Mary Poppins would not recognize her profession today. The beloved heroine of our youth has given way to a new brand of nanny, and the flying red umbrella, carpetbag of magical tricks, and the tony Edwardian digs of her employers have been replaced with an overscheduled agenda, budget-minded designer knockoffs, and a sumptuous Manhattan apartment. Such is the satirical scenario of The Nanny Diaries, the best-selling novel-turned-film that’s due to arrive in theaters August 24, with a stylized set almost as anticipated as the movie itself. Scarlett Johansson plays Nanny Annie Braddock, a college student hired to oversee the spoiled 5-year-old son of a wealthy, dysfunctional Manhattan couple, sardonically called Mr. and Mrs. X (played by Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney).
In the photograph above, Nanny Annie needs more than a spoonful of sugar to swallow the lecture that Mrs. X gives her in an elegant crème-on-crème dressing room.
Text by Cathy Whitlock
Photographs courtesy of The Weinstein Company, 2007. Photographer: K.C. Bailey
The film is set in Manhattan’s chic Upper East Side, where the couple’s sprawling and luxuriously designed 12-room, five-bath classic apartment becomes a fifth main character. Production designer Mark Ricker and set decorator Andrew Baseman—responsible for the movie’s overall look—designed more than 84 sets, including restaurants, bars, a Nantucket beach house, and a re-creation of the Museum of Natural History.
In the living room, clean, contemporary lines coupled with a mix of warm silks and traditional accessories contribute to the classic designs
A dressed-up yet streamlined millennium version of the slipper chair.
Taking cues from the novel by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus, Baseman and Ricker based their designs on the lifestyle and personality of the characters as they created an upper echelon, “old money” look—all within the parameters of a limited budget and a grueling eight-week schedule. The apartment had to feel traditional, comfortable, and inviting, but also look striking and modern, reflecting Mrs. X’s taste as a former manager of the Gagosian Art Gallery. As with all successful film design (known in the industry as production design and set decoration), the goal was to create an absolutely believable backdrop, yet—in this case—“have the audience chuckle at the decadence,” says Ricker.
While the Upper East Side has no shortage of luxury high-rise and prewar domiciles, logistical and budgetary concerns kept the film crew from shooting in an actual apartment. “Not only are ceiling heights low for lighting and elevators difficult to navigate,” Ricker explains, “but also neighbors need to be dealt with, noise is a problem, and external lighting is difficult.” So the design team turned to a tried-and-true solution—a Hollywood-style film set on a soundstage at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Symmetry was key to the design scheme of the interior entry hall, above, as shown in the pairings of chairs, lamps, and consoles.
For the exterior “elevator hall,” as it’s called in New York vernacular, set decorator Baseman found a vintage library table “in poor condition but with good lines” at Brooklyn’s Time Galleries (526 Fifth Avenue) for $100. Transformed by a scenic artist, it was then topped with faux marble. Baseman’s shopping expeditions also netted a pair of glass lamps with painted birds and flowers for $65 at New York’s Housing Works Thrift Shop (143 W. 17th Street). The lamps flank the posh living room sofa (see slides 2 and 3).
“The pleasures and challenges in designing The Nanny Diaries were tied hand-in-hand with the fact that it was based on an enormously popular book. Because there are extensive descriptions, readers have expectations of what the place will look like in the film,” Ricker says. He recalls the memorable scene where Nanny Annie is given a room-by-room tour of the Xs’ apartment. “The set would be seen on film not just as a background for the action, but as a featured element that emphasizes the indulgent lifestyle and misery of these characters and the humor that results,” he notes.
The latest in culinary accoutrements—upscale appliances, fancy cookware, expensive cabinetry—adorn the kitchen of Mrs. X, who seldom cooks.
An overworked and overwrought Annie Braddock (Scarlett Johansson) juggles the family schedule on the stone countertop.
Silk embroidered fabrics, a French bed, and floral wallpaper in the guest room offer a soothing place of respite in this otherwise chaotic household.
Mrs. X’s red dress is a marked contrast to the cool colors of her master bedroom. Talented Laura Linney (You Can Count on Me and The Squid and the Whale, among other memorable roles) portrays Mrs. X.
A closet to die for: row upon row of designer shoes in the custom closet of Mrs. X.
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