movie special affects

September 10th 2013 Comments: 5 Topics: , ,

For inspiration, we drink from many different fonts but one that we seem to return to again and again is found in the movie theater.
It often seems set designers know more about creating evocative spaces than architects and interior designers. Their cinematic spaces are not only often breathtakingly beautiful but also serve as canvases conveying a story needing to be told. What is our job but to create spaces where the drama of our clients’ lives are set to unfold?  As the man said, why can’t life truly be more like the movies?

While a film set’s built walls are always temporary, their designer’s inspirational lessons are often long-lasting. The following films are a few examples where we took cues and jumped into action:
This house, designed for a farm in Indiana, was directly inspired by the Merchant-Ivory film, “Howards End”. As a matter of fact, when the client was asked what style of house she wanted, she told us to just watch this movie and create the ambiance of the ivy covered cottage. No other direction was given. Or needed.


One of Bobby’s own personal favorites is the set of Rebecca’s bedroom in Hitchcock’s melodrama “Rebecca”. The scale of this room is absurd – it’s as if no ceiling exists. The gauzy drapery covering the windows continues up and up ad infinitum. Bobby took this dramatic scale cue and employed it in his own personal Manderlay salon. Luckily, Mrs. Danvers never showed up to belittle his presence.


Movie color palates can also be a lush source of inspiration. Susan Ferrier’s mind has always been haunted by the subtle hues of the 2007 film “Elizabeth The Golden Age”.  It shows in the rich depths of her interiors.


Sometimes the cinematic sway of direction comes from kids. A client’s daughter was totally enchanted by “Tangled” – Disney’s animated retelling of the Rapunzel fable. When her doting father asked if the tower from the film could be incorporated as a folly into his estate, we responded by turning a seemingly silly child’s desire into a fanciful guest house for the property.  We trust the lucky guest staying in this retreat (currently under construction) will not be held captive.


Wouldn’t everyone like their own personal movie lighting designer to illuminate their best side? So much can be gleaned watching how cinematographers, like the one from “The Girl With the Pearl Earring”, paint and embrace a space with light.  A bit of similar stagecraft was duplicated in one of our dining rooms.  A table is set awaiting a hungry Vermeer or Caravaggio for lunch.

So, if you find yourself needing to invigorate an idea for a project and you desperately seek a muse, her name may very well be Netflix.

Greg Tankersley for McAlpine Tankersley


  1. Jonas Hopkins says:

    Your skill and craft is unparalleled. The work of a true artist!

    I too find inspiration in film, specifically landscape architecture related. My favorite being some of Hayao Miyazaki. More recently I caught myself daydreaming about the architecture scenes from The Hours. Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s house in Richmond or Clarissa Vaughan’s flat in New York -It’s a great film too!

  2. Carolyn says:

    Yes! Years ago I had to buy the video of Howard’s End so I could pause it and look at the house and the interiors. Still very evocative for me. And don’t you just love it that the new owners’ carpets fit perfectly as if it was meant to be? Loved your version, too. I still have the clipping from a magazine featuring it.

  3. Do you know Eloise Stammerjohn? She does movie set design work and is a Montgomery native. (She and her mother are the visionaries who willed-into-being the home at Gilmer and Frederick that they crafted from a broken down bungalow moved from behind the Governor’s Mansion.) Every home I’ve ever know her to own or touch has that movie-like quality!

  4. Angel says:

    i was really amaze by the Rapunzel’s arhitectural design house turned into reality construction structure. i just wish if could have the architectural floor plans for my reference…thank you very much

  5. Joni Webb says:

    READ THIS!!! Love it and love all your choices. I found it while writing about the movie Tulip Fever which is much like Girl with the Pearl Earring!!!

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