The mid-century set design of ‘Don’t Worry Darling’

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Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

According to early reviews of Olivia Wilde’s new film, don’t worry darling, there’s more drama surrounding it than in the actual movie: whether Shia LaBeouf left the movie or Wilde fired him, the frosty dynamic between Wilde and lead actor Florence Pugh, the gossip about romance on set between Wilde and Harry Styles, and who could forget Spitgate. But watching the film, which hits theaters today, it’s easy to get carried away by the sets, which are an homage to mid-century Palm Springs – a photograph by Slim Aarons comes to life. The sets are, by far, the best part of the film. “We were interested in the fearlessness of the mid-century aesthetic,” says Katie Byron, the film’s production designer. “We wanted to build a bold world.

At the heart of don’t worry darling is the Victory Project, a planned company town. It seems like the townspeople, who all live in nearly identical white suburban homes, are leading happy, fulfilling lives, including madly in love (and madly horny) couple Alice (Pugh) and Jack (Styles). During the day, Jack drives off in a silver convertible Jaguar to the headquarters of the Victory Project, where he is working on a top-secret project. Frank (Chris Pine), the enigmatic creator of the Victory Project, has chosen Jack and all the other men in the community to be part of his mysterious enterprise. Women lounge by the pool, stroll through the mall and prepare elaborate meals that are on the table by the time their husbands come home, doing their part to assume the fixed and traditional gender roles that are fundamental to the vision of the Victory project. . In the evenings, at martini dinners that reign on Alice and Jack’s cul-de-sac, the couples accuse each other of being drunk against the backdrop of conversation pits, teak furniture, wooden fireplaces. stone and sparkling devices. But cracks in the all-too-perfect facade begin to show as Alice begins to experience disturbing events that no one else will acknowledge.

don’t worry darlingThe Victory Project planned community was filmed on location in the Canyon View Estates, a subdivision of Palm Springs designed by William Krisel.
Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

As with many films set in a mid-century suburb, the illusion of a perfect life plays out grimly, and the glamorous sets, shot impeccably, play a central role. “Prestigious homes for prestigious people, who appreciate the best.” This line could have been spoken by Frank, but it actually comes from a 1965 advertisement for Canyon View Estates, the very real Palm Springs neighborhood designed by William Krisel where don’t worry darling was filmed. It’s no surprise that a film largely led by a character who believes he’s giving people a better life is set in the 1905s, an era dogmatic about his idealism. Before mid-century modernism became the Pumpkin Spice Latte of design, thanks to a glut of knockoffs from Amazon and West Elm, it was a radical movement. Designers like Krisel (who defined desert modernism and popularized the butterfly roof), Albert Frey, Richard Neutra, and Charles and Ray Eames believed that our homes and the things we fill them with should look good, function well, and, the most importantly, be affordable. (Krisel’s Palm Springs homes originally sold for less than $30,000, but now cost nearly $1 million.)

The interior of Jack and Alice’s home was built to a sound stage and filled with custom-made furniture and selected pieces from Palm Springs antique stores and estate sales.
Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

As the film progresses, the Victory Project begins to feel less like an ambitious community and more like a cult with a MAGA-like obsession with the “good old days.” (Nostalgia, as we know, creates a rosy version of a past that never was.) In an early scene, Frank throws a party at his house, which is outside of the planned community and much smoother and more luxurious than the houses its employees have. (It was filmed at Richard Neutra’s Kaufmann Desert House, a blast for Wilde, since it’s the first time a production has been allowed to shoot there.) In a speech to his guests, Frank asks: ” What are we doing ? In unison, the crowd responds: “Change the world”. They fully trust Frank’s vision. Everyone seems honored to be part of Frank’s “important work” and to live among friends in a community where all of their needs are met. However, the true purpose of Project Victory remains a mystery until the film’s unnerving final 20 minutes.

“When we look back to the 1950s, we often see what was sold to us,” says Byron – the start of the mass consumption and advertising that made it all so appealing. “If Frank wanted to create a world that would tempt a modern man or woman so much, it would have to be spectacular and luminous.” While most of the exterior shots are actual locations, the interiors are all built on sets from scratch. “Taking note of Neutra and Alexander Girard, we wanted Frank’s vision for the homes to be total,” says Byron. To create her captivating “dream world”, she imagined “pastel and idyllic exteriors mixed with dark and dreamy interiors. Smoked glass and mirrors. Fully stocked bars. Recording cabinets equipped with the best loudspeakers. Most of the furniture you see in the movie is custom made. Decorators Rachael Ferrara and Ashley Bussell scoured Palm Springs estate sales and antique stores for some of the smaller items, including a vintage Sylvania television. Modernica supplied some of the antiques.

Frank’s house was filmed on location at Richard Neutra’s Kaufmann Desert House. It keeps a scale model of the Victory project – with houses arranged in concentric circles around a shopping mall in the center – on display. Photos: Merrick Morton.

Frank’s house was filmed on location at Richard Neutra’s Kaufmann Desert House. It retains a scale model of the Victory Project – with houses arranged in …
Frank’s house was filmed on location at Richard Neutra’s Kaufmann Desert House. It keeps a scale model of the Victory project – with houses arranged in concentric circles around a shopping mall in the center – on display. Photos: Merrick Morton.

As perfect as the world seems, Alice is rightly skeptical. She witnesses a horrific incident early in the film, and no one believes her when she tells them what she saw. A doctor from the Victory Project tries to convince her that it was a hallucination. Then more inexplicable things start to happen: walls close in on her, she crushes a carton of eggs only to find there’s nothing in their shells, and she has a recurring nightmare of nearly identical platinum blonde women. in a kickline. She becomes convinced that Frank is hiding something from the entire community and she is determined to figure out what is going on. To do so, she breaks the cardinal rule of the Victory Project – stay within the community – and ventures miles into the desert to visit the company’s headquarters, a domed structure atop a mountain. ‘a mountain. It’s also a true mid-century building: the Volcano House in the town of Newberry Springs in the Mojave Desert.

Harold Bissner Jr.’s Volcano House, built in 1968, is the headquarters of the Victory Project.
Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Architect Harold Bissner Jr. designed the Volcano House in 1968 for Vard Wallace, a wealthy engineer obsessed with the architecture of the San Onofre nuclear power plant and wanting his house to be built in his image. “The Volcano House is a landmark shrouded in enigma,” says Byron, and the white dome atop a lone mountain in the sprawling desert looks just as mystifying in real life as it does on screen. In the film, Alice places her hands on her mirrored glass walls before waking up in her bed at home, wondering if it was all just a dream. In the end, the structure remains a mystery to her. Despite this, she eventually discovers the building’s true purpose and realizes that her perfect home, movie district, and doting husband are not at all what she had believed. The quirky tales of mid-century architecture are Hollywood tales unto themselves.

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