5 Nostalgia-Evoking TV Series And Films Whose Design Choices We Love

There’s something in all of us that wants to turn back the clock. And when we do, revisiting the past often seems as though times were simpler and better. The cracks in the walls rarely appear and “nostalgia” floods our memory banks with good memories.

Production designers and set decorators also love to rewind the tape, since it offers such creative challenges to their artistic talents.

Over the past year, as people around the globe spent so much time indoors and streaming television series and films, programs that weren’t set in the present seemed to be especially appealing. Hence, the category of the Best Rooms to Evoke Nostalgia.

Here are the nominations:


Photo courtesy of Saeed Adyani/Netflix.

Ratched

This Netflix series was described as sinister glam and was a favorite of judge and set designer Derek McLane and others.

Production designer Judy Becker and set decorator Matthew Flood Ferguson were inspired by Arrowhead Springs Hotel in San Bernardino for the set, designed by the legendary Dorothy Draper, whose motto was, “Create classic style with a dash of daring.” Draper often used bold white walls and black and white marble floors with geometrics along with lacquered furnishings, which can be seen incorporated into the series.

Institutional chic was the objective here, and opting for a glam design was a good choice, say judges, as opposed to a gritty, depressing institution. The instituion appears as a converted stylish hotel, which certainly evokes feelings of nostalgia.


Photo courtesy of Saeed Adyani/Netflix.

Many liked the expansive office of sadistic Dr. Hanovoer (played by Jon Jon Briones) with its 20-foot-floor to ceiling strips of teal fabric and curved windows and shiny cherry wood desk and vibrant reddish rug. Doesn’t it seem like teal is always used as a color for anything vintage?


Photo courtesy of Saeed Adyani/Netflix.

However, green was the dominant color throughout the rooms in every possible shade. It becomes a fun exercise when rewatching the series to see all the ways Becker and Flood Ferguson used the color in such clever ways. Every piece was upholstered to fulfill Becker’s vision.

Judges also liked the guest rooms which were named after prints of the custom vintage wallpapers and the gathering room which was inspired by a picture of an old restaurant at Lord & Taylors, that feels so vintage yet stylish. And yes, it was painted green.


 


Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios.

One Night in Miami

Considering production designer Barry Robison had created the vision for the TNT series Snowpiercer, he already had experience in working with small spaces.

This award-winning film, directed by Regina King, may be a fictional account of Muhammad Ali, NFL player Jim Brown, singer Sam Cooke and Malcolm X meeting for one night in Miami, but the place they met is not fictional. It was based on the Hampton House.


Muhammad Ali pictured at Hampton House after Sonny Liston fight 1964 – Photo courtesy of historichamptonhouse.org

Yes, Miami was percolating with nightclubs and hotspots, but segregation laws were strictly enforced in 1964 and when Muhammad Ali – then known as Cassius Clay – defeated world champion Sonny Liston, he couldn’t stay in a hotel like the Fountainbleu. The Hampton House was the place where Miami’s ambitious Black community would stay.

This anchored the movie with authenticity. No one is nostalgic for those times of injustice, but the film did evoke a feeling of possibility for these characters to change their lives and the world.

“They successfully put the audience in a time machine and sent them back to a night in 1964,” says film critic Bill McCuddy. “Every detail of the motel interior is a vintage time capsule.”


 


Photo courtesy of Uli Hanisch/Netflix.

The Queen’s Gambit

“Hands down I loved the mother’s house,” says interior designer and judge Gail Davis. “The dining chairs reminded me of my grandparents and aunt’s metal dining chairs in their home. You could almost feel yourself sitting in the seat, looking out the café curtain window.”


Photo courtesy of Uli Hanisch/Netflix.

Set decorator Sabine Schaaf called the Wheatley House “1960s maximalist style.” “Beth’s adoptive mother has attempted to build a family home but instead her design choices imply questionable taste and a life in chaos,” says Schaaf. “The house as designed by Wheatley is a firework of wallpapers and fabrics, layered together like many American houses from that period. The graphics technically don’t fit.”


Photo courtesy of Uli Hanisch/Netflix.

But after Beth buys it, the viewer sees the subtle shift. “The main rooms of the house transform from deep teal to pink mod. Teal is however still used to tie the room together, although now the color is to be found in the smaller features, such as the lampshades. The serious landscape paintings filling Wheatley’s house are replaced by abstract and fresher artworks.”


 


Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Art critic Alexandra Peers was charmed by the Upper West Side pre-war apartment belonging to Midge Maisel’s parents – and where she lived post-divorce.

“Professor and Mrs. Weissman’s much-envied 10-room apartment overlooking Riverside Park speaks to a specific time of prosperity and seeming permanence in New York,” says Peers. “Sitting down to dinner with this family feels both comforting and an experience from another time.”


Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios.

It also becomes an iconic anchor. When the family had to move from that apartment into their ex-in-laws, you saw middle-class living, cramped quarters and loud blaring radios, a clunky television set and clutter – but which were all authentic to the period. One judge appreciated the room of the in-laws for this reason. Especially the in-laws’ butter yellow painted kitchen.


Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios.

But seeing the cocktail lounges which set decorator Ellen Christiansen and production designer Bill Groom created – especially for Midge’s comedy shows – transported us to not only another time but a place where we felt we could enjoy live shows again.

The overall feel is so glamorous and fun, as well as beautiful, that it became sentimentally memorable to audiences around the globe.


 


Photo courtesy of Netflix.

Mank

When a film is shot in black and in white, it usually is a visual cue for being a retro film. (Malcolm & Marie is the rare exception). It sets the tone that the director is taking you back in time to another era and place.

Some judges noticed how Herman Mankiewicz – the lead character who is writing the screenplay for Citizen Kane – is always smoking and it’s rare to see cigarettes in film today. As a result, there are many smoke-filled scenes that enhance this film-noir sensibility.


Photo courtesy of Netflix.

Some judges commented on the scenes in the lavish dining rooms that spoke of opulence and decadence simultaneously. A class system that was unforgiving and welcoming at the same time. Talent was a welcome mat, but play by the rules.

Set decorator Jan Pascale created rooms filled with not only smoke – but candelabras, cocktail glasses, vintage typewriters and movie cameras, black and white prints and sumptuous silk chairs and curtains. Everything felt of another time.

“The whole movie is nostalgia,” says film critic Roger Friedman of showbiz411.com. “Notice that there are no cell phones or media to interrupt the dialogue as there is in any film today. These rooms have so much atmosphere because people are concentrating on each other, and nothing else. They are talking to each other without a hurried feeling. In these movies, you have the sense of people paying attention to what each other is saying and we are truly nostalgic for that.”

Vote for your favorite below, and we’ll announce the winners April 22nd.

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