Cinematic Mid-Century Modern: the top 4 MCM movie sets

Cinematic Mid-Century Modern: 4 MCM movie sets

Mid-Century Modern with its idealism and new concepts, was an interpretation of a standard look often portrayed in 50s/60s movies. MCM design continued to maintain a prominent role in our culture. Still today set designers use its clean aestithetic to symbolize the forward-thinking nature of the characters on screen.

It’s well known today that the film industry has considerable influence when it comes to popularizing trends or movements, and that was certainly true in the ’50s and ’60s. Mid-Century Modern design, which arrived brimming with idealism and new concepts, was an interpretation of a standard look often portrayed in the 1950s and 1960s films. And it continued to maintain a prominent role in our culture ever since its prime days. Today set designers, directors, and stylists still use that clean aesthetic and functional taste that has become an instantly recognizable style. Mid-Century modern symbolizes the forward-thinking nature of the characters on screen. From classics to recent period pieces, here are our favorite films where Mid-Century Modern acts as a protagonist:

the graduate

North By Northwest (1959)

Alfred Hitchcock loved using set design and architecture as a way of increasing suspense in his movies. One of the most recognizable sets in North By Northwest is the Vandamm House, a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired, cantilevered built by a set of designers instructed by Hitchcock himself. After the movie’s release, the Vandamm House became an icon of Modernism in architecture. The house instantly suggests modernity. The set design crew continued the theme inside, with typical MCM pieces (low coffee tables, geometric wall art and Edward Wormley-type furniture). But the director’s main objective was to convey a sinister sense of mistrust exuding the main character and lingering in his house…

Vandamn House
Vandamn House North By Northwest (1959)

The Graduate (1967)

A unique cinematic portrait of 1960s America, The Graduate hit movie theaters in 1967 and had a massive cultural impact on a whole generation. But while the drama ensues, the Mid-Century Modern design by George Nelson creates a seductive atmosphere and a strong mood that gives us many clues to the world, style and culture these characters represent. We can see the Mid-Century Modern design aesthetic in Mrs. Robinson’s earth-toned home, providing a stark contrast is the white innocence of her daughter’s bedroom. The rounded, oval leather chairs, wooden legs and leafy greenery all suggest a calf lost in the cougar’s den.

the graduate
The graduate

The Big Lebowski (1998)

The Sheats-Goldstein house, designed in 1963 by Frank Lloyd Wright’s associate John Lautner, manifests the geometrical and asymmetrical splendor of the indoor/outdoor living of the mid-century Hollywood Hills. This modern residence, with its geometric concrete roof and dramatic overhang framing the pool, has been featured as the spectacular Malibu home of Jackie Treehorn (Ben Gazzara) in The Big Lebowski. It’s unique design is also what made this Coen Brother’s movie stand out. With the elongated lines, sunset-colored seating area and sandstone materials, we are reminded of how removed the protagonist feels to be from what is he regards as normal. Horizontal planes, earthen tones and pops of color (such is in the pool and the surrounding greenery) marks this set as a Mid-Century Modern icon.

Arch.james, Goldstein(from terrace), CC BY-SA 3.0
Arch.james, Goldstein (from terrace), CC BY-SA 3.0 The Big Lebowski (1998)

A single man (2009)

The movie is partially shot at The Schaffer residence (1949) in LA, a Mid-Century Modern house also designed by architect John Lautner. “It was incredibly curated, there wasn’t an object that wasn’t studied or considered,” says Amy Wells the set design expert who worked on the movie. Amy had previously worked for the Mad Men TV series where the set is also strongly influenced by Mid-Century Modern design. “Everything winds up being exactly what Tom Ford wanted.” The interiors help defining the main character: the impeccable home of George (Colin Firth) exudes his refined taste. The house is minimilistic and bare like George’s soul as he recently lost his lover, Jim, in a car accident. The steel, wood and leather finishes combined with the straight linearity of the furniture. He likes things to have a place, to belong. George does not belong to anyone now that his partner is gone, and this is where the conflict begins: Mid-Century Modern here is used to remind us that beauty needs life to thrive.

John Lautner, Shaffer Residence
John Lautner, Shaffer Residence A single man (2009)