Julie & Julia – Set Decoration

Last week Mark Ricker, Production Designer for Julie & Julia, filled us in on his role for creating the sets (and reinforcing the feel) for the movie. Production Design works hand-in-hand with Set Decoration, and on this film Susan Bode Tyson took on the task of gathering the stuff.

Once the Director and Production Designer decide what will be shot on location, what will be sets and the feel that those spaces should have, the Set Decorator begins to fill in the blanks. “From there my assistant and I begin to look in all sorts of places for pieces that we think express who the character is. We photograph lots of stuff and then put together a collage of what we think works,” explains Susan.

These concepts are eventually presented to the Production Designer and Director who make selections on what they feel best reflects the characters in the film. “There is always a pile of maybes and rejects as well. Think of it as soup to nuts – it’s not just the furniture – it’s the little things that give hints as to who the character is. I save things like burned down candles, old worn soaps and burnt potholders and am constantly switching out my worn wooden spoons to use in the sets. I had an old kitchen soap that went from movie to movie until it got lost!”

And from where do all these treasures come? Nearly everywhere. “A lot of the more posh pieces (for this film) came from Newell’s Art Galleries. Most of the fabrics were swatched from the D&D Building, but others were purchased on the Lower East Side. We shop everything from antique shops to thrift shops and even Craig’s List and garage sales. Many of the antique stoves came from a dealer in the Midwest.”

And each set is not static. Pieces move in and out and around to reinforce the passage of time and all of that is planned in advance. “I always wonder if people notice those things!” Yes, Susan, crazy design blog reading (and writing) people do.

Susan Bode Tyson has worked as Set Decorator on many films, including You’ve Got Mail, and was nominated for an Academy Award in Set Decoration for Bullets Over Broadway; you can read the complete interview here. Julie & Julia opens August 7th.
All images courtesy of Sony Pictures; photography by Jonathan Wenk.
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36 thoughts on “Julie & Julia – Set Decoration

  1. Courtney – she is likely changing her email as I did go on a bit about the You've Got Mail sets. I was thinking about those presentation boards, too.

  2. Cannot wait for this movie, and now you have sparked my interest in set decoration, which just never occurred to me to peak into pre-release. Well done. Worth someone having to change their email address!

  3. fascinating. I am currently obessing over Meryl's nose – it looks like maybe they made it wider for the film? doesn't she just look like Julia? and what a fun job = shopping for a life? sounds dreamy. really great Patricia.

  4. What a fun job. I can just imagine it is akin to looking for a needle in a haystack in order to find just the right soap or loose thread on Julia's apron. (made ya look!)
    bravo Patricia!

  5. That's a lot of work for them to get all the stuff together for a film, but I'll bet it's enjoyable too! It must feel good when it all comes together.

  6. What fun and a great read for us! Notice the outline of the pans on the peg board. Paul's idea (the artist) to help keep Julia's kitchen a tad more organized. I do remember reading some where her admonition if you worry about how many dirty dishes you are creating you'll never be a great cook. My husband, the dishwasher, would always roll his eyes at that one.

  7. While in D.C. this past Spring, I visited Julia's 'real' kitchen (reassembled) in the Smithsonian. I loved that her kitchen had such style – in a "non-styled" sort of way! It was very cluttered yet organized at the same time… in a casual, cozy fashion. A true home kitchen with soul.

    Thanks for sharing these photos and insights!

    Jenny Steffens

  8. What I would give to be Susan Tyson's assistant and work on those preliminary collages! I used to live in Manhattan's Lower East Side and know just the fabric shops they must scoured after picking from the usual selection at the D&D—how fun! Great post, I am now eagerly awaiting the film. On another note, I just adored your interview on The Skirted Round Table, you are a true inspiration!

  9. My husband and I are always stopping and going back to see parts of houses we see in movies. For that reason, it can take us a while to get through a movie with interesting set designs.

    Just now, looking at one of the photos you posted, I realized a solution to my kitchen shelving question.

    Love your blog.

  10. Fascinating illumination into set design and production. I will have new perspective when I see the film.

    Great post!

  11. Hi Patricia-

    The set is so chic! I've loved your two posts on this set design. I think you scooped everyone, which is a coup and fantastic. Bravo to you.
    It's v v accomplished and Susan will win awards–and should win awards. Oscar on the way!
    Cheers, http://www.thestylesaloniste.com

  12. Fantastic postings! Can't wait to see the movie — and thanks to your wonderful research — it will be even more rewarding! I wonder where set decorators store all of their "used" items?

    Jan at Rosemary Cottage

  13. Wonderful post Mrs. Blandings. I have been reading much on this film working up a post myself on the food. Two noteworthy tidbits:

    1. According to the food stylist for the film, Susan Spungen, she was understandably nervous about recreating the Sole Meunière (Julia Childs' first meal in France which she called “the most exciting meal of my life” in her memoir) for close up photography with only ten fillets of sole on hand with which to experiment. And,

    2. With the topic and the chef representing the finest epicurean cuisine in the world, Nora Ephron, the director, and a quite capable chef herself, noted that her favorite food was grilled cheese.

    Something to be said for the beauty of basics, I suppose.

  14. I have an original 1973 kitchen just about to be demolished with a sledge hammer as part of our desperate renovations. Maybe I need to tell Mr. Serial Renovator to go easy. The Australian film industry is going through a mini Renaissance at the moment & our vintage tangerine, olive green & mission brown kitchen may suddenly become a much sought-after period piece on set! I've so enjoyed these 2 posts Patricia, thank you.
    Millie ^_^

  15. I'm going Tuesday night to a screening where Julie will do a Q&A after the film. So excited! Part of me wants to smuggle in a roast chicken to snack on while watching…

  16. What a fabulous job, I could imagine doing something like that, designing sets and getting it just so….
    I can't wait to see the movie!
    Thanks, Patricia for showing it!

  17. I have always been so intrigued by set design and this was so interesting. I can't wait to see the movie on Saturday night. Thanks.

  18. I just saw the Movie… I loved it!
    I was wondering if anyone can tell me who makes the chairs in Julie's dining room? This is what I have been looking for and there they are taunting me on the screen lol 🙂 …gina

  19. Do you have any idea about the framed pictures hanging above Julie's bed in their studio? I loved those.

  20. I would love to know if anyone could tell me where the curtains in Julie's living room (by the computer) came from, or even the material. That is the perfect blue and its the accent color in my living room. I've just redone it and have been looking for curtains. They would be beyond PERFECT! please help
    E-mail me if you know…
    Thanks Gen

  21. I would love to know about the curtains from Julie's living room as well! If anyone knows, I would love to find out from where they came. Thanks so much!

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