Simple ways to transform the feeling of a space

Today I will give some insight into what designing indie films is like and how thinking like a set designer can help you to figure out how to design your personal interiors.  The main focus of this post is color.  Color is something that can have a drastic effect on the feeling of a space and I will show you some examples.  I will also show you how you can use products like contact paper and removable wallpaper to quickly and dramatically temporarily transform a space.  

I know many people don’t think twice about the environments in which the film characters they watch inhabit, yet every film has an art department whose job it is to think about every detail of what you will see on screen.  Everything from the paint color to the tint of a lampshade can have a dramatic effect on the tone and feeling of a space.  Unfortunately when designing a low budget film there are often many limitations.  Usually you are shooting at somebody’s house or business and the production is just renting it out for a short period of time. You can’t do anything permanent or damaging and sometimes don’t have enough time to even paint.

Transformation #1

That was the case in this first location.  The script described a mansion that this famous author grew up in and later took over after his parents died.  The author was a bit of a hoarder and a lot of his scenes had a pretty somber feeling.  We get to the location and it is a beautiful mansion in Boston and the kitchen has a really happy feeling.  The colors are very warm and the tiling reminds me of a Mexican restaurant, not exactly what we had imagined for these scenes!

 Location upon arrival

Location upon arrival

We obviously don’t have the budget or time to retile the kitchen but needed to do something to tone down this color palette.  In situations like this contact paper can be an art department’s best friend.  Contact paper is a removable product that comes in a roll like wrapping paper.  It comes in all different colors, patterns, textures and is sold at Michael's, Home Depot, Amazon etc.  We cut out 4” x 4” squares and covered every single tile in the kitchen.

 The kitchen ready for filming

The kitchen ready for filming

As you can see the change in tile color and colder lighting has dramatically shifted the feeling of the room from bright and happy to more sad and cold.

Transformation #2

On another film we were shooting in a middle school location in NYC.  Unfortunately a snow storm prevented us from shooting a scene in an upscale restaurant bathroom the day before. Now our only option was to turn this middle school bathroom into that upscale location.  We had never seen the location and we had one day to create the  transformation, shoot the scene, and turn the bathroom back to its original state.

We arrive and, as expected, the bathroom looks nothing like it belongs at an upscale restaurant.  The stall and walls are a saturated blue that make the space feel elementary.  It is clear that something has to be done

 The location bathroom

The location bathroom

By using  black  contact paper and chevron metallic removable wallpaper, and placing a larger mirror over the existing mirror we were able to make the bathroom feel more upscale and sophisticated.

 The location as filmed

The location as filmed

As you can see from these examples, simple things like changing color and adding patterns can drastically transform a space.  Color can help create an uplifting or a melancholic mood, it can make a space feel more upscale or cheap.  And don't forget color applies to lighting as well through the type of bulb or color of lamp shade you choose.   Understanding these concepts can give you the tools you need to design personal spaces that reflect your personality and make you most comfortable.  Although contact paper is only used temporarily in these instances, it can be used more long term in your home in many fun ways like lining drawers or shelves.  Removable wallpaper is also a great way to add character to your home especially if you are renting and don’t want to do any damage to your walls.  Stay tuned for more posts.