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  • Writer's pictureDann Foley

Hollywood and the Home: How Movies Inspire the Way We Live


I doubt that it will be a revelation for me to say, that Hollywood can have a terrific influence on the way we live and see ourselves through our homes. It is, after-all the job of set designers, production designers and location scouts to help tell the story through the way the characters live. In fact, I will go so far as to say, that the background and sets are as important as the actors and dialogue. They work in unison to further the story through the visual representation of the lives depicted on film.


When it comes to my own work and my avenues of inspiration, I am fully aware of how Hollywood set design has influenced my own sense of style and design. For me though, I am very specific about a certain period of Hollywood set design. There is not greater arbiter of classic interior design than, what is known as, the Golden Age of Hollywood. Technically, the Golden Age of film began during the depression era of the late 1920s through the 1960s. The achievements mostly written about during that 40-year span is mostly in regard to the advancements in picture quality, sound and technique. But one must consider how those technical advances also advance the overall look and feel, as well as the authenticity of the sets.


I have spent a great many year’s studying classic films of the golden age and have come to the personal conclusions that there is not a greater set designer of the period than Edwin B. Willis. His work was nominated an astonishing 32 times and he won 8 Oscars. An incredible feat for anyone in the industry. What is funny is that, you probably have never heard of him. But if you love classic films, then I can assure you, you know his work. From Oscar winning films such as the Pride and Prejudice, to Mrs. Miniver to The Bad and The Beautiful. He created the living breathing backgrounds that made those characters more real, more life-like. That is what the most successful interiors do, they use those things of substance that we surround ourselves with as a narrative.


Mr. Willis spent his entire career working at MGM, the biggest of the glamour studios in the period. They were known for having, “More stars than the in the heavens above.” Those stars made some of the biggest films of the era and Edwin B. Willis was there creating living, breathing interiors for those characters. I like to say that if the script and costumes create the story, then the sets bring it all to life.


Like in the movies, our surroundings say a great many things about who we are. How we live tells our story. As I have said many times in these pages, living well it is not about how big your home is or how grand its style, it is the life we bring to our spaces that helps to define who we are.


Think about how many movies you have seen in your lifetime and which of those films has “stuck with you”. Beyond the story, do you know why you have remembered them for so long. Maybe it was the stars or the costumes or the homes and spaces depicted in them that left you feeling something…more. I have heard countless times from clients how they wanted a room or home just the like one that movie…you fill in the blank. We are influenced by those things around us that draw our attention. Movies are the perfect vehicle to help bring your own desires to life.


In the case of Edwin B. Willis, he designed spaces from the most-humble of cabins, and the grandest of palaces. Every interior had to feel authentic. How is that approach any different than designing and decorating your own home? Authenticity may be an overused word in the age of social media but, if you focus the idea of being authentic as an inward directed act of personal understanding, you can create the home of your dreams. When you make decisions based on your true story, select those things that spark emotions and memories, then you will always have a home that is truly authentic to who you are today. The story may be ever changing and evolving, as nature intends but, your home can help reflect your life and your growth. That is a home that says to others, “Oh yeah, this is so you!”.


A life is meant to be explored and experienced and a home is meant to be enjoyed and shared. Without trying to sound too philosophical, I hope that you will realize that your choices are not random, nor are they based on how much money you spend. Those things that you choose to live with should feel like old friends…or new friends. Either way, tell the world you let in who you are. Show them what a life well lived can look like.


Live Well!


Designer Dann


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