Finding design pieces from your favourite films

Finding design pieces from your favourite films

Film and furniture design are closely related disciplines. Can you guess these films from their descriptions?

Clusters of low-slung, candy coloured chairs against curving white walls, floating elegantly through space.

A jarring, eye-confusing, geometric carpet, juddering into the distance down a hotel corridor.

A slick cascade of images, shimmering in and out of existence with a gesture from the hero.

If you enjoyed having a go, you’ll love Paula Benson’s website Film and Furniture. The graphic designer and film-lover has long harboured an obsession with the less animated actors in the films she watched: the props and interiors. One day, after being confronted by a poster at a friend’s house, she decided to research the carpet from Stanley Kubrick’s classic, ‘The Shining’ (yes, that’s the answer to number two). She discovered a rabbit-hole of geekdom and obsession, and realised she wasn’t the only person whose interior design preferences were being provoked by the films she’d seen.

The famous pattern on Kubricks carpet in The Shining.

“I wanted to create something aspirational, that would contextualise the pieces for people”

The website Film and Furniture was born. A place where film and design fans can find out about the pieces that fired their imaginations on screen. And ultimately where they can get hold of them. “There are a lot of ‘boysie’ film sites out there”, says Paula, “or there are film prop auction sites, which are horribly designed. I wanted to create something different, something aspirational, that would contextualise the pieces for people and reveal their provenance.”

She has found a community of people eager to engage with her site. “The dream is to eventually create an online marketplace, like Etsy, but exclusively for stuff derived from films”, she says. Knock off merchants need not apply though. “Authenticity is key. We spend a great deal of time researching to make sure we have found the exact thing, or a high quality replica. You’d be amazed at the number of times that someone has emailed me to correct me. This audience knows their stuff.”

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It seems that Paula has hit on something. People are coming to her site from all over the world, often to request Paula’s help in locating something. From the multi-coloured blinds in Eliott’s bedroom in ‘ET: The Extraterrestrial’, to the elegant whisky tumblers in ‘Mad Men’; film and TV provide a popular sourcebook for people designing their own home. “Sometimes the choices people make may be subconsciously affected by films they have seen, but on a conscious level film very much acts as an endorsement,” says Paula. “A piece has been very carefully chosen by the production designer to say a certain thing or create a particular ambience. It probably wouldn’t be in a film if it wasn’t exceptional.”

“Design classics in films are making a statement about a character.”

So on a basic level film acts as a judge of the best design. But, coveting a particular piece from a film may reveal more about you than your aesthetic tastes – furniture and interiors in films are used to tell a story about character. A recent example is the Wegner Wishbone Chair which has popped up both in ‘The Bridge’ and the TV series ‘Daredevil’.  “As a piece of design it screams sophistication, refinement and, most of all, intelligence”, says Paula. “It isn’t just there for the character to sit on, it helps to create the character. In Daredevil the intellect and refinement of the villain Wilson Fiske is partly expressed through his surroundings, which include this elegant design classic.”

Wishbone or Y chair by Hans J Wegner, a classic of both film and furniture design

The Hans J Wegner ‘Wishbone’ or ‘Y’ chair, reproductions like this can be bought online

“There’s also the fact that choosing something that was in a film comes with a readymade story attached. “This is the whisky glass Deckard drank from in Bladerunner”, is a great icebreaker if nothing else!”

So who are the designers that Paula rates?

“For me the team-work between director and production designer is what produces these jaw dropping visual feasts”, says Paula. “Pedro Almodovar for example, has an amazing partnership with a production designer called Anton Gomez.”

Still of Penelope Cruz as Raimunda in Almodovar's Broken Embraces.

Penelope Cruz as Raimunda in Almodovar’s Broken Embraces. Photo: © Emilio Pereda & Paola Ardizzoni

Other’s she cites are Mark Digby, production designer on Slumdog Millionaire and Ex Machina. Adam Stockhausen of Grand Budapest Hotel and Bridge of Spies fame. And Anna Pinnock who designed Gosford Park and Skyfall, and worked with Stockhausen on Grand Budapest Hotel.

And of course Kubrick. We’ve already mentioned the Shining, but 2001: A Space Odyssey is a ground-breaking film, not least for its use of design. The need for science fiction films to create a world that doesn’t yet exist provides a rich hunting ground for design enthusiasts (our third mystery film was also from the genre). It is arguably in this ouvre that the potentially visionary and influential nature of design in films is most literally expressed.

“His vision of the future was so powerful that we can’t escape it.”

Paula spent time in the Kubrick Archives at the London College of Communication reading Kubrick’s letters. “He wrote to brands, asking them to ‘redesign their products for the year 2001’. The result is is one of the earliest examples of product placement”. The reception in the Space Station Five scenes was designed by Hilton Hotels. The same scene also feature the famous Djinn chairs designed by Oliver Morgue. The floating pen in the shuttle scene was a Parker, the cutlery was designed by Arne Jacobsen. Kubrick was not only creating a film masterpiece, he was driving design innovation as well. “His vision of the future was so powerful that we can’t escape it, almost every science fiction film you see is influenced by it. And even beyond that, with my other hat on as a designer, one of our clients is Virgin Galactic. 2001 has come up so many times in our meetings with them.”

A still of Space Station Five in in 2001: A Space Odyssey, with the red Djinn chairs by Olivier Mourgue.

Film still © Warner Bros, Metro Goldwyn Mayer

We hope you’ve enjoyed our quick deep-dive into the world of film and furniture design. We’re now obsessed with the Juvet Hotel in Norway as result of reading Paula’s piece on Ex Machina. If there’s something you have long coveted on the silver screen, but didn’t know where to start looking, maybe Film and Furniture can help you.

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