Outlander Season 5: Big House on the Ridge

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. 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.

Starz Outlander The Ridge Big House exterior production Season 5
Production image courtesy Starz

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 “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 hates 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

Starz Outlander the Ridge wedding crowd Big House outlander-online Season 5
Screen grab Courtesy Outlander-Online

They show the 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.

 

Starz Outlander The Ridge Big House side view Season 5
Screen grab courtesy of Outlander-Online

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.

Starz Outlander The Ridge outside work house building exterior outlander-online Season 5
Screen grab courtesy of Outlander-Online

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 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.

Starz Outlander The ridge back entrance waiting room outlander-online season 5
Screen grab courtesy of Outlander-Online

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?

Starz outlander the ridge exterior house staircase wedding Jamie Claire Brianna outlander-online Season 5
Screen grab courtesy of Outlander-Online

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.

Starz Outlander the Ridge construction bricks materials yard outlander-online season 5
Screen grab courtesy of Outlander-Online

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.

Starz Outlander The Rdige Season 5 external tents and big house on river Outlander-online
Screen grab courtesy of Outlander-Online

An aerial shot of the Big House on the Ridge with wedding/gathering guests in tents set up near by.

Starz Outlander The Ridge fiery cross nighttime big house oath taking outlander-online season 5
Screen grab courtesy of Outlander-Online

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

Outlander The Ridge Season 5 Catriona Balfe Claire in the Surgery
Courtesy Starz

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.

Starz outlander The Ridge Big House Surgery Season 5 Brianna Claire wedding dress
Courtesy Starz

As with the 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.

Starz Outlander The ridge surgery Claire Jamie outlander-online season 5
Courtesy Outlander-Online

Alrighty then. The candelier is pretty great though.

Starz Outlander season 5 Jamie Claire Bree Roger kitchen Starz Outlander The Ridge
Courtesy Starz

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.

Starz outlander The ridge Jamie Bree wedding interior shot doors glass Season 5
Courtesy Outlander-Online

Outlander Big House – interiors

Starz Outlander The Ridge Big House interior Jamie Claire Outlander-Online Season 5
Courtesy Outlander-Online

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

Starz Outlander The Ridge interior Jamie Outlander-Online Season 5
Courtesy Outlander-Online

Somehow I suspect these rooms will hold more than three shelves of books.

Courtesy Outlander-Online

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…

Starz Outlander the ridge interior of front door bullseye glass Bree Jamie wedding outlander-online Season 5
Courtesy Outlander-Online

The Wedding

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.

Starz outlander the ridge Wedding altar macrame flower garlands Brianna Roger outlander-online season 5
Courtesy Outlander-Online
Starz Outlander the ridge wedding altar platform flowers macrame brianna roger outlander-online season 5
Courtesy Outlander-Online
Starz outlander the ridge wedding Brianna Roger outlander-online season 5
Courtesy Outlander-Online

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.

 Starz Outlander The Ridge wedding dress closeup Season 5
Courtesy Starz

During the wedding, Claire and Jamie flashed back to their own wedding vows.

Claire and Jamie’s wedding, Outlander Season 1

Certainly, Claire’s dress was a spectacular, albeit improbable, vision.

 

Jocasta’s Pavillion

Starz Outlander The ridge Jacosta Ulysses Pavillion trunks camp chair outlander-online season 5
Courtesy Outlander-Online

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.

Starz Outlander The Ridge Roger Jacosta Ulysses Pavillion tent Season 5
Courtesy Starz

 

Starz outlander the ridge roger jacosta ulysses pavillion tents outlander-online season 5
Courtesy Outlander-Online

The Cabin

Starz Outlander The ridge Cabin exterior season 5
Courtesy Starz.

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!

Starz Outlander The ridge Brianna Roger cabin wedding night outlander-online season 5
Courtesy Outlander-Online.

 

Starz Outlander The ridge cabin brianna Jemmy fireplace interior outlander-online season 5
Courtesy Outlander-Online.

By the way, when Jamie and Claire were still living in the cabin, Brianna was pregnant with the child below… That Big House is not only BIG but a feat of speedy construction and all without power tools. Or roads. Or money.

 Starz Outlander The ridge the cabin Brianna Roger Jemmy
Courtesy Starz

 

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.

Photo by Marc Turner

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 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? I’d love to hear them!

xoxo Linda Would you like my Favorite Tips for a Well-Decorated Home? Click here!

25 thoughts on “Outlander Season 5: Big House on the Ridge”

  1. 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

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  2. 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!

    Reply
  3. 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.

    Reply
  4. 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!!

    Reply
  5. 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.

    Reply
  6. 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.

    Reply
  7. 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.

    Reply
    • 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!

      Reply
  8. 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.

    Reply
    • 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!

      Reply
  9. 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.

    Reply
    • 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!

      Reply
  10. 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

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  11. 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!

    Reply
  12. 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!!

    Reply

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