What is interior design without a flair for the dramatic? Much like film, interior design forms a narrative. The way in which characters act out a scene on screen is not much different from how we perform our daily lives in the spaces where we live. The interior design around us serves as a backdrop and acts as a catalyst for family gatherings, quiet moments alone, and at times, dramatic confrontations. Set design and interior design both work to establish a mood, create a flow, and play a role. So, it only makes sense that interior design would be influenced by the power of film and vice versa. When I was an interior design student, one of the most important lessons I learned before opening my own interior design firm in Austin, Texas, was to pay attention to interior design schemes in film.
Movies capture the essence of past decades or go on to influence new design movements. The popularity of the 1920s and 30s lavish Art Deco design era was mainly due in part to the work of set designer Cedric Gibbons, who incorporated the style into his films to promote an escapist mentality in an effort to relieve audiences of the stresses of the Great Depression. Art Deco design would not have existed in the same way if it wasn’t for a bit of movie magic. So, put down the textbook and head to the TV. These are the top 10 movies every interior design student needs to watch.
Interior Design 101: Movies That Showcase the Design Trade
Auntie Mame (1958)
Most of us go into interior design because we can’t help ourselves when it comes to redecorating our apartments. The first movie on the list is my favorite for this very reason. In the film Auntie Mame, the main character redecorates her apartment six times with styles ranging from modern to traditional to Asian-inspired. Make sure to take note of the ever-changing staircase! This movie sparked my passion for the design field. We all need a film like this to keep us motivated through the ups and downs of the trade.
The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
The Devil Wears Prada is a film that showcases beautiful set design and teaches essential lessons on the origination of trends and earning your place in the design world. The worlds of fashion and interiors are interrelated and often criticized by those who don’t understand the work and detail that go into each choice. Memorize the cerulean blue monologue because it looks like the devil designs interiors as well.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
If you want to be an interior designer, you must go to New York and have breakfast at Tiffany’s. While Breakfast at Tiffany’s doesn’t feature six renovations like Auntie Mame, both Holly Golightly and Paul Varjak redecorate their beautifully shot and somewhat realistic NYC apartments. Holly shifts from her bohemian style and iconic half-bathtub couch to a South American ranch look when she dates a Brazilian millionaire. Paul allows his design choices to be steamrolled by his older lover/interior designer, Mrs. Failenson. Both cases are a reminder to stay true to the client’s personality throughout the design process.
The Philadelphia Story (1940)
The Philadelphia Story was inspired by a real-life house and one of America’s most famous socialite families. Every detail about this film reflects the aspirational luxury that, on some level, we all wish to attain. The interior design of this film features a refined home and one of the best pool houses ever seen. It also reminds us that luxury design hinges on restraint, details, and quality rather than ostentatious flash. During the construction of the Ardrossan Estate, which was the muse for the film, the decorating firm aimed to keep “everything…as plain as possible but of a quality unsurpassed.” When watching, take note of the small details and simplicity of elegance. The design of this set is like a glass of champagne!
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Wes Anderson is known for crafting beautifully composed films that keep the viewer at arm’s length of his whimsical worlds. The Grand Budapest Hotel sets offer lessons in symmetry, balance, and color as each room is curated to transport you to a different world. This film would also influence the interior design of the decade, with numerous commercial establishments and homes mimicking the palettes of pale pastels and Millennial Pink.
Interior Design History: Movies That Exemplify Design Style Eras
Marie Antoinette (2006)
Movies can also showcase a period of design history and what it was like to move through and live in a space. Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette transports the audience to the decadent and “cake-like” interior of the Palace of Versailles, one of the best examples of Baroque interior design and architecture. The Baroque period occurred during the early 17th century and featured exuberant detail, mirror, gold, and crystal to inspire a sense of awe.
The Great Gatsby (2013)
The Great Gatsby is a prime example of Art Deco interior design and the era’s glitz and glamour. Art Deco design dominated the design trends of the 1920s and featured an embrace of new materials paired with global inspiration. Metallics, bold colors, geometric patterns, and elaborate ornamentation were all popular design elements.
The Graduate (1967)
The 1960s backdrop of The Graduate beautifully captures the iconic mid-century modern style. Mrs. Robinson’s well-stocked bar features a monochrome black and white palette set off by the lush gardens outside. The floor-to-ceiling windows showcase the style’s celebration of modern engineering, connection to nature, and airy feel. Los Angeles glamour has never looked better.
“If you don’t let me gut out this house and make it my own, I will go insane, and I will take you with me!” What interior designer hasn’t felt this way at some point? While the plot of Beetlejuice centers around a quirky, some may say terrifying, remodel, it actually is an excellent example of postmodern interior design. The postmodern design movement values form over function, bold colors, a mix of high and low culture, and unapologetic wit. Postmodern design elements are evident in the porch that gives a free-floating illusion and iconically macabre dining room.
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Contemporary design looks to the future and reflects the here and now in the interior design world. A Clockwork Orange, directed by Stanley Kubrick, is a dystopian crime film set in near-future Britain featuring futuristically-contemporary sets of a wide variety of homes. While it portrays a not-so-pleasant alternative future, the attention to details of the set reflects the film’s unsettled times and the world in which the characters live.
Amity Worrel is an award-winning interior designer based in Austin, Texas. She has worked on high-end interior design projects for celebrities and tastemakers in NYC, LA, and the Bahamas. In 2008, Amity decided to bring her passion for diverse design back to her hometown of Austin. Her spaces pull from timeless design concepts ranging from coastal contemporary to cozy cottage to Austin eclectic. Emotional connections, functional flow, and a touch of humor remain central to every interior design scheme. Her work has been published in national and local publications, including The Wall Street Journal, House Beautiful, HGTV Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, and Austin Home. In her free time, she loves perusing estate sales and diving into design history. Learn more about Amity.