One of the things that we all have in common during these months of lockdown is the amount of time spent at home watching films. Much of our inspiration when it comes to home décor hails from what we see in stores, magazines, other people’s homes, exhibitions…. So at a time when our usual stomping grounds and activities have been pared down to the bare minimum, films offer us a window to the world beyond our front doors, portraying a pre-COVID era when travel -let alone abroad, but just down the lane - were taken for granted. So let’s dream of new and different spaces and seek some inspiration for our interiors from the comfort of our couch.
ART DECO + ART NOUVEAU- LUXURIOUS OPULENCE
As a stark contrast to the ever-worrying images of hospital wards and testing laboratories, I suggest we begin with opulent decadence. Allow yourself to be swept away to the last years of the nineteenth century in Europe, so beautifully featured in the Grand Budapest Hotel (2014). Set in a vacant department store in Eastern Germany, the building was turned into a classic and sophisticated hotel, where the use of pastel colours infuses vibrancy and spirit in all the spaces: from the grandeur of the plush-carpeted lobby and majestic staircase to the globe lighting in corridors. Walls in cream or pink with accent hues of blue or red in rooms are classic of the Jugendstil style that blends traits of Art Deco and Art Nouveau to create a completely fresh rendition, where marble columns and crimson upholstery are combined with extraordinarily unusual items like the antler legged desk.
Moving a step up in terms of opulence and decadence, a must-watch is The Great Gatsby (2013), set in the roaring 20s and portraying the glitzy and superficial society of the Jazz age. Gatsby’s palatial early 20th century home in Long Island (NY) features a sweeping staircase, a gold-ceiling ballroom and one of the most amazing male dressing-rooms I have ever seen. Among the chandeliers that grace the luxuriously extravagant rooms is the Lagoon globe, made of pewter, glass and brass. The home uses ultra-glossy polished black furniture and mirrored pieces to bounce of the light. The mix of rare woods, shapely curved furniture lines and bold and angular geometric patterns make Jay Gatsby’s home a magnificent embodiment of luxury Art Deco.
If we then dare to mix Western sumptuousness with South Eastern splendour, we arrive at the Peranakan style featured in the film Crazy Rich Asians (2018), dating back to the first Chinese immigrants in the Malay peninsula. The décor has been described as “a unique combination of Chinese, English, Malaysian and Victorian” and the film itself has become known as “the Asian Gatsby”. It features floral and animal ornamentation, decorative mother-of-pearl inlays in furniture, glazed ceramic tiles, louvered shutters, William Morris design wallpaper indoors, all surrounded by luxuriant tropical gardens. A little OTT and perhaps a touch too eclectic for most tastes, the interiors featured in the family mansion of this film are a memorable flight of the imagination.
These first three examples have featured Art Deco in all its profusion, but this decorative style can also be manifested in a more subdued and toned-down manner. Leaving all the abundance of colour and oriental shades to one side, I recommend you watch Coco & Igor Stravinsky. The setting of the romance between the two characters in the title, Chanel’s the country house in Garches, on the outskirts of Paris, is a true reflection of her signature black and white palette. Black mouldings and window trims, furniture in chrome, glass and mirror and a fabulous gold and black dividing screen are all set against geometric patterned cubic wallpaper. Along with the white camellias in the garden, the home faithfully portrays the style and elegance of this fashion creator and icon with true French panache.
HIGH RISE CITY LUXURY FOR SINGLE RESIDENTS
Fashion and film and interior design, as in this previous example, are often intimately connected. This is the case with A Single Man, fashion designer Tom Ford’s film-making debut. It features a Modernist house in California which, like Coco’s country home, is meant to reflect the character of its dweller: meticulous, precise and detail-oriented. The home is minimalist and modern, featuring steel, glass, redwood and concrete. Its many glass walls flood the home with light, and invite us to take a look at his life and tribulations. Not a cosy, warm home by any means, but appealing nonetheless for those who believe that ‘less is more’.
Another version of a home designed for a male resident is Christian Grey’s Seattle penthouse in Fifty Shades of Grey (2017). This super-luxurious flat features dark veined marble flooring and many sleek surfaces, like the burnished lift door and the high-sheen white sideboard. Statement pieces, like the brass ring and black aluminium table lamp and the gold leaf lacquered divider screen, and accent colours in the shape of a teal rug and deep green velvet curtains cut through the overall uniformity of muted tones of dark brown, old gold and grey. Breaking away from this décor theme is the Red Room, where sensual red fabrics and leather upholstery serve as the backdrop for the film’s iconic highly-charged scenes. Accessories are kept to a minimum and interest is fostered through sculptural forms and artwork.
While on the topic of snazzy apartments, lovers of the 1960s will be seduced by Down with Love (2003). Set in 1960s New York, the interiors featured in this film are replete with iconic designs of the time. It has been described as a candy-coloured pad, with its vivid bursts of colour and modern shaped furniture, such as the two pink Womb Chairs in the lounge. Designed by Evo Saarinen in 1948, it is meant to be “a chair that is like a basket full of pillows to curl up and read a book in”.
Pieces by this furniture designer are featured in 2001 Space Odyssey, a futuristic movie at the time. Saarinen’s round coffee table add a cool and modernist touch to the space age décor, combined with the red Djinn chairs by French designer Olivier Mourgue. These are interiors portraying the clash of the ages, with the bedroom featuring a white secretary desk, ornate gold armchairs and old gold satin bedding in an ultra-white space-age setting. Juxtaposition, that is, mixing elements from different ages, is often done in interior design; in the interiors of 2001 Space Odyssey, this juxtaposition is truly out of this world.
Let’s now descend from the uber-modern lofts and space age interiors, to earthier, warmer homes exuding country-chic. Take for example, the beautiful Villa Laura in Cortona (Italy), featured in the film Under the Tuscan Sun (2003). Its exquisite depiction of a typical country property in Tuscany earned it a nomination of the Art Directors Guild Excellence in Production Design Award. The storyline involves a makeover of a classic building, with its stuccoed walls, frescoes and rustic Italian charm. As an interior designer who has managed many renovation projects over the years, this film presents the pretty – albeit not entirely honest- side of refurbishment. The reality is a little more complicated, but the aesthetics of the film are nevertheless quite beautiful and inspiring.
For a look at a home that has made many dream, watch It’s Complicated (2009). Meryl Streep’s house is a Spanish style 1920s Santa Barbara ranch home with Belgian inspired interiors. The kitchen in this film plays a very important role; huge and magnificent, it is very accommodating, with more than ample space for cooking and entertaining on a wooden table with curved arm dining chairs and open shelving featuring a lovely white set of dishware. Colonial terracotta tiled floors and warm wooden accents combine with the more European styled sitting room: plush sofas, pillows and throws in warm colours, fireplace, books and artwork. The main bedroom is soft and elegant, with warm coral and rose tones. A home of traditional, classic and heart-warming elegance.
And lastly, we arrive at the array of interiors that delight us in Eat Pray Love (2010), a film about a journey of self-discovery that takes us to Italy, India and Bali. The apartment in the heart of Rome features high ceilings, a cream palette and oversized windows, flooded with light. The greys and stones of the Italian city give way to the range of magentas, reds and purples of the heavily decorated altars in India, conjuring up interiors that are rich with vibrant hues so characteristic of this country, where I spent 3 glorious weeks with my family a few years ago, savouring colours, spices and rich architecture. The last destination featured in this film is Bali, specifically a palm thatched hut with an iron bed, a mosquito net and Balinese batik fabrics throughout. Simple living at its best in this romantic shelter, reminiscent also of the many diving holidays I have taken with my family in this part of the world. A film that brings together the old and the new, man-made sophistication and native simplicity in all its interiors.
As I mentioned at the start, we are all eager to be told good stories on film that carry us to other scenarios, far away from the greyness of the lockdown days of social distancing and no cultural events to stimulate and stir our senses. By adding this dimension to my viewing pleasure, I enjoy the narrative as much as the backdrop. An all-round experience to keep us all fresh, open to different styles of décor that might inspire us to make big or little changes to our homes.