August 15th, 2004 by Mark Johnson

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Barbara's Apartment Down With Love Set Decorator, Don Diers, SDSA

A Conversation with Set Decorator Don Diers, SDSA Written by: Mark Johnson   All Photos have been reprinted with permission from SET DECOR Magazine (Winter 2003-2004) 

In the film “Down With Love” (2003) an homage to the great American mid century romantic comedies, a country girl played by Renee Zellweger storms 1963 New York. Having written a seminal feminist novel, she takes on the Big Apple publishing world and Ewen MacGregor. Boy doesn’t meet girl. Comedy ensues. We recently had occasion to sit down with Don Diers, the Set Decorator, and ask a few questions about the project.

In an interview about the film, the director, Peyton Reed talks about the deliberately fake visual reality of “Down with Love”; The idea being that the settings were made to purposely look like Hollywood versions of mid century New York. That the ultimate impression was meant to be surreal in its artificiality. How did you achieve this?

We deliberately appropriated the look of the great 60’s romantic comedies: Pillow Talk, Send Me No Flowers, Boys’ Night Out, Sex and the Single Girl. It was determined very early in the process that the design would have so much presence it would become a distinct character in the film. The design team, the Director, Andrew Laws the Production Designer, the Costume Designer and myself worked collectively to create this very stylized world.

We played a lot with things like color and scale. We created an individual color palette for each character. The sets have movie scale, as opposed to real life scale, a grand use of shoe leather. A character might pick up their drink at the bar and need thirty paces on white carpet to reach the sofa. If accessories existed in this world at all, they were minimal and very stylized. In Renee’s character’s office for instance, all the secretaries have fabulous white typewriters, telephones and otherwise empty desks.

Our New York exteriors existed in the backlot world of Universal. We made a concerted effort to recreate a 1963 Hollwood New York, as opposed to anything that might have been mistaken for reality. Through Fox Research, we searched a lot of old movie stills for just the right tone.

Q: Of those iconic films of the 50’s and 60’s: Pillow Talk, Send Me No Flowers, That Touch of Mink, Boys Night Out, Sex and the Single Girl, etc., which was your greatest influence, and why?

Pillow Talk: Doris Day plays an interior decorator. Every inch of her world is uber designed. It was a world of fantastic unreality.

Q: There is clearly a gay sensibility running through these films. How did you channel and advance that esthetic?

Like a lot of Set Decorators, I choose to get into the mind of my characters to help me make their esthetic choices. In this case, I purloined a character from Pillow Talk. Doris Day’s boss at the interior design firm was this wonderful, obviously gay man about town. I took him shopping with me. He made many of my more daring choices. A favorite is a floral sitting in the corner of an elegant restaurant in the film. I might have made it be just a floral. He gave it giant ostrich plumes.

Q: There is clearly a deliberate, stylized use of color in the design of the film. How did that evolve?

We all felt, especially the Director and the Production Designer, that our color choices needed to be deliberate and bold. Each of our main characters existed in a specifically colored world. Barbara, Renee’s character, for instance, was always surrounded by lots of virginal white. This was accented by exuberant sherbet colors. Luckily our Director of Photography, Jeff Cronenweth, wasn’t afraid of all that white. Catch, the Ewen McGregor character, lived in a shifty bachelor’s world. His was a world of shadow and dark saturated color.

Q: It looks like the costumes are terrific. How did you interact with the costume department?

On this film I worked more closely with the costume designer than I ever had in the past. His name is Daniel Orlandi. One example: in Barbara’s apartment we dyed the upholstery fabric for two Eero Saarinen chairs to exactly match the pink of her dress.

Q: On every project, you end up with a favorite set. Which was your favorite on “Down With Love” and why?

David Hyde Pierce plays the sidekick, Peter. His apartment is my favorite. His was the character we allowed to live in the most realistic world. He had a TV, pots and pans. He also had a great collection of mid century Asian and African art.

Q: If you could take home one piece of furniture or set dressing from the film, what would it be and why?

Catch, Ewen McGregor’s character, has this great 60’s mechanical couch that turns, of course, into a bed. We did it in the spirit of an Edward Wormley sofa for Dunbar and covered it in Navy Blue Knoll fabric. I could use one of those.

Photographs copyright Twentieth Century Fox and Regency Enterprises.

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Barbara's Office Down With Love Set Decorator, Don Diers, SDSA

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Catch's Apartment Down With Love Set Decorator, Don Diers, SDSA

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Catch's Apartment Down With Love Set Decorator, Don Diers, SDSA

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Catch's Office Down With Love Set Decorator, Don Diers, SDSA

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Catch's Office Down With Love Set Decorator, Don Diers, SDSA

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Peter's Apartment Down With Love Set Decorator, Don Diers, SDSA