BootLeg Betty

Home Designers for Stepford

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Lavish interiors star on big screen
Films such as ‘Stepford Wives’ bring perfect decors to life
By Marge Colborn / Detroit News Design Editor
Photos by Andrew Schwartz

Photo is Bette’s kitchen after she has been Stepfordized

For more pics of Stepford: Click Here

A dramatic fireplace is the focal point in the two-story living room Nicole Kidman and husband Matthew Broderick call home in the movie.

Hurray for Hollywood — its glamorous movie stars, exotic locations, to-die-for wardrobes and, for hardcore decor buffs, its fantasy set designs.

While HGTV, most shelter magazines and design books satisfy the hoi polloi’s appetite for stylish interiors, the movie industry wins kudos for giving design afficionados what they crave — up-close and personal looks at opulent, over-the-top homes and interiors we can only dream about.

Over the decades, we’ve been treated to extravagant interiors in “Top Hat,” “Rebecca” and “The Fountainhead.” In 1948, a built-from-scratch home was Cary Grant’s co-star in “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House.” And who can forget Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner’s domestic brawls over precious possessions in 1989’s “The War of the Roses”?

Last year’s hit “Something’s Gotta Give” starring Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson was helped considerably by its setting, a fabulous Hamptons waterfront home.

A multi-million-dollar home in New Canaan, Conn., serves as the hangout for Kidman and Broderick, Stepford’s newest arrivals.

This summer, the interiors in Paramount’s “The Stepford Wives” may outshine its star-studded cast, which includes Nicole Kidman, Matthew Broderick, Bette Midler, Christopher Walken, Faith Hill and Glenn Close. A comedic commentary on pop culture, rampant consumerism and the quest for perfection, the film is based on Ira Levin’s book. Opening June 11, it’s about a community that dares to be perfect and learns that to err is indeed human.

“The beginning of the film is meant to look a little harsh,” says director Frank Oz. “That way, when we get to Stepford, everything looks that much more lovely and soft, including the women.”

The film’s opening stark shots are of steel, glass and concrete in New York City. It then moves to the grandeur of wealthy Connecticut estates.

Production designer Jackson De Govia and set decorator Debra Schutt scouted dozens of upscale New York and Connecticut homes and neighborhoods looking for the idealized town Paul Rudnick’s script called for, specifically a wealthy suburb where the rich come to relax and enjoy their gains.

The sophisticated foyer in Faith Hill’s abode features twin staircases and an arched entry to the rest of the elegant home.

“People in Stepford are enjoying the height of stylish luxury, and they make no apologies for their lifestyle,” says De Govia. “No one questions whether they deserve the opulence. They simply have it and intend to take full advantage of it.”

A six-burner, two-oven, stainless-steel range is set into an alcove in Bette Midler’s state-of-the-art kitchen.

A multi-million-dollar mansion in the exclusive community of New Canaan, Conn., serves as the stunning abode for Stepford’s newest arrivals played by Kidman and Broderick. The couple move into a decorator’s dream, complete with Ralph Lauren blue-and-white-striped sofas, a custom-made bed inspired by Nina Campbell, with fabrics by Bennison and sheets by Anichini, draperies by Cowtan & Tout and a claw-footed bathtub made by Lefroy Brooks.

As for the home of Stepford’s First Lady and official town hostess, played by Close, the filmmakers went wild with flowers, especially in the back yard. Check out the flower-bedecked pergola and high-end antique wicker furniture.

The home Midler shares with husband Jon Lovitz starts out as a cluttered intellectual look, complete with black leather furniture and contemporary art — perfect for the concept that the couple came from New York’s upper west side.

Later, when Midler is turned into a domestic goddess, the home is Stepfordized and decorated with designer furnishings by DR Dimes, Eldred Wheeler and O’Henry House, with rugs by Elizabeth Eakins.

Nicole Kidman’s master bathroom features a Lefroy Brooks free-standing tub, graceful chandelier and glass doors with a metal vine motif.

“It was really a lot of fun to transform her place from a rat’s nest of magazines, newspapers, frozen food containers and dirty clothes to a sumptuous and spotless home that you might find in the pages of Architectural Digest,” Schutt says. “In fact, the home itself becomes something of a metaphor for the Stepford wives who are transformed into architectural perfection, as well.”

A warm, flowery palette dominates Faith Hill’s home. Filled with Swedish antiques and silk drapes by Cowtan & Tout, the magnificent dwelling is awash in festive yellow, pink and lime. Florist Chris Bassett filled the entire back sunroom with orchids. If you love this home, you could actually purchase it — it’s in Darien, Conn., and for sale.

Perhaps one of the most remarkable sets in the film is Stepford’s grand ballroom. Enhanced by thousands of flowers, including exotic orchids from New Zealand, the centerpiece is a chandelier. Created by Belgian floral designer Daniel Ost, the stunning piece incorporates 600 glass globes lent to the production by Christies, the New York auction house.

De Govia describes the ballroom as an imaginary wing of a 19th-century mansion.

“It’s what happens,” he says, “when you have the means to exercise very, very good taste.”

Production designer Jackson De Govia and set decorator Debra Schutt accessorized Nicole Kidman’s den with topiaries, an oil painting, framed prints and books.

Designers’ favorite movies

* B.C. Cabangbang, Marshall Field’s: “Moulin Rouge” is memorable. Who would ever imagine Nicole Kidman living in an elephant? I liked “American Gigolo” with Richard Gere too — there was a very contemporary, cold house in the movie that reflected the very cold couple that lived there. “Basic Instinct” with Sharon Stone and Michael Douglas was set in San Francisco and had some wonderful, very modern interiors — also the movie’s disco, which was a gothic church, was different. Tara in “Gone with the Wind” was amazing — it was “Dynasty” before the TV series.

* Shirley Maddalena, Maddalena Design, Birmingham: Diane Keaton’s home in “Something’s Gotta Give” was very elegant, very gracious, but it also had nice, rounded edges. It felt inviting, and it brought you in. The very contemporary home in “The Usual Suspects” with Kevin Spacey was intriguing, sultry and mysterious. It was a dark movie, but the California home built into a hillside was very interesting, almost distracting. I liked the California bungalow in “L.A. Confidential” with Kim Basinger too. It was vintage and very charming. Quite sexy, really.

* Brian Collins, Marshall Field’s: I tend to get the most enjoyment from movie sets that are far removed from the familiar interiors of the present since I deal with that every day! My favorite movie interiors are the sleek, sophisticated art deco and art moderne sets from the classic black and white movies of Hollywood’s golden age in the 1930s, and, at the extreme other end of the spectrum, I find the detailed, historically accurate sets of movies from the likes of “Merchant Ivory” (“The Remains of the Day,” “Howards End,” “Jefferson in Paris”) to be a feast for the eyes.

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