Fifty Shades Darker’s set decorator reveals the secrets behind the movies lavish interiors
We catch up with the amazing Carolyn ‘Cal’ Loucks to discuss her work and all things Fifty Shades
It’s not very often that you get to pick the brain of one the most accomplished design professionals working in the movie industry, but we had the pleasure of doing just that when we caught up with the uber-talented Cal Loucks. A native of Ontario Canada, Cal has been working in the industry since the early ‘90s. Chances are you’ve watched a movie she’s decorated. As well as the upcoming Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed, Cal has worked on such blockbusters as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, RoboCop, Total Recall, Max Payne, The Incredible Hulk…to name a few. There is no doubt that this is a woman at the top of her game.
Seen On Set: How did you find the profession of set decoration?
Cal Loucks: I was an actress and a dancer until I was 24. I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree specializing in Theatre and of all things Dance Therapy! I believe that the fabulous profession of Set Decoration found me.
SOS: You have worked as a set decorator on some pretty big tent-pole productions over the years. During those early years learning your trade in Canada did you ever dream you would be decorating these types of movies?
Cal: I never sought out Set Decoration because I was so focused on theatre; but it turns out that everything I had accomplished in my past, lead me to this career. Once I began working in the business, the opportunities and challenges, not only larger budgets but more complex designs, attracted me like a magnet and they pushed the bounds of what I could bring creatively to every project. I have and continue to be very passionate about my career. Did I dare to dream? Yes I did and I still do.
SOS: Your CV is undoubtedly impressive. We have coveted many of the sets you have decorated, but one of the most anticipated is the upcoming Fifty Shades Darker. Given the level of international attention the interior design and decoration the first movie received did you feel pressure to keep up with the expectations that come with the highly-stylised “Fifty Shades” aesthetic?
Cal: Thanks for the very flattering compliments. As a fan of the Fifty Shades novels and a Set Decorator, when I was offered the opportunity to decorate the next two movies, I wanted to make sure everyone involved in the project was on board to tell the story in a new creative direction. It would not have been satisfying to repeat the status quo and E.L. James was especially pleased with the new design concepts that Nelson and I had developed. Given that Fifty Shades is a fantasy and a fairy tale; there are so many new adventures in the next 2 movies; so it made sense to me to push the boundaries. We wanted to create a more lush mysterious and perhaps warmer world for Christian. In a way, Christian’s apartment is another character in this movie. The choices I made in the art, lighting, textiles and style are not only luxurious and sensuous they speak very specifically about what kind of a man Christian is - impeccable taste, incredibly sexy, young, vibrant unbelievably successful with a west coast lifestyle.
SOS: I understand that Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed were shot back-to-back. Did this require a longer pre-production lead-in time for yourself and Nelson Coates (production designer)?
...prior to starting the film officially, I had done a fair amount of research on contemporary homes of some very successful west coast men...
Cal: Ha! Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed were actually shot concurrently! In other words we were shooting different scenes from the 2 movies on the same day. Of course, luckily, I had an incredible On Set Dressing team so they were very diligent about continuity. But there were shooting days when we had more complex change-overs which required that we re-dress overnight so that the crew could come back the next day to shoot a scene from the other movie. Did we get extra prep - surprisingly no. Nelson and I started within days of each other. We had 10 weeks to prep 2 movies.
SOS: Christian Greys’ apartment is something we’re looking forward to seeing. What approach did you take to decorating this pivotal set? Has much changed from the first movie?
Cal: I can hardly wait for the audience to see the apartment and all the new rooms! My approach was to convey Christian’s unique position as a very sexy, young multi-millionaire living in Seattle. To tell this story, Christian’s apartment is another character in the movie. As I mentioned before, everyone was on board for upping the ante on style. Prior to starting the film officially, I had done a fair amount of research on contemporary homes of some very successful west coast men - (bachelors!) - Nelson and I found a lot of inspiration from that. And although the apartment has its original foot print, Nelson made some very impressive architectural changes in the original main floor which allowed him the freedom to carry on those designs on the other parts of the apartment. The choices I made were very much masculine, deeper richer colors, contemporary and specific to Christians character. I think that the audience will love the choices I made. It is true to the type of man Christian is.
There are over 70 pieces of art and sculpture in the apartment - collected in the vast majority from West Coast artists from Southern California straight through to British Columbia, but as you might expect form a worldly playboy, international as well. Perhaps the art will astonish the audience the most.
SOS: From the outside looking in, the offices of Grey Enterprises Holdings look like they are a set decorators dream. With Christians’ propensity towards luxury high-end designer furniture, please tell us it was fun to choose the furniture and décor for a millionaire playboy?
Cal: As you may know, I have been doing a lot of action packed tent pole productions. Fifty was not only a chance to flex my high-end design muscles again but I got to deal with testosterone of a different type if you know what I mean. This was a Decorators dream to have some fun. I certainly did!
SOS: Something we enjoy is the juxtaposition of Anastasia’s apartment interiors to that of Christian’s world. It’s much more rustic and homely. But with a certain eclectic mix of décor that seems very fitting of a young journalist. Having that variation must excite a set decorator?
Cal: Certainly, Ana’s living is in a very different stratosphere than Christians but I think that Ana is not living in a sad place at all. Although she does not have money, she shares a warm Seattle-funky apartment with a great friend. Isn’t that what it’s all about in your twenties? She loves books (something she and Christian share) and she has created a life for herself. In the first movie Ana’s new apartment had barely been unpacked but now we see how they have arranged things and gotten comfortable. I wanted Ana’s place to show she has a budding artistic sense (she writes after all) and her good friend Jose is a photographer so some of his work is hanging in the apartment. There is definitely a huge difference between Christian and Ana but that is why it is important to show the things they may have in common such as art and books.
SOS: The masquerade ball scenes look exquisite. Where in Vancouver were these scenes shot? It must be good to play with period props in a contemporary movie?
Cal: And this is what makes my world so much fun!! The range of glamorous sets on these movies - who gets to do this for an entire movie? The Masquerade Ball in the story takes place at Christian’s parents’ house in their enormous back yard. We used the same location as the first movie for the exterior and interior of the family mansion. However, as the ballroom tent was in fact too large for the actual house location, we built the entire tent structure at the Vancouver Convention Centre. I rented over 800 feet of 20’ high x 10’ wide panels of red and green velvet drapes for the walls. Plus all of the other drapes of Blue and gold...for swags and draping at the entrances etc. The 9 chandeliers were rented from Mount Pleasant Props in Vancouver. Omega Props in LA provided the beautiful Venetian lamp posts and cherub lamps. I designed the tables and the Venetian masks with the peacocks and bird cage center pieces for the ballroom tables. We cleaned out the red velvet roses in North America!
SOS: Do you have a favorite set or location?
Cal: The Gala for sure was certainly the most fun but my favourite was Christian’s apartment because it means so much to the fans to get it right.
SOS: As we love finding furniture and décor seen on sets for our readers, is there any piece sourced for Fifty Shades Darker that you love and would like to have yourself?
...if I could really have just one thing from the set, it would be the beautiful photography piece Anja #22...
Cal: Anything from the Minotti collection such as the Seymour tête-à-tête sofa in the living room. Minotti was incredible for us. Their latest furniture collection Seymour is featured in the Living and dining room of Christian’s apartment. The Minotti furniture with its beautiful leather and textiles, exuded the warmth and luxury we were looking for. I wish I had a living room that large. But if I could really have just one thing from the set, it would be the beautiful photography piece Anja #22 by Australian photographer and artist Lilli Waters. It hangs in the dining room. I just love it.
You can find more on Nelson Coates at nelsoncoates.com.
Browse more of the furniture, lighting and décor on our Fifty Shades Darker page.