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Designing with a Backstory: On the Set of Book Club

Character-driven spaces drive the sets of Book Club

Written by Cathy Whitlock


(L-R) Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen, Jane Fonda, Mary Steenburgen in the film, BOOK CLUB, by Paramount Pictures
Photographer: Melinda Sue Gordon
© 2018 PARAMOUNT PICTURES. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Take four lifelong friends who meet monthly to share a bottle of wine and a love of books, add a twist of the saucy Fifty Shades of Grey series to the mix, and you have the perfect recipe for a stylish rom-com. The film, aptly titled Book Club (Paramount Pictures), features veteran actresses Candice Bergen, Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, and Mary Steenburgen who each portray four “women of a certain age” facing various situations in their lives.

Vivian (Fonda) is a wealthy hotelier who lives life to the fullest with no strings attached; Sharon (Bergen) is an accomplished judge who is still perpetually single after her decades-old divorce; Diane (Keaton) is a recently widowed mother of two overbearing adult daughters, and Carol (Steenburgen) is a restauranteur whose marriage is in a major slump.

Character-driven spaces that reflect each woman’s unique personality were created by production designer Rachel O’Toole and set decorator Dena Roth. Take a tour of the Book Club set here.

“Diane’s house was a charming home in Brentwood with a well-attended to garden. The real home owners were on the fence about whether to renovate or move to a bigger house which is exactly why we loved it for Diane,” says O’Toole. “Her character has outgrown the life she lived in her home, her kids have grown up, her husband passed away. She is happy with her life, but the director (Bill Holderman) and I wanted the house to feel like it was also ready for a change.”

O’Toole looked to the design savvy Keaton for her character’s palette and textures which translated into painted black wood, white walls, and eclectic and artistic details gathered from trips to flea markets and antique shops. “Diane has a great eye and strong personal style and to try and step on that would feel wrong!” The actress loved the design scheme and even kept a white lounge chair with a black stripe that O’Toole found on Chairish.

For Diane’s interior set, Roth rented furniture, lighting and accessories from Objects along with props from Warner Brothers and HDButtercup. Seagrasss carpet anchors the main pieces in the dining room. A vintage pine farmhouse hutch with green painted interior highlights the black and white pottery.  Black wishbone chairs surround a round farmhouse table made of pine to complete the traditional meets contemporary look. “I love the mix of soft black, warm white, and natural together,” says O’Toole.


(L-R) Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen in the film, BOOK CLUB, by Paramount Pictures
Photo credit: Paramount Pictures
© 2018 PARAMOUNT PICTURES. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

“Each character has her own history and psychology which the sets reflect," says Roth. "Unlike a large budget film where we would be able to build and dress our homes from the ground up, in this case we shot at existing homes." Creating the illusion of high end furnishings is often hard on a limited film budget and in some instances, they were able to blend existing décor with rented and purchased items. Diane’s bedroom was decorated through a variety of sources from The Line (bed and linens) to lamps from West Elm along with a little help from Hollywood prop houses.


Jane Fonda in the film, BOOK CLUB, by Paramount Pictures
Photo credit: Peter Iovino
© 2018 PARAMOUNT PICTURES. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Vivian’s home is located in her five-star hotel which was filmed in the Montage Beverly Hills hotel. Both the designer and actress formed their own backstory for the character. “Everything about Vivian and her home is tailored to perfection, never stale or boring. Confident, effortless elegance was the go-to for Jane’s world,” O'Toole says. Fonda’s backstory went into further detail, notes the designer, elaborating, “As a child she grew up in hotels and to pass the time, she would watch the old film classics. As an adult hotelier, this is the direct line to the glamour she hoped to have and now does.” Furniture from Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams was used for the hotel interiors—having the store located next to the hotel proved to be an added bonus.

Vivian's office as seen above was filmed at the iconic Millenium Biltmore in downtown Hollywood in what was once Bobby Kennedy’s suite. The space is filled with accents of gold, pearl, and silver along with lots of flowers. “Her office has a bit of bling like Vivian,” the designer notes.


(Front) Jane Fonda, (L-R) Candice Bergen, Diane Keaton, Mary Steenburgen in the film, BOOK CLUB, by Paramount Pictures
Photo credit: Paramount Pictures
© 2018 PARAMOUNT PICTURES. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

The women toast their plans over wine in Sharon’s condo as seen above. “Her life is her job as a federal judge and her cat,” says O’Toole. “The condo is one she bought for herself after the divorce and there are remnants of her old life, but we saw her as efficient. She probably went to the first Bernhardt showroom and purchased the first furniture set she liked and called it done.” Since Sharon’s main relationship is with her white cat, the designers selected art with the feline in mind with the dominant theme being birds.


(L-R) Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen in the film, BOOK CLUB, by Paramount Pictures
Photo credit: Melinda Sue Gordon
© 2018 PARAMOUNT PICTURES. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

For Carol’s Brentwood home, a sunny and bright color scheme was used to no doubt mirror her personality. Creamy walls, accents of greens and yellows, and Carrera marble were used for the kitchen. “Carol is a chef and we wanted to capture the vibrance and color of someone who cooks with what is in season and is experimental. Carol is all about fresh greens and lemons and you’ll see that reflected in her curtains, flowers, and art,” says O’Toole.


On the set of the film, BOOK CLUB, by Paramount Pictures
Photo credit: Melinda Sue Gordon
© 2018 PARAMOUNT PICTURES. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Actor Andy Garcia plays Diane’s love interest Mitchell who O’Toole describes as the “Christian Grey character in the film. "His ranch was a house that had to be something Diane would love. It was decorated by a man who knows himself, he’s not a showoff, “ says O’Toole, "and when I saw the pictures of [the] Spanish cottage on Hummingbird Ranch, I knew it was the kind of sexy, understated, manly home were were looking for."

A collage providing inspiration, swatches, images, and furniture tear sheets, mood boards are a vital tool in a film designer's arsenal. O’Toole’s design process begins with “reading the script and drawing things out of a stream of consciousness—where they shop, what neighborhoods they live in, how the light comes in through the house, how they hang out at home or at work, and what colors and palettes fit each person. It starts with me filling pages of doodles and notes, then I go to the internet and find images that best fit what I see in my mind,” the designer explains. “It’s all about the character—you have to see them as real people in your mind and then it all falls into place. After that, the mood boards help me see that each character doesn’t step on another, they are individual but work as a chorus in the whole film.”

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