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Set Design: The Intern

On the Brooklyn set of Designing Director Nancy Meyers’s latest film, The Intern

Written by Cathy Whitlock

When Hollywood film director, screenwriter, and producer Nancy Meyers makes a movie, it’s a sure bet her sets will shine as much as her romantic comedies. Moviegoers and design aficionados covet, copy, and just plain fall in love with the interiors in her films. Think of the sumptuous kitchens in Something’s Gotta Give and It’s Complicated or the English cottage charm and California chic in The Holiday.

This fall, the “Designing Director” weaves her magic once again in The Intern, Meyers’s comedy from Warner Bros., due for release September 25. The film stars Academy Award winners Anne Hathaway and Robert De Niro, and tells the story of young fashion website founder and CEO Jules Ostin, who hires a widowed, 70-year-old retiree as her “senior” intern. A father-daughter relationship develops as De Niro’s character, Ben Whittaker, becomes her mentor.

Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

With the script in hand, Meyers moved on to creating the perfect set for the picture, which was filmed in the trendy environs of Brooklyn, New York. She envisioned a youthful yet sophisticated townhome for Jules and her husband as well as for offices in a converted warehouse for her online company, ATF (About the Fit). The film’s story takes place primarily in these two locations.

Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Meyers is no stranger to the world of decorating—her mother was an interior designer and her grandmother sold antiques—but she took what some might consider a surprising route to garner ideas for the sets. Enter Pinterest, that wildly popular—and addictive—online tool that gives users access to loads of ideas.

“Nancy is one of the most precise and computer-savvy directors I have ever worked with,” says Kristi Zea, the production designer for The Intern, who specializes in New York-centric films, including Tower Heist and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. “She made Pinterest files for everything,” Zea adds, including ideas that covered a wide range of the film’s elements, from the interior designs for the apartment where De Niro’s character lives, Jules’s townhome, and the fictional ATF offices to suggestions for the characters’ clothing and even ATF’s graphics and logo. Zea and set decorator Susan Bode Tyson took their cues from the boards, just as the boss intended.

“I used Pinterest to show Kristi and Susan ideas I had seen and been inspired by,” Meyers says. “This was incredibly helpful in getting them up to speed on all of the research I had done on what was going on inside all those remodels in Brooklyn as well as in the start-up world. We projected the Pinterest images on a big screen for our meetings and then we’d all discuss which ideas would work for us.”

Meyers says she was inspired by what she saw on various design blogs about the current decorating scene in Brooklyn. “Having two daughters near Annie’s character’s age, I could see a similar influence happening here in L.A. as well—Moroccan rugs, some mid-century pieces, neutrals, some splashes of color, brass hardware in the bathrooms, and kitchens with open shelving instead of upper cabinets—definitely not our mother’s kitchen,” she says.

For Jules’s townhouse, Meyers was influenced by the Brooklyn brownstone of J. Crew creative director Jenna Lyons. “Her house had a hip, youthful vibe but was a traditional Brooklyn brownstone, so the juxtaposition was interesting,” Meyers says. “It was really so chic, and I felt it reflected Jules’s world. Annie’s character is the founder of an e-commerce fashion site, so being on trend made sense for her. Because Jules and her husband are a young couple, we tried to furnish their house on a budget—the budget they would have.”

Photo: Joshua McHugh

Photo: Joshua McHugh

The result turned out be an elegant modern mix that’s young and sophisticated—a townhome interior à la Brooklyn. “The look is traditional with a slightly stylish spin to it,” says Zea. “She did have a lot of style and taste and had to be smart on how to decorate.” As a result, the furnishings were a combination of catalog and antique store finds ranging from a Mitchell Gold acid-yellow sofa and Restoration Hardware reclaimed wood dining table to a Lindsey Adelman chandelier and Josef Hoffmann dining room chairs.

Dining Room: Francois Duhamel

A judicious pop of bold color here and there enlivened the palette of black, white, and gray. In the bedroom, a tomato-red chaise makes a bold impression against gray walls and ivory window treatments. Filming took place in an actual Brooklyn townhouse, so the designers needed to revamp the existing kitchen. They chose a quiet palette and retained the original fireplace. “The kitchen was inspired by others we had seen before,” Zea says.

Bright white moldings and bold gray walls form the backdrop for Hathaway’s character’s bedroom. Furnishings were a modern mix of local antique finds and catalog items. 
Photo: Francois Duhamel

To create a realistic and trendy office space for the movie, Meyers received a firsthand education on both the design and working environment in the online fashion world. She toured the Manhattan offices of stylish websites with founders Lauren Santo Domingo of Moda Operandi (whose desk and West Elm rug inspired those for Jules’s office) and Alexandra Wilkis Wilson of Gilt. “What I saw at Gilt was how the founders didn’t have private offices and how important it was to all to work as a group in a shared space,” she says.

Hathaway’s office reflects a trendy warehouse-turned-workspace style. 
Photo: Francois Duhamel

“I did most of my research at One Kings Lane because at the time they had offices in Los Angeles, where I live, and founder Susan Feldman opened her doors to me whenever I had a question,” Meyers says. LightBox-NY studio in the Bronx doubled as the warehouse offices. Zea added “row upon row upon row of chairs and desks, black pendant lighting, three conference rooms, computers, clothing on racks, and glass, glass, glass. We basically took those ingredients and added our own spin,” says the Oscar-nominated production designer.

The film’s interiors are a savvy interpretation of Meyers’s vision and design aesthetic. “She is in constant dialogue with herself and always working to make sure she fulfills an obligation to her audience,” says Zea. “She is very aware of what audiences expect.” 

Click here to watch the trailer for The Intern.