And no, we don’t mean duffel coats and scruffy red hats. We delve into the world created for the Paddington film, including a chat with the production designer. Plus: two design pros weigh in on the movie. By Gillian Drummond. Photos courtesy of Weinstein Company and StudioCanal.
With his well-worn duffel coat and scrappy hat, childhood favorite Paddington Bear isn’t what you would call a style icon.
The world created by the makers of the new Paddington film, however, is worth a close look. Beyond the movie’s obvious messages – tolerance, humanity, good old-fashioned manners and, of course, the joys of marmalade – is a tale of a family with a unique sense of style.
Home to the fictional Brown family that takes Paddington in is a three-story house created for the film. While exterior shots were filmed on a street in London’s Primrose Hill, the interior was built on a set at Elstree Studios. The aim was to create “a heightened reality”, says production designer Gary Williamson – a place where a talking bear would feel right at home but also one that felt new and exciting. “This is about a bear who has never been to London so it was like a huge toy for him. [We’re looking through] Paddington’s eyes.”
The filmmakers, who include David Heyman (Gravity and the Harry Potter films), also wanted to be true to Paddington’s era. Author Michael Bond’s first Paddington book, A Bear Called Paddington, was published in 1956. It helped that director Paul King has a thing for mid-century. “Paul just loves the 1950’s. We could have set the whole thing in the ’50s and he would have been happy. But we wanted to make a modern-day film,” says Gary.
Here’s how they did it:
* The kitchen and bathroom of the Browns’ house retain an original ’50s feel, with vintage tile, cabinets and appliances sourced largely at auctions in and around London.
* Each character has a color motif and their wardrobe and home surroundings reflect that. Mrs Brown wears red and has a red bedroom, as does her son Jonathan. That connects them with Paddington and his famous red hat. The more uptight Mr Brown and daughter Judy – who take longer to warm to the bear just arrived from darkest Peru – wear blue. Mr Brown’s space is the living room, where blue predominates. The same goes for Judy’s bedroom, where one whole wall is covered in a blue-hued photo and magazine collage. Oscar-winning costume designer Lindy Hemming also worked on the Harry Potter films. “Lindy’s costume designs really added to the style of the film,” says Gary.
* “The house is a reflection of the characters of the people in it. My job is to try and bring out the characters with the sets,” says Gary. Artwork features prominently throughout the Browns’ home (Mrs Brown’s character is an artist.) Much of the art used was borrowed from artist friends of the set designers, or created for the film. Some of it is hung at deliberately kooky angles to drive home the idea of family and fun.
* Paddington had to immediately feel at home here, says Gary, so a tree mural in the hallway was planned early on. Originally it was going to be a beech tree to echo the jungle of Peru (and inspired by some black and white tree wallpaper Gary had spotted.) Then when Gary suggested they paint a cherry tree, director Paul King jumped on it. He used its blossoms and CGI technology to have it reflect the family’s moods.
* Some of the public locations had to be tweaked. Gary built an old-fashioned looking Lost and Found office on location at London’s Paddington Station. “The [Lost and Founds] look like Boots the Chemist now,” he laughs, referring to a modern retail chain in the U.K.
What do the design pros think?
We took two design professionals to see the film. Darci Hazelbaker is a designer and principal at architecture/design firm HA/RU. Stylist and creative director Syd Ballesteros has appeared in magazines and on websites in the USA and London. Here’s what they loved about Paddington:
Mrs Brown’s kooky style. “It was a very bright and happy set, both the wardrobe and the design,” says Syd. “I loved Mrs Brown’s hand knits and the way she mixed textures. She didn’t even have to wear make-up. I think her personality came through with the way she dressed. She created her own personal style. ”
The mix-it-up decor. “That home looked happy. It was very playful. It seemed like the family’s style was very free-spirited and whatever they wanted they put in their house – that idea that you’re surrounding yourself with things you love,” says Syd. Darci loved the authenticity. “What is always important to me is authenticity to style and who you are in your home. Everyone [in the Brown family] was able to develop his or her own space. It [speaks to] how someone’s style evolves over time.”
The vintage vibe. “I felt like Mrs Brown’s wardrobe had a ’60s vibe, with the graphic patterns and bright colors, but with a modern, eclectic twist,” says Syd. Says Darci, a lover of mid-century modern: “The old cabinet doors in the kitchen looked like they were from the ’50s or ’60s – and I think I may have spotted an artichoke light!”
The military Millicent. The evil taxidermist Millicent, played by Nicole Kidman, had a look that was opposite to Mrs Brown: structured clothes, spiked heels, flawless make-up and a straight, styled bob. “She had this hint of safari and military to her, almost a World War II 1940s inspiration, but also very modern,” says Syd.
* For more on the film and the books, visit paddington.com