The Lady Baillie Garden – Designed by the landscape architect, Christopher Carter, on the site of Lady Baillie’s original aviary the garden is a favourite destination for visitors to the castle. With its south facing aspect and Mediterranean style, visitors can relax and enjoy superb views across the Great Water.

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