Midcentury Modern at the Movies: Inside the Hitchcock house set design — 34 photos!

Alfred Hitchcock kitchenOver the holidays I went to see “Hitchcock”. I thought the script was great, the acting was terrific, the direction kept it moving — all this and of course, complete distraction because I was ogling the set design, vintage dresses, cars and hairdo’s amidst all the Psycho drama. The movie is set in 1959 and, yes, chronicles the bumpy story behind the filming of “Psycho” — and between Alfred Hitchcock and his talented wife Alma Reville. The Reville-Hitchcock household interior design is what I’d call traditional mixed with midcentury modest. The highlight of my movie-going experience: A flash on the screen — and yes! — I whisper loudly and excitedly to DH: It’s a Dishmaster! Yup: A Dishmaster kitchen faucet the Hitchcock kitchen — you can just barely see the edge of it in the press photo above. In the movie, it was onscreen clearly for a good solid second, in a scene with Helen Mirren standing in front of it. However: They shoulda consulted me, because they have a “today” model Dishmaster. I coulda hooked them up with an authentic 1959 model, for sure.

kitchen in hitchcock movie

Above: Helen Mirren as Alma, in the couple’s kitchen, I do not recognize the man or the scene, it must have been cut.

scarlett johansson as janet leighThe vintage dresses are so dreamy, too. Even though this story is supposed to be about the interior set design, like Alfred Hitchcok, we must stare at the clothes, too. I presume that after this movie, Hollywood is suffering a shortage of bullet bras. Above: Scarlett Johannson as Janet Leigh — she was terrific. This scene was not in the movie, either. A parallel plot of the movie was Hitchcock’s fixations with his blonde stars and how it affected his relationship with his wife, who he really did love.

I reached out to the PR team at Fox Searchlight, and quick as a wink they sent me a whole folder of terrific photos of the set design from Hitchcock. It sure is nice to linger over the images at less than 1,200 frames a minute. Get out the Jiffy Pop and continue on for more Midcentury Modern at the Movies — 30+ photos in all, from inside Hitchcock:

hitchcock house

Here’s is an excerpt about the design of the film, from the PR materials that Fox Searchlight provided:

The visual design of HITCHCOCK hinged on merging two very different worlds:  that of the closed PSYCHO film set, where the bones of Hitchcock’s trademark texture, anxiety and titillation were created, and another world even less seen, Hitchcock’s domestic home life with Alma…

Production Director Judy Becker said, “[Director] Sacha [Gervasi] really wanted to show Hitchcock’s home world, his domestic life, as well as his Hollywood life, so we had to look for ways to tie these together, which we did mainly through palette. For example, we picked a lot of 50s colors, like coral and aqua, but then you might see touches of those in Hitchcock’s very traditional English home.  It was quite an intensive process.”

Since PSYCHO was shot in black and white, and there is no existing color photography from the shoot, Becker researched what colors might have been used to achieve the gray scale tones in the 1960 movie – but also added electrifying pops of the colors that defined mid-Century design.

“Not having a visual record could be seen as a handicap but you could also view it as enormously freeing, which I did,” says Becker. “Sacha and I decided that we wanted to make our movie set vibrant and colorful, in part to play against the viewer’s expectations since PSYCHO is so iconically black and white.”

Creating the Hitchcock home – for which an exterior on Alpine Dr. in Beverly Hills and interiors in Pasadena stood in – was more about creating a sense of partnership over time, and Becker filled the rooms with mementos from several decades, accumulated over years of working and being together.  “It was important to feel that Alma and Alfred have already been married for 40 years when our film takes place, so the house incorporates a feeling of all the stuff that came before,” she says.

Once again, a primary principle was avoiding replication.  Instead, Becker set out to craft a believable, dynamic environment that would bring audiences into Hitch and Alma’s living spaces.  “During PSYCHO, the Hitchcocks actually lived in a ranch house in Bel Air, but Sacha wanted their house to look more like the Tudor they had lived in in England,” Becker explains.  “We researched their house in Bel Air quite a bit, but we departed from reality when it worked well for the story.  There were also many things we were true to, including Hitchcock’s love of modern art, which is something that sort of plays against this old English house and brings it to another level.”

Becker also included subtle Hitchcock motifs in the house and in Hitchcock’s office, including birds, a species with which he was fascinated long before he made THE BIRDS.

For Hitchcock’s office, Becker had the advantage of being able to work with the actual environs where he started developing PSYCHO.  The PSYCHO sets – including the iconic bathroom, the opening-scene motel room and the parlor where Norman Bates peeks at Marian Crane though a spyhole — were then re-created on the stages at the Red Studios in Hollywood, which were dressed to depict the Universal lot of 1960, where PSYCHO was shot.

“You get a chance here to see these sets as you never saw them in the movie,” notes Becker.  “And you get to see them in color for the first time, so that is part of the fun.”

I found an informative story in the Los Angeles Times with additional details from Becker and set decorator Robert Gould.

hitchcock bedroomHitchcock-in-bedroomThe LA Times story says that the bedroom as shown in the movie was modeled after the Hitchcocks’ actual bedroom at the time. Lovely! Minty! In the closeup of the sleeping area, above: Notice the scalloped, quilted upholstered headboards… the chinoiserie table lamp… the flowered wallpaper….

kitchen hitchcockAbove: An electronic mockup of the kitchen. The LA Times story says the stove purchased for the movie kitchen came from Savon Appliances in LA. (What do we think it is? I say: Gaffer-Sattler??) The fridge was chosen because of its round handle details — to suggest voyeurism, such a prevalent theme in Hitchcock films. The floor tiles were cut from sheet linoleum.

hitchcock living roomAbove: The Hitchcock living room. Pinch pleats over sheers – OF COURSE! Here’s a quote that I really like from the LA Times story:

“This living room could be today, we all wanted to live in it,” [Production designer] Becker said. “Today, most of us feel overwhelmed by clutter. Back then people didn’t have as much stuff, and it was a period in which furniture design was simple but sophisticated, a period that has not been matched before or after. When we look at a space like this, light and airy with sleek, well-designed furniture it just looks so enticing.”

Ah, how that pendulum swings.

hitchcock swimming poolAlma liked her swimming pool. I would sure like it, too.

Hitchcock-movie-lunch-on-patioBreakfast on the back porch.

scarlett johansson jessica bielPhoto by Suzanne Tenner

Which to watch? The lovelies Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh, Jessica Biel as Vera Miles — or the sofa, mirror, Degas?

knotty pine beach shackA lecherous “friend” rents a love shack on the beach. Knotty pine panelling, George Nelson slat bench, papasan chair, pole lamp, wood venetian blinds with tape, shaggy rug, hi fi — and lots o’ booze on the kitchen counter top.

helen mirrenHelen Mirren as Alma Hitchcock takes charge of Psycho after DH comes down with the flu. Love the look!

helen mirren anthony hopkinsAlma and Alfred — played by Anthony Hopkins — confer in the kitchen. Notice the red mark below Hopkins’ left foot. “His mark” for the scene. :) Thank you, Fox Searchlight, for all the great photos! “Hitchcock”: Gets FIVE STARS from me!

Yes, we have more photos — and they are in our slide show even larger. Tips to view slide show: Click on first image… it will enlarge… move forward or back via arrows below the photo… you can start or stop at any image:

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  1. Janet in CT says

    Fascinating story, Kate! I too love all the old fashions and decor and of course the kitchen! That is the exact random four color design for the floor tile that I want! The fridge is a Frigidaire and you are right – the stove is a Gaffers and Sattler. I knew I saw one just this past weekend and I found almost the identical stove for sale in San Diego but curiously the oven is on the other side (flipped?). I wouldn’t think it was optional to switch the side the oven is on?! I have posted a link to the ad in the for sale forum. I also posted a link to a fantastic sixties Wedgewood Holly which is a double oven and great if you have a large kitchen.

    • pam kueber says

      Hmmm…. I have never seen a stove with the oven on the left like that. I presume the image is flipped for the computer mockup.

        • Janet in CT says

          Interesting and very possible. If you had the range in the very corner closer to nearby perpendicular cabinets or the wall, it would be a good idea if the oven was on the farther away side and the storage area was against the wall to prevent escaping heat damage. I dont’ think GE ever did that but maybe other companies did.

  2. Jay says

    Thanks for sharing, I do want to see this movie; I have always admired the actors Mirren and Hopkins. Movies set in the past mid century are great for the sets and the style. Not everything was modern, there was a lot of traditional as well. The sets are not usually so prominent but these really stand out. What a shame they didn’t use a ranch house but I guess it would not have made a big enough statement on the big screen. Great post! Thanks!

  3. Jeanne says

    Great sets and photos! I can’t wait to see the movie. That knotty pine room is fabulous, and that bedroom and living room are perfection! I love Becker’s quote about the living room. I think my fantasy dream job would be set designer/prop shopper. I used to love prop-shopping, when I was an art director, for photo shoots. It’s like thrifting with other people’s money. :-)

  4. Janet in CT says

    Pam, being picky here but you have a typo – Jessica Biel AS not ad. And in David’s bungalow story, you have HOLEY down under which I think must be HOLY? I doubt holey describes his terrific house! I emailed you but you must be totally inundated with emails since you got back in the swing, bless you.

    • pam kueber says

      Thanks, editor Janet. I will fix as/ad, and I see there are numerous other typos, I wrote this one up really late, right after we received all the photos…. But, note, I write holey moley with the e’s. I claim: Poetic license.

  5. Janet in CT says

    Forgot to mention that I love it that they picked the Frigidaire for the “peephole” looking handles!

  6. Lisa says

    Wonderful photos! So much of the set design reminds me of my mother-in-law’s old house–the living room and bedroom decor especially. Thanks for a great post!

  7. lexavline says

    I had the exact same reaction when I noticed the dishmaster. I must’ve whispered too loudly though, prompting my boyfriend to shove a handful of popcorn into my mouth. I wonder if Janet Leigh really drove that car. Great movie!

  8. Robin, NV says

    The beach house has very similar architectural lines to my house – I have the same low gable with wide eaves, although my house is bent into an “L.” Sadly no knotty pine in my house, although I’m looking into adding it to my bedroom and the guest bedroom. Come to find out log cabin suppliers have loads of knotty pine siding and cabinets for sale!

      • Robin, NV says

        That would be great, Pam! I have a very small guest room that was paneled with greenish-grey plastic-y paneling on one wall. I’m not opposed to paneling, I have beautiful wood paneling in my living room but the green-grey stufff had to go. Now I’m faced with replacing the drywall in that room because the paneling glue was laid on pretty thick and there’s no way I’ll get it sanded down to repaint without leaving lumps here and there. So I figured, if I’m taking it down to studs anyway, why not put in some knotty pine? I think it will make the room warm and inviting.

  9. Nancy B says

    Pam- So glad to see these photos!! As I told you, it was hard to follow the movie because of the set details we LOVE!! So glad to have the time to really enjoy & study!!

    As always, you are on top of everything we enjoy!

  10. June Cahill says

    OK, I’m thinking a matinee this week sometime – just me, Helen and Anthony, and, of course, mid-century heaven! Holey-moley;)

  11. says

    Funny, that second photo reminds me of the display at our local historical society. Back in 1962, the Columbus Day Storm rocked the NW. Last Oct. marked the 50th anniversary of the storm that all others are rated by, and the museum had an exhibit showcasing the storm, the damage, as well as the inside of a kitchen of that era. I was fascinated by the info. about the storm (my parents had just moved to Oregon), but I was snapping a gazillion pictures of the kitchen. lol

  12. says

    Btw, I hadn’t heard about this movie. It features one of my favorite actresses (Helen Mirren) and looks fascinating, especially to those who grew up with Alfred Hitchcock Presents (I was not one of them).

    I like Anthony Hopkins, and though I’m not sure who else could have played the part, I’m not sure I can see him as Hitchcock.

  13. says

    Y’all are my people. Pam, thanks for getting these pictures! I usually find fault with movies set in the mid-century, but the design here looks amazing.

    Also, you should totally market yourself as a resource for movies set in the mid-twentieth century. They hire historical consultants, and that’s exactly what you are.

  14. says

    Thanks Pam and Kate for a wonderful story-and all of those pix! I have always adored movies set in that time period. I was only 10 when the movie came out in 1960 and remember seeing it at the drive in with my mum, and little friend of mine, my grandmother and her friend. We kids were scared to death and practically pushed my poor mom out of the car trying to cuddle close to her side!!! I can’t wait to see the new movie now! I know what you mean about trying to gawk at everything in the set, look at the clothes and still be mindful of the action taking place. T’isn’t easy!!!
    Oh PS-I agree with Tracie – you should definitely be a resource for movies and tv. You have so much expertise to share!!!!!

  15. nina462 says

    Thanks – I can’t wait to see this movie also. I tend to watch 60’s movies on TCM – to get the full effect of the decor as well. In fact, Boys Night Out was just on last week – funny movie, with 5 different house decors to die for.

    • Jay says

      Check TCM to see when Bob Hope’s “Batchelor in Paradise” is showing – Midcentury galore, set in a new SoCal housing development and starring those MCM stars Lana Turner and Paula Prentis. Typical BH vehicle but MCM galore!

      • tammyCA says

        Hee-hee, this movie is one of my long time “guilty pleasures”…it’s all about early suburbia. Makes me yearn for those simpler times I remember.

  16. TappanTrailerTami says

    Wowza! I just have to go see this movie now, and lucky for me, maybe I won’t be *quite* as distracted by the set since I know I can back here to ogle the pictures!

    As for the stove – yes, I believe it is mirror reversed. It is a Gaffers & Sattler….here is a very similar one on eBay. Gaffers & Sattler was the only company who used that particular shape of window.


  17. says

    I’m looking forward to seeing this. I think the room that made my heart pitter patter the most is that beach house living room, though!

  18. philq says

    Great post, Pam and Kate…now I must see this movie.

    I feel so special…two posts “about my house”. My kitchen has an integrated SS sink/counter top and SS sheet and turquoise formica w/edging PLUS it was featured, along with several other rooms, in a moive! (I think I sent you some pics a while ago)

    Thanks, Pam.

  19. tammyCA says

    I need to go see this movie! Not only for the period decor but I love a lot of the old Hitchcock movies, not Psycho ‘tho..it freaked me out when I saw it in the 60s, but I adore “Rear Window”, “Vertigo”, “North by Northwest”.
    I think if the stars had aligned for me I would’ve been a set decorator/designer…I’m always looking in the backgrounds of movies/t.v. shows. In fact, if I won the lottery & could build my dream home it would most likely resemble my favorite movie sets! Thanks for this post…love this sort of thing.

  20. says

    Wallpaper is seen in movies and television way more often than in real life, no matter what era. Watch any sit-com and you’ll see wallpaper everywhere, even those set today. I believe this is because set and lighting designers, directors and directors of photography all like the way wallpaper gives depth, visually, as well as providing character detail about the setting. They don’t like using anything flat.

    That’s what I noticed about the kitchen floor tile, too: it isn’t just a two-color pattern; they mixed up the shades to make sure the larger, lighter areas also had depth.

    High definition (HDTV) has changed everything, because before, the backgrounds would not be seen or noticed, it wasn’t possible to pause scenes clearly, so they used to get away with creating an impression. Now, you can notice whether things are plugged in, or their brand names, and all kinds of details that they have to worry about. I used to work next to the Clearances department at a movie studio and their job watching out for copyright and trademark legalities is much tougher, now.

  21. Randerson says

    Great stills! That G & S range is a ’56-7. The Frigidaire’s older, 51-3-ish it’s design was by Lowey, my folks had one! Surprised that no one mentioned that ‘gorgeous ’58 Cadillac, imo way classier than the over the top overly flamboyant ’59 and much more in keeping with Mr. Hitchcock’s sense of restraint!

  22. Randerson says

    Oh, and yes, the Kitchen Aid should be a model KD-12 in 1958, with the famous Hobart cast iron wash arm! cheers!

  23. Diane in CO says

    Thus far this is my favorite blogpost of 2013. Pam, you are astounding in your ability to “nail it.” in a scene. What inspiration to get the additional pics from Fox Searchlight – thank you! Grew up with the Hitchcock movies and have seen them all many times over – they are the best! Must see this film and I’ll now know what to watch for.

    As for the “bullet bras,” I’m surprised the stylists could find any; thought the costume designers from Mad Men had snatched them all up!

  24. Lauryn says

    What a fun post! And Pam, I’m so impressed that you were able to get those photos from Fox-Searchlight … seems to me to be an indication of how important your blog is becoming. My husband and I have been known to see a movie simply because of the “period” details and being Hitchcock fans, this movie seems like it will have to go on the must-see list.

  25. Suevt1 says

    Thanks for the pics, Pam! We just saw the movie last night and loved it. I am so happy that I can slowly drool over the set pictures that you obtained. I do have a question, though. I was confused that Helen Mirren’s character wore such big glasses. They seemed more ’80s to me than 50’s-60’s. What do you think?

  26. Jim says

    I’m with you on the dishwasher, Pam. In fact, that was the first thing I noticed when looking at the kitchen. It’s a KitchenAid for sure, but that model came out in the late 60’s I believe. My grandma bought one new in 1972 in Harvest Gold. It was a “Superba” model and had every button and cycle imagineable at the time.

  27. Michelle says

    WOW! Thanks for putting that together. I’ve been looking forward to seeing this movie, and I can’t wait to read your post again afterward! I agree with Tracie@MiddleClassModern…you have a future career as a set consultant!!!

  28. Allison says

    Lovely post, but I was hoping to see some shots of the bathroom! I remember loving it in the movie and looking for photos online after. You didn’t get any of those by chance, did you?

  29. Beth says

    Y’know what’s great? I have so many mid century Facebook friends who have fabulous vintage furnishings in their home. It’s not just in the movies!

  30. Lucy says

    The stove is a Gaffers and Sattler (or an Occidental, which was the same company). I have the same model, so of course I noticed it immediately.
    I personally think the Hitchcocks would have had a grander stove, but I could be wrong.

  31. Jennifer Williams says

    In addition to being a period detail, the Dishmaster has subtle connection to the infamous shower scene as it showers dishes!

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