“Production Designer Nelson Coates was inspired by the B&B Italia Theo chair I had found for the visitor chair in brick leather and the B&B Diesis lounge chairs for the TV area. From there he took the built-in bookshelves to a rich lacquer grey,” reveals Set Decorator Cal Loucks SDSA, who gives fabulous details in the article below!
As per the novel, we had collections of first edition books and a very extensive collection of erotic books from several publishers. Also within the shelves were artful bondage sculptures and other secrets! And a Dichotomy chess set by Kelly Wearstler – see article for details!, Loucks smiles enigmatically...
Loucks delighted in working with Costume Designer Shay Cunliffe, “I personally chose each garment and shoes from The Collection at Warner Brothers Costume Department to fill the walk-in closets. I wanted to make sure that Ana's hero clothes worked with all of the set dressing clothing in the room...
Set Decorator Cal Loucks SDSA has dealt with the demands and challenges of huge superhero blockbusters, action films and small period pieces.
So she was ready to jump into the high-end design-&-décor-focused
FIFTY SHADES DARKER and FIFTY SHADES FREED, the two reconfigured, restyled sequels to FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, which were filmed contiguously.
After all, why not immerse yourself in a marathon of style and filming?!!
She gives SET DECOR readers an inside look at the process and approach she and Production Designer Nelson Coates took, and how they developed the very contemporary West Coast billionaire’s home and other lavish sets, filming in Vancouver for Seattle. In this article, we'll focus on the FIFTY SHADES DARKER sets, since the film is playing in theaters now!
"First of all, it needs to be mentioned that the LA prop houses are used to dealing with productions in Vancouver and handle it well—a huge shout out to Alpha Medical Resources, Astek Wallcovering, Kravet Inc, Luxury Fabrics, Marc Phillips Decorative Rugs, Natural Curiosities, Omega|Cinema Props, and Warner Bros. Studios Facilities Property and Costume Departments, who came through over and beyond, as they do. And then for this world of young, West Coast moneyed culture, I was able to bring in other haute design elements from all over the world, and yet focus on local West Coast art. Ideal for a Canadian Hollywood transplant!
I had read all of the books long before the first FIFTY SHADES movie was even made. As a fan and a Set Decorator, I already had my own ideas about where and how a handsome billionaire bachelor would live in a gorgeous penthouse apartment in Seattle.
Before I formally started the job, I did an enormous amount of research to touch on every set in the film, from digesting current West Coast and international magazines focusing on architecture and lifestyle, to visiting some of my favorite designer showrooms and cutting-edge design boutiques. This was important because I wanted to be armed with a vision.
Then, while Nelson scouted and his art department pushed out construction drawings for other locations and sets, he and I worked intensely to put together an entire package to be presented to the producers and author E.L. James. FIFTY SHADES DARKER and FIFTY SHADES FREED called for additional never-before-seen rooms in Christian's Penthouse. We wanted to bring the entire penthouse forward to integrate these new spaces and to reflect more aspects of his character. Happily, literally everyone was on board with the changes. It is absolutely current design - warm sexy, comfortable, textured, and obviously West Coast inspired.
Christian’s Penthouse, main floor...
While the original footprint of the main floor is the same, Nelson desired a richer textured, more nuanced environment, which reflect the evolving of the characters. He brought in warm walls with Florentine plaster contrasted with metallic porcelain tiles for wall finishes and a mixture of wood, cement and warm chocolate marble floors. I had found a new wallpaper designer, Tracy Kendall Designs out of the UK, and her unique sewn papers were added over the living room custom-built fireplace.
Nelson's finish choices opened up the palette for the menswear-textured Minotti furniture I was so excited to use—the Seymour Collection, had just come out in late 2015 and was perfect for our man Christian! The Minotti headquarters in LA were absolutely fabulous to work with. When Ana sits down on the luxurious serpentine sofa in the middle of the living room and looks so beautiful and comfortable there, I knew we had made the right choices!
“Darker” and “Richer” were our operative words, so the drapes became a combination of Thomas O'Brian Groundworks striped velvets in the living room and Clarke & Clarke draperies in the dining room.
One of the biggest challenges I created for myself was the enormous living room carpet. I wanted a silk carpet in a gorgeous mocha/taupe to play with the marble floors—an 18' x 20' silk carpet! Luckily, I had made contact with Jenni Finlay at Jan Kath Design whose North American headquarters happens to be in Vancouver. With her expertise, Jenni was able to find a loom large enough to create the carpet in the exact shade I needed and ship it on time. Several of their unique and proprietary design carpets are featured in the apartment, in the Master Bedroom, Christian’s Dressing Room and the Hallway.
Nelson transformed the staircase, which had been a focal point in the previous movie. It was important that this part of the living room open up, since it now would be the hall to the new library and office. The staircase became a beautiful open-concept engineering feat that allowed the entire space to come alive, including the back wall with the softly lit double-sided alabaster wine cellar.
As I mentioned, Nelson and I were very interested in conveying the sense of the West coast lifestyle. We felt strongly that the regionality of where Christian chose to live needed to be informed by the art. We had over 85 pieces of art and sculpture in the penthouse, including: Nick Capaci and Richard MacDonald from Laguna Beach; Bernard Dunaux, LA; Judith Spiedel and David Hytone, Seattle: Rebecca Chaperone and David Robinson, Vancouver: Ric Stanton and Casey McGlynn, Toronto; Lilli Waters from New Zealand and Edvard Munch, Germany. James Foley requested the Munch, a decadent and exotic Madonna portrait to represent the mention of Madonna portraits in the novels. It was a stunning addition to Christian's bedroom.
Probably my favorite set in the Penthouse!
You just know that things go on in this room.
Nelson was inspired by the B&B Italia Theo chair I had found for the visitor chair in brick leather and the B&B Diesis lounge chairs for the TV area. From there he took the built-in bookshelves to a rich lacquer grey. I was able to play these colors and the warm dark greens in different conformations in the draperies and benches.
I designed the leather benches and belt strapped pillows and commissioned Chuck Moffit, a fantastic designer out of Blackman Cruz, to build the Domito Lounge chairs in front of the fireplace.
Details such as the Dichotomy chess set by Kelly Wearstler—a gold-plated bronze set with bare-breasted women, leggy figures, lips and Mohawk clad Kings and Queens—emphasize the sensuality in the room.
As per the novel, we had collections of first edition books and a very extensive collection of erotic books from several publishers. Also within the shelves were artful bondage sculptures and other secrets!
The famous pool table is a Donald Deskey Brunswick Anniversary Modern Pool Table restored with a brick felt. There is a lot of action on this table! My prop builders made the 3 pool table lights covered in gold leaf because the lights I had ordered did not arrive from Italy in time.
Again, we had an incredible collection of contemporary artists, mostly from Seattle and Vancouver.
Ana's Dressing Room...
This is the first feminine room we see in the Penthouse, and Ana explores and owns it. Christian's world is opening up to Ana and even she realizes that she will need clothes to live in it. The dressing room was so much fun to do. Working with Costume Designer Shay Cunliffe, I personally chose each garment and shoes from The Collection at Warner Brothers Costume Department, to fill the walk-in closets. I wanted to make sure that Ana's hero clothes worked with all of the set dressing clothing in the room.
The Aloe Bud sconces were custom made by Jeremy Cole, and matched the long Aloe Shoot light hanging over the stairway in the living room.
The Koket Desire settee and chair from the first film now live in the dressing room.
And several pieces were reconfigured in the Red Room, with our focus once again on “Darker...Richer”. I also designed and added several features:
· Leather studded wall sconces with black shades and gold interiors. These became an important part of the Red Room.
· Designed and had new furniture pieces custom built, including the "honey jar" on a cold rolled steel base.
· The Cabinet of Curiosities is a full sized wardrobe, with painted gold bands on the outside and erotic images on the opened doors. It is velvet-lined and full of toys oils and other accouterment...
· The beautiful alcove lights were twisted glass ropes - a play on ropes!
· We also custom designed and made leather studded racks for the toys.
A sense of humor and playfulness shines through, which everyone responded to and enjoyed!
This set describes who Ana had been and who she has started to become since meeting Christian. I wanted to make the connections to Christian more apparent—for instance, they both love books and art. I also wanted to keep the bones of the first movie, so I reintroduced some of the same artwork and furniture, added more art, made textile changes and added different lighting choices.
Ana works hard, there is a desk in the window where she brings her work home with her. She has always been independent and we see that in her apartment. The fact that she is a woman now, not a girl, is reflected in her art and the colors of her bedroom. I used quite a bit of golden yellows and creams, milk paint. She has little money but is house-proud and clever in her combination of junkyard antiques and cheaper typical student furniture. I liked juxtaposing her love of vintage and comfortable modern. It hints that maybe that’s where her heart is for the future, possibly in a more eclectic comfortable home.
Her taste and awareness of art is expanding, which is reflected in several new pieces and particularly in her interest in the photography by her friend Jose, which is actually the work of Doane Gregory. He’s our still photographer who is enormously talented! His collection of photography, as well as photos he took of Dakota Johnson as Ana, became part of the Art Gallery we see in the film.
Again, I tried to create a bit of the Seattle vibe in the Gallery. There’s a live edge counter and wild flowers in galvanized buckets with wooden trays. But the magic really was Doane's art, which had been printed on aluminum and lit so beautifully by Jonathan Swartzman. The darkened space was just gorgeous with the glowing artwork.
Speaking of magic, scripted as a Masquerade Charity Fundraiser in a tent in the back yard of his parents’ mansion, the production wanted the gala to be a huge impressive event and a huge secret!
In LA, before we even started prepping, I had shown Nelson the internationally renowned, most glamorous and exclusive ball in the world, Il Ballo Del Doge in Venice—a perfect theme and setting, with the elegance and jewel colors of a Venetian gala so luxurious and luminous!
We created the exterior and entry in the actual back yard of the estate serving as the Grey Mansion. The carpenters and my set dressers created fake tent walls and a central pavilion tent entrance adorned with swagged drapes, colossal tassels, masques, putti, greenery and roses. We completed the exterior with Venetian-style lampposts from Omega Cinema Props, Italian urns filled with red velvet roses, a red carpet and a beautiful pink gilded antique table from the Seattle Antique Mall...all to give just a hint of what was to come!
We then moved to the Vancouver Convention center in order to accommodate the size of the tent interior, which was created entirely out of truss and close to 1000 running feet of 20' burgundy and green velvet drapes, swags and jabots from the Warner Bros. Drapery Department.
The stage was conceived as a plaza at the edge of the Grand Canal...a stairway with cherubs holding gold leaf candelabras lead to the moored gondolas at the edge of the stage. We used six black and gold painted half-gondolas with centers overflowing with red roses. The stage was filled with an orchestra, complete with petite antique music chairs and wooden music stands.
Nelson used some of the clues from the book, such as the string quartet and the checked design for a dance floor, but that's where the similarities end and the true extravaganza begins! We used nine chandeliers, not paper lanterns, inside the tent. Inspired by the centerpieces of the Venetian balls—every year they determine a new theme—I designed 24 table centerpieces of over 180 various sized gilded bird cages with long feathered peacocks, Venetian masks, cherub candle sticks, wax LED candles and dozens of tendrils of blue and red velvet roses on dark teal tablecloths, with gold cutlery and glassware.
We created the exact menu from the books and added custom auction paddles styled with Venetian portraits and red dangling tassels.
Together with Shay's costumes, the Masquerade Gala looked stunning! It turned out to be a true example of taking the script to a higher level. Even author E.L. James exclaimed when she walked in that what she was seeing was far beyond what she ever thought possible!
So imagine going from the gala to the most romantic set in the world! This was completely over the top! We dialed up the color palette to the boldest prettiest colors yet. Christan has completely fallen in love with Ana and is willing to go the full mile to make her happy. He risks everything to be the joyful man in love, and the bountiful colors of the flowers spell it all out. The symbolism of course is that she is floating on air as she walks to the center of the pool...very romantic and fun.
To make all of these transformations, you need the best team possible, and I had them! I absolutely loved my crew.
Assistant Decorator - Shannon Murphy
Leadperson - Steve Miller
Coordinator - Paula Montgomery,
Art Buyer - Marianne Kaplan
Buyers - Udra Neil, Anastasia McDonald, Kate Marshall, Sandra Smolski, Jan Stenc
Set Dressers - Leah Wiebe, Katarina Brand, Elena Dresser, Mark Macphee
Prop Builders - Scott Holburn, Mike Church, and so many more I can’t mention everyone!
On Set Dressers - Jared Brown and Kris Sandberg
I was so lucky to get them, as it is crazy busy in Vancouver. Very, very well trained professionals. They really made this film so easy to manage. They were bright self-motivated and creative. And we made it through two films at once! I miss them all.
Nelson and I found that to create two films in one go, we had to have real ownership of the decisions we made! It was very challenging as far as the schedule was concerned. 103+ shot days is a marathon not a sprint. I’ve done these long projects before, and in some ways this was a relatively simple in terms of builds and the fact that it is contemporary, BUT it’s all about wealthy people and their lifestyle. You can’t just head over to the local store to pick up a lamp. Every item needs to be an elevated design, unique, unobtainable for the normal person. This is the fantasy.
What grounded us was the extensive research and then from an early point, having a really strong idea of where we wanted to go. And key to it all is the very strong collaborative relationship with Nelson—knowing we can count on each other’s strengths definitely made it manageable and, I have to say, fun."