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  • Writer's pictureVictoria Brazell

Movies from the 1980s with Striking Interiors

Updated: Jul 23, 2021

The three movies from my childhood that I most remember aren’t necessarily connected by an actor or actress, a theme or cinematic style. Rather they all had really striking sets which had a lasting effect on me. Take “16 Candles”. Production designer John Corso hit the nail on the head again and again with this 1984 film. The Baker household is the epitome of a suburban upper-middle class home. (Just look at this kitchen with its tan wooden cabinetry paired with orange and yellow wallpaper. I love it for its now retro-ness.)

The movie especially sings with the designs for the teenager bedrooms. Each one was so well-crafted to reflect not only the character, but contemporaneous teen culture. After seeing this movie, I thought for weeks on end about Samantha Baker’s bedroom with its wrought-iron bed, her collection of hats grouped around the room and the posters which ranged from the iconic NYC Ballet (a glimpse can be seen to the left of mirror in the 2nd picture below) to Squeeze. I had no idea then about Squeeze’s songs, but knew enough to sense that this was a cool room which was clearly decorated by Samantha.

The most important thing about this room and the bedrooms of her friend best-friend Randi and crush Jake Ryan was that they were spaces in which each teen could explore who they were: Samantha – romantic, feminine, artistic, Randi – a tell-it-like-it-is girl who reigned in her industrial gray bedroom with pops of red. And Jake, the sensitive hearthrob who despaired over the antics of his drunk girlfriend in a room that can be described as well turned-out modern prep.

Movie-goers got to see the images, colors and textures each teen was drawn to and more importantly, see how they used these elements to build a refuge away from the outside world. You could sense that adults in particular were not welcomed into any of these bedrooms and even if they were, the posters, the mess, the moodiness of these rooms made it clear that these were the realm of YOUTH and the future – something the adults couldn’t possibly understand. After seeing that movie, I really picked up the idea of my bedroom as a place where I could create a space through objects, colors and patterns that reflected me. It was a liberating realization that interior design works best when it reflects the person who lives in that room.

Next, was “The Goonies” released in 1985. (Was there anything more wonderous than the initial glimpse of the pirate ship?) When the kids finally reach the last stage of their treasure hunt and come across this hulking, centuries-old galleon with its massive sails still unfurled, it’s the apex of many kids wildest dreams!

But it gets even better, as the kids go inside “The Inferno” and reach the lair of One Eyed Willie. There they encounter skeletons wearing pirate patches and vests, sitting in high-backed, carved wooden chairs, frozen in time counting the gems and gold coins that lay in heaps across the table top. The room is dark and atmospheric – small bits of light shoot through tiny windows, highlighting the winking treasure. It’s spooky but not overly so; it’s more like a step or two beyond reality which is a perfect setting for an kids movie. This movie really hit home the idea that layering of objects and textures pushes the eye around, forcing it to take in to the story of the room and ultimately, it creates a snugness. I love this room still even though in retrospect it is so clearly a set.

I saw “The Last Emperor” by Bernardo Bertolucci with my mother in 1987. While I was too young to appreciate its story of Chinese Emperor Pu Yi and how he was deposed by the Red Army, I could appreciate the sets. The scenes dripped with beauty and a level of lavishness and color that I had not seen before.

The rooms were laden with heavily carved furniture which was covered in exquisitely embroidered fabrics. The rooms were either massive gathering halls in which hundreds of courtiers assembled to worship the Emperor or small, almost constricting spaces devoid of natural light – spaces mostly used by Pu Yi when he was not conducting royal business.

With this film, you can sense the authenticity of the sets. Knowing that Pu Yi actually grew up in such a lavish setting made the story even more intriguing to me. It really stood as the introduction to Chinese culture and its aesthetic, which I continue to appreciate to this day.

Here’s a movie that while not a favorite, stands as an interesting enigma: “2001: A Space Odyssey”. From what I have read, Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 masterpiece deals with society’s evolution. So many people have such strong opinions on this film that you have to see it (again) for yourself. It’s really the visuals, not the dialogue, that set the story and move it forward. So watch for the sets, the furniture, the costumes and read this article about the role of architecture in film and media. It’s a good one, as is this article (timed to the movie’s 50th anniversary which highlights key moments). One particular set to notice is the bedroom.

Can you handle the Louis XIV furniture and the Renaissance paintings paired with the monolith, and lighted grid floor? I will NEVER forget this room.

Other fun articles to read about Interior Design and Cinema:

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