Saturday, November 14, 2009

At Long Last! On the Set of It's Complicated

Take a winning formula -- a complicated love triangle, three Hollywood "A list" actors and fabulous and comfortably elegant interiors -- and you have the romantic comedy "It's Complicated" (Universal). Out this Christmas, the film brings together the trifecta winning combination of director Nancy Meyers, production designer Jon Hutman and set decorator Beth Rubino who gave us the much copied and coveted sets of the 2003 film "Somethings Gotta Give."

I was fortunate enough to interview Nancy, Jon and Beth for the December issue of Traditional Home. An expanded version of the interview with additional photographs will soon be available on the magazine's website. And if you are a regular reader of Cinema Style, you will recall my pieces on The Designing Director which profiles Nancy and her work.

Steve Martin, Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin

The film stars Meryl Streep as Jane, the mother of three grown kids and owner of a bakery/restaurant who finds herself in a love triangle with her ex-husband (Alec Baldwin) and her architect (Steve Martin) who is hired to renovate her kitchen. Set in idyllic Santa Barbara (sorry to spoil the film but the interiors were shot in the dead of winter on a New York soundstage -- and you would never know the difference), Jane's Spanish style ranch becomes yet another character in the film. “Since more than half of the movie takes place in the house, we really get to know the place. What the characters wear and how they live and decorate really says something about them,” says Meyers.

Streep's twenties Hacienda style house


Hutman notes that a Nancy Meyers film "has alot in common with the classic Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy movies of a different era -- everyone lives better but there is a reality to that. The design of her movies are by choice and not random." Whether it's the Hamptons, Manhattan or Santa Barbara, the audience wants to live in the worlds that Meyers and her team create. (Hutman also collaborated with Meyers on the film What Women Want and won an Emmy for his work on television's The West Wing). "Nancy always tells me the sets in her movies tell the story of the character," says the architecturally schooled designer, "how does this woman cook, what is in her kitchen, etc."

Living room interior above and below

Meyers wanted a Belgian look for the style of the interiors complete with a quiet color palette, natural linens and above all, she wanted the house to look comfortable and lived in. Orange became a dominant accent color (similar to the brown/orange of an Hermes box) from the cashmere throw on a club chair to a bowl of oranges on a table. The color palette was also tied in to complement Streep's fair complexion and hair.

Dining Room and Kitchen

Detail shot

Rubino created a casual elegance in the set decoration using furnishings from a variety of sources encompassing both high end and mass retailers. Chairs from the online site lst Dibs, fabrics from Calvin and Rogers and Goffigon, antiques from Berskihire Home & Antiques and furniture from Dessin Fournir, George Smith and West Elm were used for the relaxed California style interiors. She also designed custom pieces as well. Streep's character is someone who "dances to the beat of her own drum" which became a consideration in the design according to Rubino.

Master Bedroom

Daughter's Bedroom

Hutman and Rubino studied Tuscan, California and French kitchens to arrive at the appropriate style for a women who owned a bakery. The kitchen "has alot of individual style and open shelving and it's make-shift and funky. It's not her dream kitchen (after all she cooks for a living) but it's functional," details Hutman. Ever the Method actress, Streep even got in on the design of the film, suggesting water damage spots be added to the ceiling. It's all in the details.

"Meryl is someone who very early on became involved. She had special ideas on who the woman was, how she lived and details that the audience would never see but were important to her. That level of specificity in many ways is what I for go for (in the design process)," explains Hutman.

Kitchen above and below

Since outdoor living is a key component of the Santa Barbara lifestyle, the design team added not one but two exterior living areas. A working organic garden was built (and later donated to an inner city school upon the film's completion) and the lush landscape from the color of the Spanish tile rooftops to the bouganvilla filled hillsides played an influence as well.

Outdoor sets

The sets also included a bakery that was influenced by everything from Dayles Ford in London to New York’s City Bakery and Dean and Deluca along with Amagansett Farms and the Barefoot Contessa in the Hamptons. Even the nuances of bread display became a factor and the design team worked closely with Martha Stewart alum, Julie & Julia food stylist and cookbook author Susan Spungen.

Bakery and Restaurant

Detail shot

The designing director’s next production unfortunately will never be seen on film -- she is building her own house with the help of her long time interior designer and film collaborator James Radin (whose California design aesthetic can be seen on Meyers’ past three films). She admits to following the design blogs and magazines and looked at hundreds of images for the film’s interiors and purchased some of the set décor for her own house.

James Radin interior

James Radin's work on the kitchen for The Holiday

Meyers is a huge design devotee -- from Erica Barry's (Diane Keaton) Hamptons beach house in SGG to Amanda Wood's (Cameron Diaz) Wallace Neff bungalow in The Holiday, her imprint can be seen in every club chair, paint color and light fixture. And apparently it's in the genes; her mother was a designer who worked well into her eighties. Something tells me if Meyers hung up her director's cap she could become a very accomplished designer herself. And I am sure she had no idea the design sensation she and her team would create with the sets of SGG.

One of the added bonuses of a Meyers film is the soundtrack -- I immediately downloaded SGG and The Holiday -- and can hardly wait to see what she has in store for this film.

For more photos on the design of the sets, see the December issue of Traditional Home or the article in an expanded version online later this month. And for the official movie website, check here.

And I can guarantee what I will be doing after Santa visits on Christmas Day. See you at the movies.

Photo Credits: Universal Pictures, Melinda Sue Gordon photographer.


  1. FABULOUS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


  2. Cathy! hi!!! I just saw that you went to my web site. sooooo weird timing.

    I just saw this on google search and left you a comment and then i saw you saw my article!!!

    I wish I had known you had written this I would have linked it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    wonderful article. loved it!

  3. Cathy,
    I love, love, love this post and cannot wait to see the movie. Thanks for your amazing description and photos of the set and the inside scoop on all the inspirations for it. I am on the edge of my seat for the movie and my December Traditional Home now. Love your blog!!
    xoxo Tobi

  4. Cathy,
    Wow, I was so glad to see the visuals first on your blog. Love Nancy Meyers, loved SGG and The Holiday. I am sure we will see this kitchen copied from the East to West Coast for the next 5 years.
    Thanks, great post.
    Paulette P.

  5. Never before has a movie resonated so much with designers as SGG and The Holiday did. This will completely follow in the same path.

  6. Great story, Cathy. I do think our homes should tell the story of our lives. It seems that Nancy Meyers creates her sets the way a novelist uses interiors to reveal a character's character. It makes the story more layered, more interesting and, of course, more telling. I am looking forward to this movie.

  7. Thanks -- Nancy Meyers truly speaks for several generations of women with both her stories and surroundings. She is a brilliant and very hands on filmmaker in every sense of the word.

  8. Do you know where I could find similar pictures of the Grey Gardens house set...before it fell into ruins, that is. Thanks.

  9. Your best bet is to contact the publicity department of HBO Films. I have seen a few shots online.

  10. I was looking for pictures of "The Bakery" from the movie. So glad to have found your blog! After seeing the movie, I must say that my favorite part was the oldest daughter's house. I thought it was fantastic--and wish I could find more pictures of it!!

    Happy new year!

  11. Devon,

    Glad you found my blog as well:) Don't have any photos of the daughter's house. Will see what I can dig up! They did a great job on the bakery.

  12. Does anyone know where I can find the black dining table chairs in this movie? I love them!

  13. I talked with the film's set decorator Beth Rubino and those were custom made by Berkshire Home and Antiques. You can contact them at

  14. Thanks do much for letting me know Cathy. I really apprieciate it. They are exactly what I am looking for.

  15. I just saw this movie and could not get over that bakery, i thought of it the entire time. Thanks so much for this post, I was able to gaze at the pictures for hours!!

    Oh and I've stolen one of the pics of the bakery on my blog, I've linked back here. Hope that's alright!

  16. The bakery was constructed on a soundstage last winter. The set decorator said the crew came in from several inches of snow, opened the doors and astounded to find themselves transported to a California bakery/restaurant with baked breads and fresh flowers. The magic of the movies...

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  18. Thanks for such a great post about one of my favorite set designers. Thanks for including the resources, too.