The Best of Interior Design in Film
With their expanded budgets and attention to production detail, film has offered a playground of limitless interior design possibilities over the decades.
Whether orchestrating immaculate minimalism or enticing with the extravagant characteristics of baroque, the diverse range of architecture on the silver screen never fails to excite and astound.
From the pleasingly symmetrical picture book aesthetics of Wes Anderson to the painstakingly precise production design of Stanley Kubrick, and the glamourous allure of a James Bond adventure, we have assembled seven of the best interior design examples in the movies.
1. Suspiria (1977)
This delirious Italian Giallo gem may not be for the faint-hearted; however, its eye-opening interior design should be applauded. Sinister events occur at a prestigious German ballerina academy in Hamberg, the foyer of which features confronting geometric designs and a sweeping ornate staircase straight out of a gothic romance.
Director Dario Argento also takes his hypnotic visual palette to the next level with a colour scheme that favours rich reds contrasting uncomfortably with blues, purples, and greens. The result is a film that comes painfully close to depicting a hallucinogenic nightmare.
Once seen, never forgotten, Suspiria is a marvel of mise-en-scene.
2. The Great Gatsby (2013)
The Roaring Twenties are back in Baz Luhrmann’s visually excessive melodrama based on the renowned F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. It was a time when art deco opulence defined interior design, and thus luxury and glamour were the order of the day.
Gatsby’s mammoth mansion memorably comprises a grand entrance hall, a massive library, and a two-storey master bedroom featuring black lacquer furnishings. However, arguably, the marquetry-floored grand ballroom is the most extravagant — the epicentre of Gatsby’s decadent parties. Here a twisting staircase serves as the dramatic focal point, with windows framed by towering columns and a gold-filigreed ceiling from which hang illuminating crystal chandeliers.
Catherine Martin’s academy award-winning production designs were based on fantastical early-20th-century Long Island houses.
3. Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn), the impulsive lead character at the heart of Blake Edwards’ classy romantic comedy, has an initially underfurnished bohemian brownstone apartment – wonderfully littered with creatively refashioned junkyard collectables. These range from an inspired half-bathtub sofa, softened by pink pillows and a crate box that functions as a coffee table.
By contrast, the supporting characters have furnished homes with interiors that define sixties New York chic. This includes the apartment of her love interest, Paul Varjak (George Peppard), which has gold-leafed furnishings and matching fixtures throughout, and the impeccably appointed residence of his older love interest Mrs Failsenson.
4. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Eyes Wide Shut is Stanley Kubrick’s erotically-charged odyssey that cast (then) real-life partners Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman as a wealthy couple on the cusp of a marriage break-up.
True to the late director’s obsessive command over all production elements, the film is deeply immersive in its symmetrical brilliance and metaphorical meaning.
The production design goes from the warmth of the prosperous couple’s luxurious New York pad to the intoxicating glamour of a Christmas party held at a grand 18th-century mansion. However, the masquerade party held at a vast stately country mansion (Elveden Hall in Suffolk, England) is arguably the most impressive from an interior design perspective.
Kubrick offers a compelling insight into the often otherworldly interiors of the super-wealthy.
5. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
Filmmaker Wes Anderson is renowned for his quirky characters and highly-stylised storybook-inspired production design. Any of his ten films to date demonstrate this. However, the familial comedy-drama, The Royal Tenenbaums, set the tone and remains his most impressive from an interior design perspective.
Set in New York City in the seventies, the titular dysfunctional family’s sprawling home in Hamilton Heights evokes something out of a fairytale. The exterior was built in 1899 and designed by Adolph Hoak. It’s a 6,000-square-foot Flemish Revival mansion that boasts north, east, and west views. However, the interiors were redesigned to reflect the backgrounds and personalities of the eccentric characters.
For example, playwright Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) has a bedroom adorned with exposed parquet flooring and red wallpaper (covered with running zebras) that stimulates free-thinking creativity.
Elsewhere, the interiors are influenced by the appeal of the colonial style. Here exquisite antique Turkish rugs, ornamental decor, vintage accessories, and dark wood finishes are contrasted by pink walls to introduce some warmth. It’s a complex interior design scheme; however, it demonstrates Anderson’s geeky love of the eclectic.
6. Dangerous Liaisons (1988)
Set in 18th century France, Stephen Frears’ adaptation of Choderlos de Lacios’ scandalous play centres around scheming aristocratic ex-lovers (Glenn Close and John Malkovich) who play dangerous games of seduction.
The interior romantic drama was filmed at several prestigious chateaus in France, including the Chateau de Champs-sur-Marne, which overlooks the River Marne east of Paris, the Chateau de Neuville in Gambais, and the Chateau Maisons-Lafitte. Each one affords beautifully baroque interiors that hark back to a time of picturesque extravagance, bringing archaic authenticity to the period piece.
7. No Time To Die (2021)
Appropriately enough, we’ve left the seventh for 007. The latest adventure travelled to southern Italy to film part of its pre-title sequence, where Bond (Daniel Craig) and Madeleine (Léa Seydoux) embark on a romantic escape.
In the medieval town of Matera, the province of Sassi is distinguished by hundreds of cave dwellings seemingly carved into the mountainside. The couple stays at the magical Palazzo Gattini in an exquisitely rustic hilltop suite that overlooks the region.
It is exemplary even by Bond standards. The room features a luminous blue tapestry painted across the walls, with arched windows, recessed wall niches, and a stone bed seamlessly sculpted from the limestone — only the best for Bond.