- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 13, 2002

Rick Wilson's favorite movie is "Out of Africa," 1985's Oscar-winning epic about a colonial woman's romance with a big-game hunter in Kenya.
Some movie buffs might be content to own the DVD version of the film or to frame and hang its movie poster in a choice location.
Mr. Wilson, a designer by trade, went a bit further.
He transformed the formal dining room and kitchen of his Kalorama home, creating a living environment that evokes the film's sweeping vistas and hues.
Traditional African mud cloths and sisal rugs cover the floors. Mud cloths also blanket chairs in the kitchen area.
Authentic Masai shields and harvest sticks from the Nyamwezi tribe in Tanzania, used as scarecrows in African fields, line the walls.
"The rest of the house is very traditionally English, with 18th-century antiques," Mr. Wilson says, "but that area is like going from England to the colonies. I think it works perfectly."
Movies and television shows do more, on a good day, than entertain. They provide a tapestry of interior design samples for us to peruse. From "Friends" and "Sex and the City" to "Moulin Rouge," television and film give audiences a glimpse at how attractive, successful people decorate their lives.
Many want to re-create those settings in their own homes, the experts say.
In Mr. Wilson's case, that meant a dwelling awash in earth tones, "the colors you see when you're on safari," he says, and soft chairs on which to unwind from the day's events.
Though local contractor Debbie Braun did the work, Mr. Wilson's affection for African and English motifs served as the project's genesis.
"The house hadn't been updated in 30 years," Mr. Wilson says. Before he moved in a year and a half ago, "the kitchen looked like something from 'The Brady Bunch,'" he adds. "We knew we wanted to do something different."
The transformation the movie's heroine, played by Meryl Streep, makes, from Englishwoman to African, is echoed in the shift the home makes as visitors walk through it.
"I've always had a bent toward that … the English and the African combination," says Mr. Wilson, who traveled in October to Africa, where he picked up some materials and more ideas for the project.
"We realized how restful and one with nature these tribes were," he says. "They're much more natural than we are. They take things in stride."

Movies and television have been around for decades, but only recently did a shift in our culture make us turn to their images for inspiration, says Cheryl Heller, a New York creative consultant.
"People are starting to understand they have an opportunity to use their own sense of aesthetics," Ms. Heller says.
Movies such as "The Royal Tenenbaums" and "Moulin Rouge" "illustrate and celebrate this idea that you make your home exactly like you want it. What you want is OK. There are no standards," she says.
Sometimes, the cause and effect of a particular episode may be dramatic.
On an episode of "Sex and the City," Charlotte (Kristin Davis) and her beau, Trey (Kyle MacLachlan), go shopping for beds.
That kind of scene, and the bed they select, could cause a "blip" in sales for the product chosen, Ms. Heller says.
In a less direct fashion, some furniture designers may look at the sets on various popular shows and be influenced by them as they craft their next collections.
NBC's "Seinfeld" contributed its own sense of style during its protracted run, she says.
Mr. Seinfeld's eponymous character used to hang up his bicycle on the wall of his apartment. That might seem tacky to a suburbanite, but to a space-pressed city dweller, such a move made sense. It gave viewers a license to do the same and still appear as eclectic as the show's lead character.
Ms. Heller says television show producers may not be creating sets with decorating trends in mind.
"If they work the way movie sets work and ad stylists work, what you're trying to do is define a reality," she says. "'Friends' defines a certain level of young, upper-middle-class living environment."
One current television show, the Learning Channel's "Trading Spaces," strips away any pretense that the media doesn't influence home design.
The program asks two pairs of couples to redesign a room in the other couple's home for less $1,000, a price tag that encourages audiences to copy its designs.
Reston native Vern Yip, a designer with the TLC program, traces the phenomenon back about a decade.
"Everybody's so much more connected these days. We live in a more visual society," says Mr. Yip, a registered architect who also runs an interior design firm in Atlanta.
Mr. Yip points to "a collapse between the world of fashion, TV and movies and what's reflected in people's homes."
Design firms such as Versace and Gucci also have home accessory lines, he says, and are influenced by what is seen in the media.
Mr. Yip says "Moulin Rouge," the Oscar-nominated musical starring Nicole Kidman, is inspiring interior designers nationwide. The film shattered movie musical conventions, casting non-singers in the lead roles, combining pop song lyrics into a new form of musical and combining various visual styles.
"I think a lot of those rules of having a formal living-room set … all of those rules are thrown out the window," he says. "I see a lot of people more willing to blend contemporary and traditional [styles]."
Richard Thompson, a professor of media and culture at Syracuse University, says today's television shows "can't help" but inspire interior design on some level.
"They become, in essence, like a catalog," Mr. Thompson says. "These shows become weekly versions of home decorating ideas."
It wasn't always this way.
"In the beginning [of television], there was never a sense with classic sets like 'The Honeymooners' that these things would become truly iconic places," Mr. Thompson says. "Within the last 20 years, people have really become conscious of how these shows are more than shows; they're lifestyles."
That said, not every show becomes the bellwether for interior design.
"Very few times do people watch 'Everybody Loves Raymond' and say, 'I've gotta have that lamp,'" he says of the show's blue-collar sensibilities.
Mary Beth Bisselle, a Bethesda interior designer, says her own artistic tastes can be influenced by the media.
She often watches television while at the gym, but she is less concerned with the show's plots than are her fellow club members.
"I could care less what they're saying," Ms. Bisselle says. "My field of vision goes to the background to see the different styles they use."
"When 'Dallas' was on, I'd love to look at the stage design," she says.
Ms. Bisselle's customers don't want her to re-create sets they have seen, but often they pick up on styles or colors from a particular show or film and ask if those aspects might work with their existing decor.
Mr. Thompson says television shows typically don't come out of the gate looking to set viewers' minds ablaze with decorating choices.
"The chances of them becoming [trendsetters] are so slim," he says. "They're simply trying to make something people are going to want to watch."
It doesn't take an interior design specialist to note their impact.
Mr. Thompson points to an episode of "Sex and the City" from last year in which an interior shot of Mr. Big's (Chris Noth) bedroom featured one bright red wall among the other pale surfaces.
"You could not miss even if you're completely tone deaf to interior design," he says.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide