L.A. at Home

Design, Architecture, Gardens,
Southern California Living

Category: Film

'Dark Shadows': The story behind the grand, Gothic set design

"Dark Shadows" sets foyerFor anyone familiar with the original long-running television series “Dark Shadows,” one of the biggest surprises of Tim Burton's big-screen remake opening this week may lie with what's behind the massive front doors of Collinwood Manor.

"Dark Shadows" Collinwood ManorFreed from the budgetary constraints of a daily soap opera set and fertilized with the vision of Burton and production designer Rick Heinrichs, the interior of Collinwood was built on a soundstage as a full-fledged, exquisitely detailed character of its own. Fading Gothic grandeur is seamlessly combined with maritime motifs that reference the Collins family's ties to the sea.

The floor of the grand foyer is tiled in a blue-and-white pattern that evokes ocean waves, and upon closer examination, the immense chandelier overhead proves to have milky white octopus tentacles snaking among the strings of crystals.

“I designed the undulating floor tile based on a 12th century basket-weave design I'd found,” Heinrichs said. “It was made to our specifications out of extra hard plaster, since a movie production can be a lot of wear.” The production designer said the marine-themed chandelier had to be sketched out and then rendered in 3-D.

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Lyman Village Apartments, where Oscar could have lived

Lyman Village Gable
What if an apartment building were styled after Marilyn Monroe? Rudolph Valentino? Cecil B. DeMille? Designer Gene Bramson tackled the task, transforming eight 1948 and three 1928 apartment buildings along Los Feliz's Lyman Place into a renter's walk of fame.

“This building, it just spoke to me,” said Bramson, parking his 1981 DeLorean to tour the block-long Lyman Village Apartments. He gestured to the Monroe building, clad in delicate shades of pink and fronted by a wooden “The Monroe” sign with a lattice work base, patterned after 1940s billboards.

“I know it sounds nutty, but buildings do talk to me. They tell me what needs to be done,” said Bramson, whose firm, Bramson & Associates, oversaw the design of the 74,000-square-foot Holmby Hills estate built for Aaron and Candy Spelling.

The Spelling manor no doubt spoke to Bramson in louder registers; the Lyman Village Apartments clearly communicated in dulcet tones. Except for obvious signage, each building sports a sleight of hand design that speaks subtly of the stars: Bogart, Pickford, Harlow, Fairbanks, Gable, Cagney, Mansfield and more.

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Set Pieces: The Neutra house in Mike Mills' 'Beginners'

Christopher Plummer "Beginners"
After snagging a Golden Globe and a SAG award, Christopher Plummer seems like a good bet for the supporting actor Oscar for his portrayal of Hal, a 75-year-old retired museum director who comes out of the closet in director Mike Mills' autobiographical "Beginners." Plummer was ably abetted by Ewan MacGregor (who plays Hal's son, Oliver), Melanie Laurent (Oliver's girlfriend) and Cosmo, the Jack Russell terrier, but Los Angeles architecture and design also play key roles in the Focus Features film, now available on Blu-ray, DVD and video on demand.

"Beginners" movie house Hal lives in the Lovell Health House, the 1927 modernist masterpiece in the International Style by architect Richard Neutra. (The kitchen is shown at right.)

Mills chose the house not only because it was appropriate for the character but because Neutra's design allowed the director to shoot with natural light. 

In an email, set decorator Coryander Friend answered our "Beginners" house questions for this edited Q&A: 

What difficulties did you encounter filming in a historic Modern home?

We had to remove all of the books on the homeowner's bookshelves and keep track of the exact order of the books and replace them with all of Mike Mills' art books. The biggest challenge, though, was really just to not cause any harm to the Neutra house and or its contents. Our entire crew was treading up and down on those cork floors in the entryway to the living room with camera equipment, while the original Neutra-designed furniture was roped off with caution tape in a corner. Just thinking about it still stresses me out!  

How did you come up with the decor, which feels so worldly yet very California?

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Old Bollywood movie posters recycled as wallpaper

Cinema-Posters-postersCinema Posters, a new wallpaper design from Weitzner, is editing in the extreme: Bollywood movie posters from India have been sliced up and stitched back together as art-house wallpaper. Seen from afar, Cinema Posters look like a random configuration of saturated colors, intensely graphic and chaotic. Up close, bits of imagery — an eyelash here, credit text there — come into focus. Nylon thread that holds the poster strips to a paper backing creates an orderly pattern of transparent stitches across the surface.

Some caveats: Cinema Posters is not recommended for areas with moisture (such as bathrooms) or direct sunlight. The design is sold through the trade, meaning an interior designer will need to price the material for you through the Kneedler-Fauchere showroom in the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood, (310) 855-1313. Weitzner: (888) 609-5551. For a closer look at Cinema Posters, keep reading ...

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Set Pieces: Family-man house vs. bachelor man cave in 'The Change-Up'

In "The Change-Up," which opens Friday, Dave Lockwood (Jason Bateman, above) and Mitch Plano (Ryan Reynolds) each wish they had the other's life -- then wake up one morning to discover that their wish has come true and they're now living in very different worlds.

"The Change-Up" was shot in Atlanta, where production designer Barry Robison (working with director David Dobkin, director of "Wedding Crashers") scouted homes for inspiration in creating domestic Dave's beginner McMansion.

"It's not quite Colonial or Arts and Crafts but a pastiche of traditional elements," Robison said of the house. "We noticed that a lot of houses in Atlanta had a similar style: dark floors, white cabinetry, iron railings, creamy walls, which we replicated with Benjamin Moore Linen White, and beautiful fabrics on windows and furniture. We wanted to tap into that."

1Change up living room_cmyk The living room of Dave and wife Jamie (played by Leslie Mann, pictured at right with Bateman and Reynolds) demonstrates that "they are on their way up the ladder," said Robison, who purchased custom furniture from Bungalow Classic in Atlanta.

He also channeled top female designers, including Barbara Barry and Victoria Hagan, turning the couple's bedroom into a pattern-filled feminine space. 

"Dave has left all the design decisions to his wife," Robison said. "He has traded his masculinity for parenthood, and this fuels his desire to trade places with Mitch."

Bachelor Mitch lives in a primary-colored loft-style space in a funky part of town. "It’s a place he found in college and he's never moved," Robison said. "A modern-day man cave for the Peter Pan, arrested-development man-boy."

Indeed, the space is filled with toys, and Robison even painted over a -- purists, brace yourselves -- classic Saarinen table. In the kitchen, below, shelves are filled with robots, colorful dishes and boxes from Atlanta's Antico Pizza. The crowning touch for the retro-influenced space was a Smeg refrigerator in fire engine red. "I just didn’t want to put in the same old 1950s appliance," Robison said.  


Keep reading to see Dave's kitchen ...

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Set Pieces: The Smurfs' New York digs

Neil Patrick Harris in "The Smurfs"

Neil Patrick Harris rocks. His latest film, "The Smurfs," took in an estimated $35.6 million at the box office over the weekend and almost edged out "Cowboys and Aliens" -- not bad for a story about little blue folks set loose in New York CIty.

Despite a chorus of bad reviews, including a spanking by Times critic Betsy Sharkey, the Smurfs had enough charm to attract Harry Pottered-out kids. For adults, however, the cool Manhattan apartment sets might have held the most appeal. 

Jayma Mays in "The Smurfs"Much of the action takes place in the retro-boho home of blues-loving marketing man Patrick Winslow (Harris, above) and mother-to-be Grace Winslow (Jayma Mays), a furniture refurbisher. (Mays, who plays guidance counselor Emma Pillsbury on "Glee," is pictured at right on the set with Harris and director Raja Gosnell.)

The exteriors were shot on location in the East Village at a six-story Classical Revival brick building with Empire State Building and Brooklyn Bridge views, production designer Bill Boes said in an email.

"We came up with the idea that perhaps in the 1960s the building once housed many artists and musicians and had a crazy history of artistic renovations, leaving a patchwork of mismatched cabinets and vibrant colored linoleum tile in the kitchen," he said. 

Set decorator Regina Graves took this cue in creating the look of the other rooms, including a bathroom that dated to 1912 and was outfitted with tiles from Subway Ceramics and a pull-chain toilet from Historic Houseparts.

 "We wanted the apartment to feel a little cluttered but lived in and well loved," Graves said. "We did this using multiple layers of old, new and found items. Grace and Patrick are a quintessential New York couple that goes to thrift stores and flea markets on the weekends and aren’t embarrassed to bring home that great metal step stool they found on the sidewalk ready for the trash." 

The kitchen gets its old-timey feeling with patterned Portuguese wall tiles from Solar Antique Tiles and a floor made from Azrock Cortina Grande tiles in orange and yellow. The butcher block is antique, and the  island was made from IKEA's Norden table painted yellow. The pedestal dining table with a cast iron base was purchased at Olde Engine Works Market Place in Stroudsburg, Penn. "It was in the café section of the antique center and not for sale," Graves said. "I actually begged the owner of the antique market and purchased another table to replace that one."

The Smurfs apartment
Keep reading to see the Winslows' boudoir and learn how the living room got Smurfed ...

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'Renaissance of Mata Ortiz' film tells story of prized Mexican pottery

Long fascinated by the relationship between San Pedro anthropologist Spencer MacCallum and master potter Juan Quezada, filmmaker Scott Petersen spent three summers documenting their fairy tale of a story in "The Renaissance of Mata Ortiz," premiering Wednesday at USC.

"I was drawn to the cross-cultural aspect of their relationship," Petersen said. "Here is this American guy who goes down to Mexico to meet this Mexican artist, and they end up working together." As the pottery reached new markets and grew in popularity, Mata Ortiz was transformed into a working art colony.

Page6-1017-full In the documentary, MacCallum shares the well-publicized tale of how he tracked down Quezada after buying three of the self-taught artist's pots in a New Mexico junk shop. MacCallum subsequently encouraged Quezada to experiment and expand his pottery work, and MacCallum marketed the handmade works in America. More than 30 years later, that relationship affected the entire community of Mata Ortiz. (In the photo at right, that's Quezada on the left with MacCallum.)

The film visits the dusty village and its inhabitants, particularly a new generation of artists inspired by Quezada. We watch artist Diego Valles go hunting for clay in a nearby riverbed and cut strands of his young daughter's hair to use as a paint brush for the intricately detailed pottery -- a Postmodern artist using ancient techniques.

"There are a lot of excuses artists can make," Petersen says. "No money. No equipment. And Juan just figured it out on his own through his own talent and perseverance."

The film screens at 7 p.m. Wednesday at USC's Ray Stark Family Theatre, Room 108, George Lucas Instructional Building, University Park Campus, 900 W. 34th St., Los Angeles. Petersen will host a question-and-answer session following the film. Two local traders -- DeSilva Imports and Modern Mata Ortiz -- will sell  pottery before and after the screening. Admission is free, but reservations are requested.

-- Lisa Boone

Photo credits: Scott Petersen

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'How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr. Foster?' screened for free at Hammer museum


Go inside the mind -- and the buildings -- of Pritzker Prize-winning architect Norman Foster as the UCLA Hammer Museum shows a free screening of the documentary film "How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr. Foster?" on Tuesday night.

Directed by Norberto Lopez Amado and Carlos Carcas, "How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr. Foster?" (2010) looks at the architect's rise from humble beginnings in England to the head of the international firm Foster & Partners.

Foster shares his influences and thoughts on the importance of design in bringing people together. The film also lovingly captures some of his most innovative projects: Swiss Re tower, often referred to as "the Gherkin" because of its pickle shape; a 2008 terminal addition at Beijing's international airport; the world's tallest bridge in Millau, France, shown above; the Great Court at the British Museum in London; Hearst Tower in New York; and the Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

The film starts at 7 p.m. at the Hammer's Billy Wilder Theater, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Westwood. Admission is free, but tickets are required. They are available starting at 6 p.m. at the theater box office. One ticket per person; reservations not accepted. Hammer Museum members receive priority. (310) 443-7000.


Home and garden events for this week

-- Lisa Boone

Photo credit: Jean-Philippe Arles / Reuters

Set Pieces: Behind the scenes of 'The King's Speech'

On paper, a film about a stuttering monarch and his speech therapist seems as exciting as watching paint dry. Yet "The King's Speech" delivers not only riveting drama, but also Academy Award-nominated art direction by production designer Eve Stewart and set decorator Jude Farr, who capture the grandeur of the royal residences of George VI (Colin Firth, above left) and the home of his teacher and friend, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush, above right).

The locations and furnishings are exquisite, but the walls are what speak volumes. Edward and his wife live in paneled rooms with gilded frames and friezes; Logue's office, above, has a fascinating backdrop. 

Farr described the space via e-mail: "This was a location in Portland Place, central London. A beautiful, but slightly run down Georgian town house. The wall finishes were a combination of years of old wallpapers and thick paint and varnish. All we had to do was clean off the modern graffiti. The idea was that Lionel had very little money, therefore he just moved into this basement with the minimal furniture, obviously not intending visits from royalty. Even if he had, his slightly belligerent carefree attitude would not have fussed about his environment."

Farr said the furnishings in Logue's apartment were minimal, "as we thought the Logue family would have only bought personal things from Australia. Their furniture would have been bought second-hand. We assumed it had been decorated in the 1920s, therefore the Art Deco paper was appropriate." Period paper was purchased from London supplier Trevor Howsam. "He only has 2 rolls left and has been inundated with requests for it," Farr said.

Though I couldn't find an exact match to the wallpaper in the Logue's place, pictured below left with Queen Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) visiting for tea, a few online options deliver the same kind of look. Bradbury & Bradbury Art Wallpapers have an Art Deco collection with a pattern called Zenith, below right, in six color combinations; a 30-square-foot roll sells for $72. Hannah's Treasures also has an abundance of 1930s florals and period patterns.

Picnik collage

Later in the film, at the dawn of World War II, Logue seems to have moved up in the world, if you can judge by the furniture and wallpaper in his home, below.

The paper, as shown in this picture of one of the Logue children, is Jagmandir from the Sariskar range by Osborne & Little, a British company with a showroom at the Pacific Design Center. The bold, metallic print depicting trees and birds is so beautiful, you'll be pausing your DVD players to get a better look.

-- David A. Keeps

"Set Pieces" appears here on Tuesdays. Follow our reports from L.A. by joining our Facebook page dedicated to home design.

Photo, Zenith wallpaper detail: Bradbury & Bradbury. All other photos: The Weinstein Co.  

Corrected and updated: An earlier version of this post cited King Edward VI, not King George VI. The post also was updated to add a photo and sourcing information for the Osborne & Little wallpaper.


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'Designs on Film' charts the history of cinematic art direction

P 73 Lost Horizon sketch

Film buffs and followers of this column may be tempted by the recently published "Designs On FIlm: A Century of Hollywood Art Direction," (It Books, $75). The 384-page almost letterbox-shaped book by author, interior decorator and cinema style blogger Cathy Whitlock traces the history of motion picture sets and interiors from early 20th century silent movies to 21st century sci-fi films.

Whitlock celebrates the usual subjects, such as MGM's Deco and Modernist master Cedric Gibbons (who also designed the Oscar statuette), and gives props to lesser-known names: British designer Ken Adam, who helmed the  Mod look of 1960s James Bond films and William Creber, who designed the "Towering Inferno" skyscraper and took inspiration from Turkish rock formations to create the primal architecture in "Planet of The Apes." 

The anecdote-laden text is informative, but I wish that iconic pieces of furniture, such as Michael Douglas' red leather office chair in 1987's "Wall Street," were identified. (I have seat envy. There, I said it.)

The main event, however, is the photographs and architectural renderings, such as the Carey Odell illustration for the 1937 film "Lost Horizon," above. Located in the fictional Shangri-La, the fantastic building melds streamlined columns and monastery windows into a structure influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright and the International Style of European modernists.

P 121 North by Northwest Matte_2 Another winner: Matthew Yuricich's  matte painting of the cantilevered Vandamm house, right, designed by USC architecture graduate Robert F. Boyle for Alfred Hitchcock's "North by Northwest."

The production shots of interiors, particularly those from the 1930s-1960s are even more inspiring. 

I put a few questions to Whitlock:

Which movie set would you like to live in? 

I favor cosmopolitan sets as a result of growing up on Doris Day-Rock Hudson films of the 1960s. I love the clean lines and sleek look of Cameron Diaz's Wallace Neff house in "The Holiday" (2006), the penthouse in the 1999 remake of "The Thomas Crown Affair" and, of course, the international style of 1949's "The Fountainhead." I could move into any of those interiors. 

Based somewhat on Frank Lloyd Wright, "The Fountainhead" had a William Haines style modern living room I'd love for my own. What are your cinematic dream rooms?

Clifton Webb's marble bath in "Laura" was over the top but to be coveted. In "A Perfect Murder," the Moroccan-style kitchen where Gwyneth Paltrow fights off an attacker was wonderful.

What piece of film furniture is to die for?

Jean Harlow's white bed in "Dinner at Eight." 

More photos and Q/A after the jump

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