Thursday, April 30, 2009

It Started with a Portrait: Laura

Laura (1944) is the  story of a New York City police detective's  (Dana Andrews) obsession with a murder investigation of a young woman named, you guessed it, Laura. Directed by Otto Preminger, the film noir has brilliant one liners, a haunting soundtrack and great sets. And the design all starts with a portrait.

Art Directors Leland Fuller and  Lyle Wheeler (Gone With the Wind) and Set Decorators Thomas Little and Paul Fox received an Academy Award nomination for the film. Little and Fox were literally the Parish/Hadley of film decor at that time. Little worked on an astonishing four hundred plus films (Snows of Kilimanjaro and All About Eve were some of the best) and Fox survived Cleopatra (I will write a future blog on the making of that film. It's a great behind the scenes story.) and Desk Set. Between the two of them, they had nine Oscars for their work.

The antique and Aubusson  filled sets are stylish, elegant and reminiscent of cosmopolitan Manhattan interiors of the forties.

The painting was an actual photograph painted over with oil and reused for On the Riviera and Woman's World. 

Acid tongued critic Waldo Lydecker's luxurious bathroom. Played by Clifton Webb, he utters one of the film's more memorable quotes "I don't use a pen. I write with a goose quill dipped in venom."

Wide angle view of sets on the studio soundstage

Photo Credits: Margaret Herrick Library, Twentieth Century Fox

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Interior Designer on the Silver Screen

 They have been portrayed as predatory cougars, virginal ingenues peddling antiques until they find Mr. Right and pushy social climbers. Hollywood pays little attention to the profession of interior designer. And they don't fare any better on television either -- Grace is neurotic and  food obsessed while Designing Women gave us four ditzy southern socialites.

Here are a few of my favorite portrayals...

Patricia Neal as the first "Mrs. Robinson" turned designer in Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)....

And everyone's favorite...Doris Day as Jan Morrow in Pillow Talk (1959). I love how she had the apartment with  Manhattan skyline view and full time maid on a designer's salary.

And her ubiquitous French boss, Pierot...

Darryl Hannah as Darien Taylor, an Upper East Side designer who wants to take antiques mass market in Wall Street (1987)...

Diane Keaton as a textile designer married to a philandering architect (Warren Beatty) in the little viewed film Town and Country (2001)...

Julie Kavner as the decorator pushing an obscure basket vase in Alice (1990)...

Everyone's favorite designer Grace Adler who makes interior design fun in Will and Grace...

And last but not least....the Designing Women of Sugarbakers Design House. Did these women ever work?

Photo credits: Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures,  Twentieth Century Fox, MGM, NBC/Universal Television, Columbia Pictures Television, New Line Pictures

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sex and the City in Fashionable Perpetuity

It seems that Sex and the City is a permanent part of our natural landscape with daily television reruns and now multiple showings of the movie on cable. So for those of you who can't get enough of Carrie, Charlotte, Samantha and Miranda's world, here's a revisit to a few behind the scenes look at their interiors.

Designed by production designer Jeremy Conway (who was also responsible for the sets for the television show) and set decorator Lydia Marks (who gave us  The Devil Wears Prada), the interiors played an important role as each character's address was as different as their signature style.   Sharing the screen with the four main characters is the inimitable cosmopolitan backdrop of Manhattan with the apartments recreated on a sound stage in Long Island City’s Silvercup Studios. As Sarah Jessica Parker notes, “New York became the fifth woman. She really became this critical character, integral to the story.” 

Carrie Bradshaw's  Iconic Apartment before....

and after.....

Carrie's interior was painstakingly recreated down to the last detail; even her desk, which had been donated to the Smithsonian Museum, was borrowed back for the film. Since there is a time lapse of several years, the furnishings went through an update as Marks explains, “Since Carrie is so involved in fashion, I thought it would be very believable she would have new fabrics around her so the curtains, upholstery and bed linens are all new for the film.” Decorated with dramatic blue walls, floral settees and mirrored tables, Marks even incorporated Carrie’s passion for couture with the draperies made of fabric similar to “a great sculptural wedding dress.”

While the women are no doubt influenced by the latest trends, Conway and Marks looked to a stylesetter from the past for the Vogue offices of Carrie’s fierce editor, Enid Frick (Candice Bergen). Interior designer Dorothy Draper, known for her “Modern Baroque” designs in the early twentieth century, provided direction for the design duo (as evidenced by the black lacquered credenzas). “Her designs managed to be about both glamour and good taste while being functional spaces.”

Enid Frick's  (Candice Bergen) office at Vogue

Charlotte York Goldenblatt's Park Avenue Apartment redecorated

Charlotte’s elegant Park Avenue pad retained the original clean and neutral toned palette as Marks notes, “She is still in her ivory tower, but the overall feel is very eclectic. The gorgeous chaise in her bedroom is an antique found at New York’s Newel Galleries and she can feel like Cleopatra while reading a novel on it.”

Lily's bedroom

The pair also designed a sophisticated yet whimsical nursery for daughter Lily, featuring a toile bed mixed in with mid-century modern toys and furniture from Vitra. “As a decorator, I don’t often get the opportunity to mix toile and mid-century modern!” exclaims Marks.

Writers are hard at work on the script for Sex and The City Part Two. Rumors abound -- Chris Noth a.k.a. "Mr. Big" has not signed on yet, plot lines have already been leaked, etc. No doubt there will be lots of sex, drama, shopping, cocktails....and the inevitable product placements. 

Photo Credits: Courtesy of New Line Cinema