And so, after almost a year-and-a-half, Droughtlander has finally come to an end, and the Starz drama Outlander Season 5 “Fiery Cross” premier episode dropped last week. And I have opinions of the story and also the Outlander Big House on the Ridge. For a bit of recap, this series is based on the wildly popular book series, OUTLANDER, by Diana Gabaldon. The Fiery Cross is the 5th book in the series, published in 2005, and I’ll admit, it was my least favorite. Very long, tedious in description, it just dragged. As a matter of fact, I didn’t finish it on first reading and never picked it, or the following books, up again until the television series was about to premier six years ago. I started again with book 1, which I’ve read many times, and worked my way through to Book 8, Written in My Own Heart’s Blood, which came out in 2016. Book 9 is possibly going to come out by the end of 2020, but not sure. And the author has said that Book 10 will be the final book of the series, 30+ years after Book 1 was originally published. Briefly, Outlander is a book about a WW2 era combat nurse, Claire, who touches a standing stone in the Scottish Highlands in the 1940’s and suddenly lands in the 1740’s. Romance, drama, war, bloodshed and heartache ensue. It’s a genre defying series because while there is a lot of sex and romance, it’s not a romance. While there is time-travel, it’s not science fiction or fantasy. It’a historical period piece with lots of romance and some time travel but still very much grounded in reality. I’ve previously written about the sets and story here.
In the story, the main couple, 20th C Claire and her 18th C Scottish warrior husband Jamie, have come to America and settled in the mountains of North Carolina due to a land grant from the Royal Governor William Tryon. The Fiery Cross takes place between 1770 and 1772 – so in the thick of the Colonists unrest and pushing back against the English Crown. Because Claire, and daughter Brianna and son-in-law Roger, are time travelers from the 20th Century, they know what’s to come. So, Jamie has signed a pact with the Royal Governor that in exchange for 10,000 acres in the mountains, he will settle it with Scottish immigrants, all supposedly loyal to the King. He’s walking a tight rope since he also knows the country will break from England and being Scottish, he’s not much of a fan of the Crown anyway. And at some point he knows he’s going to need to switch sides. Okay, lots of exposition, but it sets up the time and place for my review of the sets.
As landowner, Jamie is the leader of all the people he brings in to settle. He’s responsible for them and takes his responsibilities very seriously. It’s a new kind of clan, not of blood but of shared vision for a better life. But it’s a hard life, one of work and deprivation. The location, now called Fraser’s Ridge, is routinely described in the books as remote, with no roads. It takes days to get there from the nearest town, on horseback or wagon.
So, when the Season 5 premier aired and this Outlander Big House was debuted – I was a little surprised. It’s simply too much. For the story, for the time, for the location. Now, I am not one of those book readers who complains that “she’s too tall and her eyes aren’t whiskey colored” or “he’s too short and his hair isn’t red enough”, etc, etc. I have no problem with creative license and I understand it’s an adaptation. I’m not talking about the color of the walls, but of historical accuracy.
Outlander Big House – exteriors
They show the Outlander Big House substantially built, but with work still to do. And I like that aspect. But, who built this large house? Who paid for it, and the large windows with decorative leaded glass? The Townshend Acts (of “no taxation without representation” fame) instituted a glass tax in 1767, which is one reason Colonial homes have small windows with small panes of glass.
The house is referred to as the “Big House” in the book, but not because it’s actually BIG. I went back and looked in the books for a description:
“They came out of the chestnut grove and into the large clearing where the house stood, solid and neat, its windows glazed gold with the last of the sun. It was a modest frame house, whitewashed and shingle-roofed, clean in its lines and soundly built, but impressive only by comparison with the crude cabins of most settlers.” ©Diana Gabaldon, THE FIERY CROSS.
The production designer is Jon Gary Steele and set decorator Barry Waldo. Steele has done all the seasons through Season 5 and his work has truly been amazing. The Paris sets were astonishingly great. But he doesn’t seem to know how to tamp down his enthusiasm. In the after-show talk by two of the executive producers, they joked that the house was called the Outlander Big House, but it wasn’t actually big. But, that Steele made it big anyway. Clearly, there is a desire to make things pretty and eye-catching for audiences. It’s a reason actresses hair usually looks better than it probably did back in the day, or that their complexions look great and teeth aren’t brown. We all like to see pretty. And this house it pretty enough. But it flies in the face of the actual story and of actual history.
They did create this interesting exterior “cross hall” bisecting the main house and the back section. It appears to be the waiting room of sorts for Claire’s surgery. Interesting concept. I’ve never seen anything like it in historical photos, but I like it. (Updating to add that I received several comments saying the is a common architectural “breeze way” between buildings in the region. So, I do stand corrected!).
The paint colors, while pleasing and generally historically accurate, don’t seem at all reasonable for the location of the story – how did they paint the house?? Again, it’s not that it’s a yellow/green color versus white in the description. But that’s a lot of paint that had to be hauled in from town in a wagon. And, we have to remember that the other inhabitants of Fraser’s Ridge are living in huts and lean-to’s at this stage. So, they were building this grand house for the Frasers while their own houses and fields were being worked on by whom?
In this episode, Brianna and Roger were finally married and it was a sweet and romantic episode. But, the wedding decorations were a real horror from a cost perspective. Garlands draping the house and stairs? Who’d they call, Ye Olde FTD? Now, I don’t know how festooned weddings were in those days and since the bride and her mother were from the 20th century, I have no problem with little 20th century-isms being slipped in – it’s fun and makes sense to the story. But only if it’s something that could have been done in the time period. If they were uber wealthy, they’d have lots of servants to do their handiwork, but they weren’t. And time was probably the thing that was most valuable to them. Who had time to spend the hours and hours that the garlands and floral displays would have taken – all for one day.
I did like that the set decoration included lots of things like bricks being made, candle making, etc. Everything pretty much had to be made on site.
An aerial shot of the Outlander Big House on the Ridge with wedding/gathering guests in tents set up near by.
One of the trickier visual elements of the show that I feel they handled well was the burning, or Fiery, cross itself. In Scottish history, chieftans of clans would light a cross to signal that their men were to assemble for battle. Obviously, given what happened in the 19th and 20th centuries in America, this old custom was bastardized for horrific use and has become a symbol of hatred, racism and terrible fear. But, the book is called The Fiery Cross and the “calling of the men” aspect is an important element of the story. So, the cross made for burning was done in a Celtic Cross style which made the visual element less heart breaking, hopefully. There has been a lot of debate on whether they should have done it at all, but I personally think that history is history and if one can make accommodation for current sensibilities they should be made, but history doesn’t need to be re-written either because terrible people usurped it.
Outlander Big House – Surgery & Kitchen
Claire’s surgery is, of course, an all important set in the Outlander world. One of the bad things about any tv adaptation of a big book series is all that is lost in translation. There’s no way to cram 700-900 pages of dense detail into 13 hours of television. The depth and detail of Claire’s medical work in the series is one of the elements that hasn’t been plumbed as much as it might have been. In an interview with the principal cast members and author Diana Gabaldon at the 92Y, they did say that there is a bigger focus this season on Claire’s medical practice, which is welcome news.
As with the Outlander Big House in general, I feel like the surgery set is a little overdone. They’ve only just moved into the house and it seems so full of stuff – where did it all come from? And the amount of glass is kind of mind boggling. However, when I went back and searched for a book description of the surgery, I came to this:
“The sight of the assembled medicines was calming. I touched a jar of anti-louse ointment, feeling a miser’s sense of gratification at the number and variety of bags and jars and bottles. Alcohol lamp, alcohol bottle, microscope, large amputation saw, jar of sutures, box of plasters, packet of cobweb—all were arrayed with military precision, drawn up in ranks like ill-assorted recruits under the eye of a drill sergeant.”©Diana Gabaldon, THE FIERY CROSS.
Alrighty then. The candelier is pretty great though.
I do like the kitchen set a lot. All the earthenware and baskets – timeless. But am not sure about glass windows on interior doors at all. In this image below, it appears that the surgery is off of the kitchen, which makes sense. But swinging glass doors? Hmm… what about patient privacy if nothing else. As a trained 20th century physician, this would have been important for Claire.
Outlander Big House – interiors
I’m assuming as the season progresses we’ll see these other rooms come to completion. But still, way too big. This is what I found written about Jamie’s library:
“There was a small, three-shelf bookcase in Jamie’s study, which held the entire library of Fraser’s Ridge.” ©Diana Gabaldon, THE FIERY CROSS
Somehow I suspect these rooms will hold more than three shelves of books.
This episode featured the wedding of Brianna and Roger. In the book, everyone traveled to a “Gathering” of Scottish clans away from Fraser’s Ridge and it was at the Gathering that Brianna and Roger were married. It was a much less formal affair, but was sanctified by a clergyman who was making the rounds. In the series, they thriftily merged the Gathering with the wedding which was smart writing and made better use of the Big House sets. But…
This was ridiculous. A huge floral garland display with a macrame back drop??? Really? Macrame was actually around in the 18th century and has a long history. It was introduced in the colonies by sailors who would make macrame items to sell. And of course, being from the 1960’s when it was a hot trend, it makes sense in the story to bring in something like this. But, to erect a full-on floral display (when the leaves have already fallen from the trees) and take the time to macrame such a large piece? No way. Not to mention, they used cut lumber and paint to make a platform. As I said above, the time alone for these things would have never been taken in this world and by these characters. It just wasn’t necessary and didn’t really add much in my opinion to the drama of the wedding. A lovely tree as backdrop, the river, or even the front steps of the house would have sufficed.
The wedding dress was lovely. Of course, white weddings didn’t come into vogue until Queen Victoria in the 19th Century, but Brianna was actually from the 20th century, so the desire for a white dress made sense. I’m not a costume expert at all so can’t speak to the style of this dress other than to say they wouldn’t likely have made an impractical white(ish) dress just for the wedding. But it IS lovely. I like the homespun nature of the fabric and the thistle and vine embroidery is quite beautiful.
During the wedding, Claire and Jamie flashed back to their own wedding vows.
Certainly, Claire’s dress was a spectacular, albeit improbable, vision.
Back at The Ridge – wealthy Auntie Jocasta must have hired Ye Olde Mayflower Van Lines to move her pavilion tent and all the assorted camp furnishings, not to mention a retinue of unseen slaves, in order to be comfortable. With all that room in the Big House, they couldn’t find a room for her? The only reason this made sense was so that it was easier for her to have her tryst in the “enchanted woodland palace” with a certain hunky Highlander who needed to keep out of sight.
When Claire and Jamie first arrived at The Ridge, he built this cute cabin, which is now Brianna and Rogers. I liked this set a lot, though I recall other viewers thought it was the Big House. Oh, they had no idea what was to come!
By the way, when Jamie and Claire were still living in the cabin, Brianna was pregnant with the child below… That Outlander Big House is not only BIG but a feat of speedy construction and all without power tools. Or roads. Or money.
So, because while I’m complaining and criticizing, I do like to do my due diligence and see what houses did look like in the time period and in the location – well, at least the state, err, colony.
This is the Cupola House in Edenton, NC. “The Cupola House was constructed in 1758 by Francis Corbin, the land agent of the last English Lord Proprietor, Robert Carteret, the Earl of Granville.” via Vintage News. I thought this house is architecturally and scale-wise similar to the Big House. It was a waterfront property of a wealthy man.
This is the “Joseph B. Stone House, also known as Stone-Fearrington House, is a historic home located near Farrington, Chatham County, North Carolina. It dates to the late-18th or early-19th century, and is a two-story, three bay Georgian / Federal style I-house frame dwelling. It has an original one-story rear shed.” via Wikipedia. The house is on the National Register of Historic Places which describes Joseph B Stone as a “successful planter and slave-owner of moderate wealth whose father and grandfather had also been part of the state’s plantation economy.”
I like this house, though, as an inspiration for the big house because of it’s relative smaller size and simple exterior detail including the small glass panes of the 9 over 9 window style on the ground level and smaller windows on the second floor. But still, it took a relatively wealthy man, who lived near the water, to build this house.
Finally, there’s the Joel Lane house which was built in 1769 in Raleigh, NC. Per Wikipedia, “The house is named after Joel Lane, the “Father of Raleigh” and “Father of Wake County.” So, yet another prominent and well-to-do person. The house is also on the National Register of Historic Places.
This is the house that would have made a perfect Outlander Big House inspiration. Elegant, picturesque, but small and completely of the period. The architectural plans are even available!
Anyway, I hope this post doesn’t come off as too complain-y. I think Production Designer Jon Gary Steele and his team has done an amazing job on this entire series. I’ve tons of photos throughout my various previous posts. Season 5 is Steele’s last as production designer and I think this was his swan song, in a way. He wanted to go out BIG as it were. Once the story line hit the American shores I figured I’d have very little to cover given the spartan nature of their existence and boy was I wrong. But I know what’s coming in the books and my guess is Steele wanted to ply his craft on more upscale and elegant projects – war time America, with campsites and rustic housing wasn’t exactly Versailles.
Thank you to Outlander-Online for all the screen grabs of the show!
Are you a fan? What are your thoughts on the Outlander Big House? I’d love to hear them!
Please also enjoy:
Outlander Elegant Scottish Mansions
Outlander Swans and Crocs and Versailles, Oh My!
Outlander Paris is Always a Good Idea
Outlander Boston – What’s Wrong and What’s Right?
Outlander River Run’s Dark Design
Outlander Big House on the Ridge
41 thoughts on “Outlander Big House on the Ridge”
Oh I absolutely agree with your assessment on the Big House. It is too much! As for the glass doors I am somewhat on the fence. Glass as you noted was rare and costly. But given that there was no overhead, electrical lighting mirrors and glass were used to dispurse natural light within rooms. Claire would need a lot of light in her surgery. Perhaps this was their thinking? From a costuming standpoint the very wealthy did have white dresses. They would have primarily been made of silk in the 1770’s and later cotton and linen through the Regency era. As for the garlands it was very much the practice to have evergreen garlands through the winter months. (A practice which we still uphold at Christmas.) It brought a touch of color to the dreary months and helped to freshen the rooms where people, not wearing deodorant, were cooped up with roaring fires for warmth. Several hours were spent around the fire each evening and ladies would have some sort of work to do to keep their hands from being idle. Although I can’t imagine Claire making garlands. LOL
Hi Laura – you may be right about the glass doors inside. And last nights episode showed that there are drapes she can pull over the doors and windows for privacy. You know, for when you’re doing an illicit autopsy. I do know ladies wore white dresses, but not specifically white wedding dresses. And the ladies in a place like the Ridge definitely didn’t have time or money to make garlands and one-off dresses. They had enough darning, mending and knitting to keep their hands busy into the evenings.
I had the same thoughts about the house and the wedding. That said it was a beautiful home.
Hi Rebecca – thanks for reading and commenting!
I actually wondered if macrame was a thing during this era! Thanks for clearing that up! Outlander is my big escape in a busy week so I hadn’t done this amount of analysis! but I do see your points and will be looking at the sets a bit differently now. They are definitely are playing a fantasy part in this show!
Yes, the sets are! And I too wondered about macrame in the period, so did a little research. Always something to learn!
I may be the only person in America who hasn’t seen the show or red the books…yet. LOL. But these pictures are wonderful and accuracy aside, the house and costumes are stunning! That wedding dress…love love love.
It’s a great book series Janet – highly recommend. And I do love the series even though it strays from the books, but all tv series do.
Wow, I love this series and what you did with this post. I had the same experience reading the books and not getting through the Fiery Cross but have been really enjoying the series although have not seen this one yet. I love your observations and when I finally see this will look at in a whole new light!!
I had started to watch Outlander but could not watch past season 3 and I have also never rad the books. That being said, this is a fantastic post, Linda! Your attention to the details is impeccable. I enjoyed seeing all of the pictures along with your take on the set design.
Beautiful post Linda with photos and your update! I must be one of the few not plugged into to this wonderful drama but you bet I will be!
Thanks for directing me to some wonderful programming.
Born and raised in the mountains of North Carolina. No way is the big house historically accurate.
Totally agree. Not accurate to the book’s description or actual history.
Yes completely agree with you on all of this. I’m currently reading the sixth book, and seriously, the Frasers are not at all wealthy. They are always trying to figure out how to make ends meet and have enough for the winter months. In fact they also don’t have a road going to their house and people complain when they have to carry loads of things on their back from the road through this remote area up a horrible hill to get to the “big house.” It’s completely unrealistic. Annoyed me greatly also. Only a very wealthy person (most likely one who owned slaves – what wealthy person didn’t back then?) would have been able to have such a house built, painted, and etc., and it’s unlikely to have been in such a remote area too. And even if other tenants helped, Jamie would have had to have helped them as well in exchange. I will say, however, that I thought the plantation Jocasta owns as well as the setting at her wedding was more realistic, but again, she’s very wealthy and likely owns hundreds of slaves.
Hi Rachel – yes, I am very distracted by how overdone the “big house” is. And it’s so not necessary because a rustic house would have been just as picturesque. Last night’s episode showing Jamie and Clare’s bedroom just had me rolling my eyes. It’s almost as luxe as Jocasta’s house – which makes absolutely no sense. Thanks for commenting!
I am so glad I found your review! The sets are ridiculous, and they’re so distracting that I’m having a hard time watching the show. Strange that no one caught this during filming.
It is pretty distracting if you’re knowledgable of architecture and design. I guess they assumed most people aren’t and would be happy with a pretty house that looks “grand”. Oh well!
I read elsewhere that part of the reason for the size was to accommodate all the filming equipment without having to have removable walls. I have no idea if that was just speculation or an actual production reason, however.
It’s possible – but I think they are all sets, not an actual house they filmed in. But, as the season has progressed, the size bothers me less than the interior finishes – wallpaper, tassel trimmed window treatments, fine wood working, etc. It’s all very pretty, but not accurate to the location in that specific time period for those specific settlers or to the books themselves. Creative license was definitely taken!
I love the interior paint colors of the big house, any idea which vendor and colors they used for the deep green and teal rooms
Hi Judy – the colors are beautiful, no question. Often, however, tv and movie sets don’t use regular paints because they are built on sound stages and are completely lit with artificial lighting. And in this case, lighting that’s supposed to look like candle light or sun light, so I would expect these are not standard paints. But if I ever hear otherwise, I’ll be sure to post! Meanwhile, check out Farrow and Ball paints, they have several in these color families.
Do you know the outdoor filming location of the Big House set near the river? I’m trying to find it on Google Maps but haven’t had any luck. Have you been there? I have found River Run but would love to locate this one. Thank you!
Hi Aaron – I don’t know other than it’s in Scotland somewhere!
You mean the view over the ridge? With the waterfalls and river? I’ve often wondered if that is just CGI. SO breathtakingly beautiful. Would love to se it in person!
Thank you for your post. I’m glad to have found it because I’m looking for inspiration for a summer or retirement home. The breezeway that separates the main house from the rest, is my favorite part. Thanks for this!!
Hi Edie – the breezeway is a unique feature! Good luck with your new home!
I’m in love with the Interior teal/turquoise paint they used on Jamie and Claire’s big house in season 5. Does anyone know what brand and color that is? I’d love to incorporate it in my home.
Hi there – I don’t know the color, but I do know that the interior sets were built on a sound stage and not in a real house. So, it’s very likely they used movie magic paint that looks a certain way under artificial movie lighting and not regular house paints as we know them. The best thing to do is find something that looks similar. I’d look at Farrow and Ball, Fine Paints of Europe or Benjamin Moore Historical colors to see if you can find something similar that looks good in your own home. Good luck!
The first thought that came to my mind after a few minutes of watching this episode was, ‘how did they build all this when they were away for months looking for Roger? The last episode of season 4 didn’t show that there were settlers in FR, and look at the baby! He’s still about a year old or less, spent two months of his early life at River Run…’
The math and the outcome of FR (and the house) doesn’t tally.
I’m from Malaysia, where a lot of things don’t make sense lately, so I guess this is just one of them haha
That Lord John is a wonderful, sigh-worthy eye candy, thankfully.
Hi Mona – totally agree about Lord John!
As a history buff and person who grew up in North Carolina. The Big House was very accurate. The scale of it and newness is off putting to our modern eye but it is correct. The dog trot back porch is common in the South. There are several examples of it in my own town I live in currently in South Carolina. Many have been closed in now. But separating the kitchen from the main house by the covered porch dog trot was common to protect the house from fires, cooking smells and the heat during the summer.
Hi Cecil – thanks for commenting – always good to hear from people who have direct knowledge of locations. I like the term “dog trot” back porch.
I really enjoyed your post. I loved season 5, but the house and the roads….big enough for a coach to come all the way from Cross Creek…drove me crazy. They settled on the ridge to be in a remote area. It is just very out of place even if the house may be correct for the period. In the books, they were always scrimping by, selling whiskey and honey. They had no frills. Where did they get all their money for this house and everything inside? Also, not to nit pick, but Jimmy has red hair. It is why Jaime calls him Ruadh.
Thank you for writing this. I’m trying to make it through this season now and I find the inaccuracies annoying and distracting. 🙁 Actually I was even annoyed when they built the cabin. Would it be possible for Jamie by himself with the kind of tools he had available, to build a cabin with timber straight as Lego bricks? I grew up in farm houses 200-350 years old, and their timber is more round than square, and of different sizes.
Another thing I find strange is the kind of lawn in front of the house. Why is nothing growing there? This is a farm, not a plantation, and that land would have been gras for the animals, fruit trees or vegetable garden, I think. Now it looks like they have a motorized lawn mower…
Outlander is great both books and TV, I’m just disappointed they didn’t make this more accurate.
I agree about accuracy. It was distracting. I think the production designer, Jon Gary Steel, who has since left the show, did such a beautiful job in the early seasons, especially Paris, that he didn’t want to go plain in his final couple of seasons and it ultimately didn’t help tell the story, which is what good production design is supposed to do.
I agree with you that the Big house was far too fancy and not what was described in the books. Definitely not modest by any means, and the paint is something I thought about as well. The amount of paint used in and on that house would’ve been super expensive nevermind the glass. It’s bothersome and frustrating considering how historically accurate Diana was in her writings. Jocasta I can understand since she had slaves etc to build her he, nevermind her wealth. Jamie and Clare were beggars at her door, then they build a house like that? No. Just not accurate. Thx for posting this.
Maybe Jocasta paid for their house. Thats what I always assumed.
That’s what I was thinking as well, since she liked them so much and gave river run to the little one. She would’ve had enough money to spare to give them the means to build such a huge house.
What a great post! Thank you. I, too, was gob-smacked at the size and luxury of the Big House, but I certainly see why it makes sense cinematically. Nevertheless, it’s simply implausible.
Hi Carrie – Yup! I actually find it distracting to be so inappropriately luxe. The other night’s episode – J & C’s bedroom with the deep teal paint – the room was huge and that was a lot of paint. Blues were historically the most expensive colors. And then in the dining room (I think) there were fancy window treatments with tassel trim. Oy. Anyway, as you say, it’s cinematically beautiful. Thanks for reading!