Best Movie sets; a dedicated post to all production designers

Production designers and set decorators are WILDLY under-appreciated. I would love to do an experiment where different scenes from various amazing Oscar-winning movies are reproduced on a sound stage with the same director, cinematographer, and actors, but without the amazing sets or maybe with just a kinda bad set and prove to everyone how god damn important they are.

With the Oscar weekend here, I thought I’d show you some of my favorite movie set interiors. May we all appreciate them for just one second before we turn our attention to who Snookie is wearing to the Oscars, because the answer is undoubtedly “not enough.”

The Royal Tenenbaums; Production Design by David Wasco

royal-tenenbaums

Oh Wes Anderson, you quirky mother who I love and yet am annoyed by. These sets are exciting, provocative, and just so weird.

500 Days of Summer; Production design by Laura Fox, set decoration by Jennifer Lukehart

500-days-of-summer-set-design 500-days-of-summer

I couldn’t find photos of her apartment which I remember thinking, “Ooh that is VERY cute,” but it was refreshing to see actual style and some hipness in the apartments of these young LA-ers. Indie movies normally don’t allocate the budget to this kind of stuff, so the production designer probably worked her ass off to decorate them with so much personality.

Argo;  Production design Sharon Seymour, Set Decoration Jan Pascale

argo-set-design

One of my favorite movies this year. This set in particular didn’t blow me away, no, but the whole production design put us smack in the middle of 1979, the year of my birth. It told the story in such a detailed way.

argo-set-design

American Psycho; Production Design by Gideon Ponte, Set Decoration by Jeanne Develle

american-psycho

Not my favorite movie and not my favorite set, but it undoubtedly did it’s job in the film. All I want to do is layer some mother loving textiles at least on that cold, hard sofa. I mean, can we get a bloody book for the coffee table?  But, that’s exactly the point because this guy was PSYCHO. Which goes to show you NEVER trust a man with an apartment without accessories. He will kill you with a knife and drip you dry.

Amelie; Production design by Aline Bonetto, Set decoration by Marie-Laure Valla,  Art Directed by Volker Shaffer

amelie_bedroom

amelie-blue-lampshade

amelie-doorwway-wallpaper

Remember when this movie swept the year in movies? I remember seeing it in Ireland when I was doing my post college European tour, and when I got back months later it still hadn’t come to the states, and therefore I felt very cool.  The sets were just so feminine and quirky and full of personality.

Atonement; Production design by Sarah Greenwood, Set Decoration by Katie Spencer

atonement-dressing-set

atonement-set-design

God, this film should have won an award for the best first half of a movie, with a quick turn to a bad second half. Although that library scene was amazing — am I right ladies? Eh? Eh? You know what I’m talking about. Beautiful sets, beautiful costumes, with a little bit of weird lovemaking on the side.

Down with Love; Production Design by Andrew Laws, Set Decoration by Don Diers

down-with-love-movie-set

down-with-love-set-design

I remember not liking this movie, but LOVING the sets, and I still do. That sunken living room with the hot pink circular sectional? Get out of town. Look at that Lucite bar cart? Those hot pink womb chairs? It’s very fun, indeed.

James Bond; Production Design by Peter Lamont

james-bond-set-design

james-bond-set-design

This one is for all you dudes out there — and by “dudes” I mean guys that love extremely well pulled together apartments with gold silk pillows. It’s not exactly a straight man’s bachelor pad, but it’s a well designed space.

It’s Complicated; Production Design by John Hutman, Set Decoration by Beth Rubino

its-complicated-set-design

Let’s stereotype for a moment, shall we? When I ask people during a style diagnostic what movie they would want to live in sooo many women say, “It’s Complicated.”  Sure, maybe it’s that we all want to be Meryl Streep or maybe it’s just a really warm, pulled together, yet casual house full of antiques and personality. It’s not my style, but it’s undoubtedly a house that I would want to go home to. You know that fridge is full of delicious food and the DVR is just piled up with episodes of ‘The Americans” and back to back Nicolas Sparks films. The production designer created a space that feels like what we all want to create for  our potential families — somewhere super warm, inviting, casual, yet absolutely high end. It’s the kind of unpretentious wealth that many of us secretly fantasize about.

Marie Antoinette (speaking of wealth) Production Design by KK Barrett, Set Decoration by Veronique Melery

Marie_Antoinette_set_design

Marie-Antoinette-marie-antoinette

This bedroom is what I like to call a ‘Two weeks ’til he files for divorce” kinda room. I’m sure you get why. Oh the decadence, the lushness, the total absolute indulgence of one Marie Antoinette. The sets were sooo beautiful. While I’m sure they were fairly accurate, I loved how they felt slightly edgy and updated, too. Brian would absolutely die if I forced him to sleep in that bed.

Clockwork Orange; Production Design by John Barry john barry production design

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Oh, hell yes. I just went to the Stanley Kubrick exhibit at LACMA and felt totally underwhelmed with my artistic career. I mean, this dude was a total genius and such a visionary. And that set above is crazy exciting and totally weird.

Alex-Bedspread-Clockwork-Orange1

Lastly, a movie that I still haven’t seen and yet I reference it enough to make people think I was in it:

A Single Man:  Production Design by Dan Bishop

A single man set photo

Again, with the circular sectional. Just stop (and by “stop” I mean NEVER STOP). The whole film (or should I say the stills and clips I’ve seen) was amazingly designed and decorated and created an undoubtedly beautiful 1960′s Angeleno world that we all fantasize about. It also doesn’t hurt that it takes place in a Lautner House.

a single man production design

There you are my friends, some of the best designed and decorated film sets of all time. Next time you watch a movie, please take note. It’s their job to help the story along, not to distract from it so we often don’t notice the sets. MANY people think these are actual spaces that exist and I promise you, THEY RARELY ARE.  Sure, they might be shot in a house, but virtually every effing detail has been designed, coordinated, and obsessed over by a team of people that never get credit.

So production designers, art directors, and set decorators, during this weekend where the films that you slaved over will get a massive amount of attention and you’ll get virtually none, know that I love you very much and am inspired constantly by what you do.

  1. Kim

    Love this, awesome movie choices! All so different from each other, but so interesting to look at!

  2. Jenn

    Don’t set designers/directors win oscars? I just heard on the news this morning that Jim Erickson, from Saltspring Island (Canada), was up for an Oscar (for Lincoln). And, yes, the work above is incredibly beautiful, stunning and should receive attention in droves.

    • Emily

      Yes they do, but nobody really cares. I mean, i do, but how many production designers can most people name off the top of their heads?

      • Jenn

        You’re totally right…I can only name one, because well, I heard it on the news this morning, otherwise…none. Why don’t we care? I’m going to start caring – grassroots initiative, maybe it will grow, with people like you, who are awesome enough to record the names, and pass them along to others who didn’t even know what they were missing. :)

      • tammyCA

        I used to remember some of their names from the credits when I was impressed with the design…but, my memory “ain’t so good no more” ;) The only one I can sort of remember is Polly Platt? from “Paper Moon”…pretty sure she won the Oscar that year. And, there was another one who did a little movie called, “The Rocketeer” which also took place in the Hollywood ’30s and I thought was neat.

  3. Stacey

    What a great idea for a post! So fun to read through!

  4. Fiona

    Gods and Monsters also had some amazing sets (and was a great movie).

  5. maggie

    And what about Auntie Mame … with her ever-changing interior designs–depending on her whims!

  6. Kelly

    I wanted to love A Single Man more than I did…it’s a very, very quiet and dark movie. But yes, just gorgeous to look at.

  7. Great post! I immediately thought of Age of Innocence. I’ve seen it like 10 times. So much of that film has to do with a sense of place. So good. Now I want to see it again.

  8. Amelia

    Yes. And yes. I’d add The Beginners and Rosemary’s Baby to your list of lovely interiors.

    • Emily

      OH, i loved the beginners. these were just off the top of my head, but now i’m thinking of SOOOOO many more….

  9. I couldn’t agree more with every single one of these!! Lately I have been desperate to live on the set of “It’s Complicated”, so dreamy. :) Great post Emily!

  10. Thank you for this vivid post about film set design, especially for including Down With Love. Indeed, I just had a flashback of where I saw that film: Los Feliz Theater (Los Angeles). Up with nostalgia and Emily.

    Stay tuned into The Light!

    Illuminatingly,
    Voncelle Volté

  11. Amelie is by far my favorite movie, ever. And I’ve always loved the set decoration. It’s so indicitive of the character, Amelie, and therefore it just works. Quirks and all.

  12. jodi

    love this post! dream job (2nd to working for you!) :)

  13. Hannah Joy

    So glad you shared these!! I’m such a film person and I love how the sets contribute to the film. So many of my favorites here, but I had to laugh about Amelie – I was studying abroad at Oxford and saw it in Paris. Coming back to the States, I felt so cool to have already seen it!

  14. Donna

    I just marked several movies on Netflix, I need to check out these wonderful set designs. Thanks for the great post!

  15. Norma

    I really enjoyed this post! I enjoy set design and totally agree with “It’s Complicated”. Keep up the great work Emily! My hubby and I love you and really look up to you!

  16. Ok thank you so much for this post! It is so true that set designers are so under appreciated it hurts. This is such a great round up. Marie Antoinette is an all time favorite and I can seriously appreciate the work that went into 500 Days of Summer. That girl must have been working for practically free! The Royal Tenenbaums- omg so much visual stimulation!

  17. What a fun post!!! I’m really realizing I’m in the wrong business. I’m always so obsessed with set design in movies. My favorites are:

    Sex and the city
    Loved carries makeover for her apartment.

    The breakup
    That condo was better than the movie

    Lucky number slevin
    I just loved every single piece of wallpaper, the colors.

    I agree with summers apt in 500 days of summer. It’s so my style and I can’t find any pix.

  18. I LOVE this post! These people definitely don’t get enough appreciation for their AMAZING work! I swoon over these sets and would die if I was lucky enough to put one together myself.

    I’m also really looking forward to seeing some of the set designs for the remake of “The Great Gatsby”!

  19. Tiffany

    I just scrolled down at the images and cried out internally “Here here!”

    I would say, though, that every one of Wes Anderson’s films should be on here. At least Royal was up there. :)

  20. LRC

    Gorgeous sets, but I’ve got to ask: what about the house in Something’s Gotta Give? That is always in the forefront of my mind on set design. SImilar to “It’s Complicated” but so much better in my opinion. Did you consider it or is it to beach-y and mainstream?

  21. It also doesn’t hurt that A Single Man was directed by Tom Ford. You just knew it was going to look amazing.

  22. caroline

    Haaahaha re: Atonement. Yes! I could have watched 5 more hours of pretty people walking around their pretty house and pretty gardens (and having hot library sex). But that second half? Total effing downer.

  23. Loveeeee this!!! I’m always such a sucker for well designed sets. When I was in high school that’s what I wanted to do for a living. Too fabulous :)

  24. Whew! You’re feisty today. ; ) Love it, and love all of these. Especially Amelie. I feel like her apartment is almost a character in that movie.

    I’d much rather see set designers get awarded at these award shows than stupid sound mixing.

  25. Madhu

    I’m SO GLAD you made this post. Some of my favorite movies of all time are on here. I find myself frequently watching and rewatching movies BECAUSE of their impeccable set design. I honestly think the only reason I watch RomComs (other than hot men) is because they frequently have really cozy, inviting, yet very styled apartments or houses that make me want to redesign my own. And I like that feeling.

  26. KathrynJ

    I’m with Madhu; beautiful,inspiring or just even just interesting production design has got me through many an otherwise rubbish film.
    I may be biased being an Aussie but we must mention Catherine Martin: ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘Moulin Rouge’ and I CAN NOT wait to see what she does with ‘The Great Gatsby’. And now she also designs amazing rugs and wallpaper that one day I dream to be able to afford.
    Thanks for this fabulous post Emily.

  27. Hayley

    Honestly never truly watching the actors first and foremost….im always looking at whats behind and surrounding them! It drives my husband nuts, because im always whispering ‘omg look at that chair, wow love that wallpaper! ‘. Thanks for an awesome post :-)

  28. Michelle H

    What a fun post! One of my favorite movie “sets” is that of Play Misty for Me. It’s soooo 70s hip California bachelor pad (soooo Clint Eastwood). And the shots of Carmel, the town and beach, just make me wish I had a time machine. I also liked the house and town “sets” of the movie Phenomenon. What a funky, cool farmhouse and super cool town and townies.

  29. Tracy R

    This is such an awesome post! I present directors for commercials and all I do ALL DAY is look at film sets…you have to check out this Swedish director Johan Renck. every single one of his sets is so heavy art designed and GORGEOUS!

    Thank you again for this post today. Loved it! and you were so right on, Wes Anderson is my all time fav – Moonrise Kingdom…love love love…sigh….

  30. Tracy R

    Oh, and Amelia’s right on The Beginners…Mike Mills has such dreamy sets that def. are a huge character in his storytelling…Then there’s Michel Gondry’s work…sigh once more…

  31. Mel

    This could very well be my favorite post of all time! And you be a most excellent regular feature (HINT, HINT)…

  32. I really liked the sets in “The Informant!” It was set in the 90′s, and my first memories are of the 90′s so it reminded me of my childhood. :) I think my family even had the same dining table as the family in the movie.

  33. tammyCA

    I’ve always been slightly obsessed with set decoration/design in movies & t.v. I miss entire story lines because I am looking at the background most of the time (rewind is my friend). I love when I can spot symbolism that relates to the characters..maybe, it’s a re-occurring color or animal symbol. Or sometimes, the setting is created as contrast to a character’s personality, maybe to show conflicted feelings..at least, that is what I am interpreting.
    I certainly applaud the production/set designers because they are so detailed! Even if so much of the set/objects aren’t seen by the audience they research and find authentic period stuff. Of those you’ve listed, I’ve only seen Amelie and 500 days of Summer…I’m mostly an old movies watcher…to name one, the “North by Northwest” set is impressive and not a real house, even ‘tho it looks like it from the outside and this was made in 1959. It also has many great artistic camera shots…you can always tell when a director, such as Hitchcock, has an artist’s eye.

    • tammyCA

      oh, forgot I did see Marie Antoinette when it came out…it was total eye candy…not much dialogue that’s for sure, but a feast for the eye.

    • Michelle H

      I have a similar experience. I’m constantly getting distracted by an iconic (or familiar) rug, or lamp, etc. Sometimes I’ll even see something that I have (or had). My husband makes fun of me for it, but he does it with cars and technology (“look, it’s a Marantz blah, blah, blah), so it’s a wash I guess.

  34. Zuzu Petals

    I loved the apartment in “Green Card.” That rooftop greenhouse/garden was to die for.

    • Holly

      Ooooo, ditto that! That whole apartment was gorg. I’m also a sucker for any 1970s “futuristic” movies… Logan’s Run, the Martian Chronicles, “The Veldt” living room in the Illustrated Man… minus the clingy polyester tunics…

  35. Catherine Soria

    Too true!

  36. katie

    Love this round-up! Ugh! I just want to dive right into Wes Anderson movies and live there, minus most of the characters.

    And hell yeah on Atonement! Mmmhm! Girl, you know it!

    I love the set design of Sherlock with Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch. Plus the show is just awesome. But it has that PERFECT English vibe going of English classics and modern cool.

  37. Anne

    I’m going to sound like a repeat of everyone else, but what a fantastic post. I’ve seen all those movies, and couldn’t agree more. I know when a like the “look” of a film, but hadn’t really considered what goes into that. I feel like costumes get more press. Anyway, this made my Friday. Emily Henderson meets Oscar! A perfect post.

  38. Elizabeth

    I love set decor more than movies sometimes Best decor additions: ‘P S I love you’ and ‘Because I Said So’ and ‘He’s Just Not That Into You’ and ‘Stranger Than Fiction’.

  39. Elizabeth

    Oh, and ‘Moulin Rouge’ and ‘Just like Heaven’

  40. Carrie

    Though the story line is quiet and dark (in the movie as well as in the book), ‘A Single Man’ is worth watching just for the gorgeous set design and costuming. And Colin Firth.

  41. beth

    Amazing Amazing Amazing, its like you read my mind!

    Love it, love it, love it.

  42. Tiffany

    Amazing post! These are excellent choices – definitely makes me want to rewatch all of these movies. Also to add to the list ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s', ‘Gone With the Wind’, ‘Something’s Gotta Give’, ‘You’ve Got Mail’ and ‘Sex and the City 2′ had great set decors.

  43. Totally agree. So many times I’m actually so enthralled by the sets that I don’t even pay attention to the lines in the movie!

  44. How fun! Totally loving the sets on most of these. I adored Amelie’s set– one of my favorite movies. It’s Complicated was another favorite. As Tiffany put above, I also LOVE Something’s Gotta Give’s set :)

  45. Deda

    My favorite part when watching movies is paying attention on the general scenarium and I’m so into it that if the decor doesn’t please me, I probabily won’t enjoy the movie as much. I think movie set’s designers should be paid really well, too, specially those who worked at something`s gotta give, the holiday and it`s complicated.

  46. also, the Shining. Super cool spaces in the Hotel (bathrooms, bedrooms, bars), and when the Dick Hallorann (the badass black guy) is at his place…he’s got some amazing art.

  47. jen

    I was the Set Decorator on (500)Days of Summer and am thrilled to be included on your list! Generally, I think we realize that most of the detail of our work will never even make it to the screen & that if it does most people don’t consciously notice it – so when they do, it’s very gratifying! I’m continually humbled by the work that people do & would include almost all of the films in your post on my own list. Thank you for highlighting the work that Production Designers & Set Decorators do!
    PS: I’ll happily send you some of my (totally unpolished) pics of Summer’s apartment.

  48. Trish

    Miss Emily: Been stalking the blog for a long time with no comments….but wanted you to know I thought about this post last night whilst watching Billy Elliot. Seriously, the wallpaper is basically another character in this movie. I haven’t checked to see if awards were won for this amazing stuff, but they sure should have been. It’s v. E. Henderdson groovy:) Thanks again for so much inspiration!

  49. Caddy

    I love the sets of Nancy Myers films!! It’s Complicated and The Parent Trap are on my pinboards. I’d love to walk into a London home and with the vibrant orange walls of Annie’s James’ flat in The Parent Trap. I also have a soft spot in for 90s interiors they seem so comforting to me. The homes in You’ve Got Mail and Stepmom spring to mind here.

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  53. Kiara

    This was one of the most enthralling and well written blog posts about set design that I’ve found. Not only did you go into great detail about what most people rarely notice as a component to great films, but you also explained the variances in a way that an average joe would probably walk away with a new appreciation, if not an interest in set design itself.
    I want to thank you. It’s hard for me to explain to people that when I’m watching a movie how I can’t really focus on the actual acting because I’m more engrossed in the arrangement of picture frames in the background, or how the dining room floors could’ve used some tlc. Instead of jumping at the rise of the suspenseful theme music I’m wondering who thought to collect enough souvenir magnets for the fridge to make the house look “lived in”. Did the family in the film really go to all those places? Did the son win that karate championship represented by the trophy on the mantel?
    Those are the things I find myself doing more and more. I’m in between careers and scared shitless on how to make my obviously peaking interest a reality. I appreciate finding things like this online because it shows me that it is not only possible, but actually a fulfilling life for some.
    In the next couple of months I hope to be moving to LA and finding a way into a school and some internships and hopefully a career that I can finally be happy in and proud of.
    Again, thank you. I hope to meet and work with you one day. =)

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  58. Zero G

    Great list of sets.
    One of my all time favorites is Rosemary’s Baby, production design by Richard Sylbert.

  59. Jyn

    I am a production designer who wrestles everyday with rock bottom Art Dept. budgets, all while trying to bring the unwritten character of sets, tone, color and feeling to life for directors, producers and ultimately audiences. It’s refreshing to have someone with a keen eye (and great style to boot!) call it out and bring it to the general publics attention. Thanks, Emily, for being awesome!

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