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:

Categoriespostwar culture
  1. 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!

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

  4. 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?

  5. 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.

  6. 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!!!

  7. 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?

  8. 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!

  9. 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.

  10. 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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