Wallpaper on Film
We take a look at some of the best uses of wallpaper on the big and small screen
Wallpaper can play an enhanced role in a movie or television show as a signifier of a time period or place. It can remind us of a character’s background or their future aspirations, it can hint at characters’ flaws and motives, it can skilfully and subtly manipulate the audience. Often it can serve as a cheap joke about tastelessness. But mostly its use gives a subtle definition to interior spaces, and places them thematically and socio-economically at the heart of the story. We have put together some of the most famous and most interesting uses of wallpaper on screen.
In Sherlock (2010-present), production designer Arwel Wyn Jones treated the apartment at 221b Baker Street as a transient rental place where lots of people would have lived over the years. This allowed him to play with different finishes, textures and wallpapers to visually deliver the traces of the people who had lived there. The stand-out Zoffany wallpaper looks particularly good on screen, flanked on another wall by green-painted folded paper by Anaglypta. The wallpaper in multi-billionaire Magnussen’s bedroom in ‘His Last Vow’ episode however, by contrast looks much more expensive and luxurious. But Arwel Wyn Jones sourced it, while under pressure to finish the set, at John Lewis.
In the opening sequence of the critically acclaimed Holy Motors (2012) a man, ‘The Dreamer’ (played by the director Leos Carax himself) wakes from a deep sleep and begins to explore the room. He finds a door hidden in the walls which is covered in wallpaper patterned with a dense thickness of slender, bare trees that extend into a two-dimensional distance, its ghostly mist both intimidating and inviting. He opens a door in the forest wall and walks through it, entering a movie theatre and so, the story can begin.
In the sitcom scenes in Natural Born Killers (1994) one wall is covered with a large floral pattern wallpaper and if you look closely you can see another wall is covered with a smiley face pattern wallpaper. These wallpaper patterns were used to exaggerate Mallory’s (Juliette Lewis) past, and to show she lives in a distorted artificial world. As well as creating her warped memories of innocence and violence merged together. Production designer Victor Kempster has worked on many of Oliver Stone’s movies.
The Jeff Nicholls-directed drama Loving (2016) has lots of wonderful wallpaper patterns. These are awash with flower and tree motifs, in pale pinks and soft blues, reminding us of our parents’ faded wedding dinnerware: nostalgia and memory evoked in a single shot. The wallpapers Nicholls and production designer Chad Keith use conjure up images of empty rolling farmland, solitary houses at the end of dusty driveways, and faded photographs hung on the patterned walls of quiet kitchens.
In A Clockwork Orange (1971) production designer John Barry used a fabulous range of bright colorful wallpapers, shiny foil and plastic bubble coverings to help display a future an audience had not seen on screen before. Today, Barry’s spectacular production design on A Clockwork Orange evokes a distorted 1970s. With its characteristic furniture, absence of modern technology and outrageous wall patterns, it remains very appealing to the contemporary viewer, and thereby transcends time.
Pedro Almodovar’s All About My Mother (1999), with production designer Antxón Gómez’s keen warm vision, is a beautiful, loving film was a hit with critics and moviegoers alike. It has numerous very vibrant wallpapers scattered throughout the movie. For instance, Manuela’s (Cecilia Roth) Barcelona apartment is a textured and colourful set with stunning 70’s style wallpaper.
In Stranger Things (2016), production designer Chris Trujillo brought the Netflix show’s vision of Spielberg-inflected ’80s Americana to life. His secret to achieving the show’s lived-in ’80s look was rummaging through estate sales in the suburbs. Trujillo created one of the set walls by printing the wallpaper pattern onto sheets of latex. Atlanta, where the series was shot, represented an archetypal Americana.
The Great Gatsby (2013). Production designer Catherine Martin created a believable and desirable world that reinterpreted the much-loved American novel. Gatsby’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) bedroom is defined by geometric shapes, an element of Art Deco style. The walls are covered in a harlequin pattern of crisscrossed cream silk diamonds and ribbons of wood. The wall coverings repeat the diamonds and symmetrical images on the carpet under the bed, designed by Martin herself.
American Hustle (2013). Production designer Judy Becker, who was nominated for an Oscar for her work on this movie, and set decorator Heather Loeffler, covered the 70s-era interior of Rosalyn’s (Jennifer Lawrence) apartment in numerous different vintage foil-patterned wallpapers. But the importance wallpaper played in the movie is felt in this quote from Becker himself: “The opening scene of American Hustle is quite unforgettable. Irving, (Christian Bale), is in the Plaza Hotel fixing his toupé in a gilded mirror against navy and pale blue damask wallpaper. Stylistically, it sets the tone for the whole film. It took five trials to get the custom-made flocked wallpaper right”. "It’s very true to the period and very true to what the Plaza actually looked like, but we wanted it to seem not quite as rich and elegant in the opening scene."
In the timeless Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) Paul’s (George Peppard) apartment, in the swanky New York brownstone at 169 71st Street on the Upper East Side, is polished and smooth. This is where the movie adaptation of Truman Capote’s classic story is set and the apartment has been furnished by his “decorator,” a woman known only as 2-E (Patricia Neal). Holly’s (Audrey Hepburn) apartment is still an almost contemporary interior. The movie was nominated for several Academy Awards including Best Art Direction.
For the production design and decoration of Martin Scorsese’s epic biopic The Aviator (2004), depicting the early years of legendary director and aviator Howard Hughes’, he looked to his frequent design collaborators Dante Ferretti (production design) and Francesca Lo Schiavo (set decoration). They won a string of awards for their masterful work on this lavish production, including a Bafta and an Oscar. The scene above, in which eccentric germaphobe Howard Hughes desperately scrubs his hands and clothes in a restaurant bathroom, features the eye-catching Martinique Banana Palm wallpapper. Originally designed by decorator Don Loper in 1942 for the Beverly Hills Hotel. It has since made numerous on-screen appearances, including on hit comedy Friends.
The design of La La Land (2016) was something very special indeed. So much so that it won the Academy Award for best production design. Husband-and-wife team, production designer David Wasco and set decorator Sandy Reynolds-Wasco created a visual feast for the eyes. But it’s the more subtle design moments we’re interested in. Like the design of Mia’s (Emma Stone) apartment. It is decorated in bright primary colors to reflect the Technicolor city where love stories and dreams are made, adding complementary hues to Stone’s Hollywood star quality. The palette reminds us of classic Disney movies and La La Land definitely has a similar range of nostalgic colors.
The wallpaper featured throughout Lucky Number Slevin (2006) subsequently became a talking point and is still referenced in many corners today. Production designer François Séguin’s use of wallpaper was a deliberate attempt to play with patterns and themes that would create unique juxtaposing visuals for the viewer. With so many different uses of wallpaper throughout the movie, it is hard to pick one favorite. But if we had to, it would probably be the wallpaper in the hallway leading to Slevin’s apartment. With an almost three-dimensional pattern, it seems completely out of place, forcing home the uneasy sense that Slevin’s world is in a state of disarray. Try Second Hand Rose vintage wallpapers - you might get “lucky”! Many of their wallpapers are used by production designers and set decorators in movies and TV shows. You could also try Astek Wallcoverings, L.A.
On Shutter Island (2010) director Martin Scorsese once again teamed up with long-time collaborators, production designer Dante Ferretti and set decorator Francesca Lo Schiavo. Scorsese is renowned for his visual storytelling and the detailed design and clarity of his movies, each of which evoke a particular place and time. Ferretti is one of the most distinguished – and multi-award winning - production designers in cinema history. Shutter Island’s unsettling atmosphere was created by Ferretti, and Francesca, Ferretti’s wife of 25 years, with their meticulously researched, atmospheric, almost painterly, period details. With Scorsese and Ferretti working together, who are both masters of the visual story, the sets in Shutter Island (and in particular, the dream sequences) are almost characters themselves, enthralling us with menace, unease and anxiety.
Surprise hit Billy Elliot (2000) is a triumphant coming-of-age movie with impeccable production design by Maria Djurkovic. The strongly-patterned wallpaper and the shabby furniture displayed in Billys’ (Jamie Bell) home portray the family’s social class. The kitchen has an avocado fern-pattern, while the hallway features a bright green and yellow floral pattern. The wallpaper is a reminder of Billy’s late mother, whom he clearly misses greatly. The bright yellows and blues visually set up the story, from the yellow in Billy’s bedroom symbolising happiness and the ice blue of the kitchen to the cool grey-blue of the audition at the Royal Ballet School in London, which is also a reflection of the social class in which it is positioned. But it’s the opening sequence that has become equally famous on its own. We see Billy dancing and jumping in front of yellow sunburst wallpaper in his room. This is a brilliant visual device achieved by Djurkovic. Through colour and pattern, symbolising his quest for, and discovery of, happiness through dance. It remains a joy to watch.
Garden State (2004) production design is by Judy Becker, with set decoration by her long-term collaborator Heather Loeffler. Becker has worked on many projects, including American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook, and has proven she can create fully realized worlds in any genre or time period. She works in a “naturalist” fashion so as not to distract the audience. However, in this movie she does ask the audience to pay attention when in one scene Large’s (Zac Braff) shirt is the same pattern as the wallpaper. Large’s mother is depressed and his father emotionally unavailable, while Sam (Natalie Portman) comes from a loving but chaotic family. Becker signifies the difference between them by the visual presentation of their homes: Large’s family house and his Hollywood apartment are minimalist and almost colourless - apart from the bathroom which his mother redecorates in floral wallpaper before she dies. Sam’s house is full of color and exuberance, which is superbly rendered: Garden State remains one of our favorite movies.
If you don’t see your favorite wallpaper seen on screen above let us know in the comment section...
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