How do the interiors of movies and TV series inspire designers? Tells architect Joanna Kulczyńska-Dołowy

Katarzyna Szostak
07 of March '23

The best movies are able to transport viewers through time and space. While this can be attributed to actors, special effects and an intriguing script, set design also plays an important role. Architect Joanna Kulczyńska-Dołowy tells us about the films whose sets inspired her work.

Joanna Kulczyńska-Dołowy - architect in charge of the interior design team at the family firm Kulczyński Architekt. he studio, which specializes in architectural, urban planning and interior design projects, was founded almost thirty years ago by her father, architect Bogdan Kulczyński. During almost three decades of activity, the studio has created many projects that have become a permanent part of the landscape of Warsaw and beyond, but have also been recognized in architectural competitions, such as the Olympic Center with the Athina Park office complex, the European Fairy Tale Center in Pacanów, and the Finale Apartments apartment buildings. Kulczyński Architekt studio has to its credit revitalizations and adaptations of existing buildings, e.g. Fabryka Trzciny, Dom Handlowy Mysia 3, Smolna 40, projects of private residential buildings and interiors.

Playing on emotions

Like architecture, scenography can evoke certain emotions and create a mood through the use of perspective, space, proportion, light, color and detail.

- Especially for the generation growing up in the 20th century, television and cinema became, in a way, a window to the Western world. Thanks to them, we could observe not only different customs, but also impressive scenery, so different from the interiors we saw every day. I think many contemporary architects to this day recall the productions that made them fall in love with their profession - dreaming of designing equally spectacular spaces. I am also convinced that they would not just be big Hollywood masterpieces. Myself, from my own childhood I remember with a smile the cartoon "The Jetsons", which from an early age sparked my imagination and broadened my functional horizons - explains Joanna Kulczyńska-Dołowy.

2001: A Space Odyssey

Kubrick was known for his meticulousness and attention to detail. For the film "2001: A Space Odyssey," he sought to create a unique space age world. Having watched sci-fi films from the early 1960s, the director wanted a realistic setting. His main goal was to anticipate future technological advances. It should be remembered that while Kubrick and his crew were designing the look of the future, NASA was working feverishly on the Apollo Program to send man to the moon. The plans in "2001: A Space Odyssey" had to keep up with technological advances, otherwise the design vision would have proved outdated and flawed. The film's switch panels, display systems and communications equipment inside the spacecraft were designed by Kubrick's team of astronomers, aeronautics experts and aerospace engineers to ensure the highest level of technical realism.

"2001: A Space Odyssey" impressed me immensely with its minimalism, so different from well-known sci-fi films abounding in extravagant effects and set design. It's worth noting that Kubrick himself once said of his art, "This is not a message I ever try to express in words." Watching the film is a non-verbal experience - only 40 minutes of the two-hour production contains dialogue. As a visual storyteller, Stanley Kubrick prefers images over words in his works - explains Joanna Kulczyńska-Dołowy.

 2001: Odyseja Kosmiczna (1968, USA, Wielka Brytania) reż. Stanley Kubrick

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, USA, UK) directed by Stanley Kubrick.

Photo: press materials

Devil's advocate

This courtroom drama with a supernatural twist has gained its popularity not only from the outstanding performances of its star cast. The audience's attention is also attracted by the well-thought-out carefully created sets. The richness of the sets provides the perfect symbolism for the main theme of the production - vanity. The creation of the unique world of the rich and privileged residents of New York was quite a challenge. Although the style of the city is well known, the production designer, Bruno Rubeo, wanted to juxtapose it with the settings characteristic of John Milton's character. The filmmakers did not want to portray the character as a man with a normal life and an ordinary apartment. The set was designed to fully capture Milton's mysteriousness.

-"Devil's Advocate" plays brilliantly with contrasts in the set design. The filmmakers spectacularly juxtapose interiors that are simple, industrial, even empty at first glance, with apartments dripping with glitz and wealth, such as the penthouse of developer Alexander Cullen, which actually belongs to Donald Trump -  describes Joanna Kulczyńska-Dołowy.

Adwokat diabła (1997, USA, Niemcy), reż. Taylor Hackford

The Devil's Advocate (1997, USA, Germany), directed by Taylor Hackford.

Photo: press materials

Sex in the Big City

In the 1990s, a production debuted on TV screens that not only won the hearts of viewers, but also changed the way we look at series settings. In "Sex in the Big City," New York City teems with extravagant spaces and luxurious apartments. One of them is Alexander Petrovsky's apartment. His two-story loft in the center of the city stood out for its sophisticated style and was spacious enough to accommodate a piano, a motorcycle and an artist's studio.

- In the series "Sex in the City," the character of Petrovsky was played by Mikhail Baryshnikov, a Russian ballet dancer and choreographer. He later said in interviews that he felt at home on the set - he was so impressed with the space that he personally brought paintings from his private collection to hang on the walls. The apartment is also full of gems of 20th century design, such as armchairs designed by Charles Eames  - adds the architect.

Seks w Wielkim Mieście (1998-2004, USA) reż. Darren Star

Sex in the Big City (1998-2004, USA) directed by Darren Star

Photo: press materials

Mad Men

Matthew Weiner 's series is set in the 1960s and is set in an advertising firm on Madison Avenue. The attraction of the production is deeply rooted in the impeccably designed sets. The plot of the series is a story about New York in a state of entropy. Weiner was not so much interested in recreating the style of the era, but in showing real and believable interiors.

- The office of Don, the main character of the series, is a perfect example of modern 1960s design: timeless and multifunctional. The set designers brilliantly captured the modern-retro aesthetic of the period by including iconic period furniture in the interior. The plot of the production spans 10 years, from 1960 to 1970 - the creators made sure to emphasize in the designs the cultural upheaval America was going through at the time - combining mid-century modern furniture with colorful and bright artwork, fabrics to visually capture the change in aesthetic taste of the late 1960s. - Joanna Kulczyńska-Dołowy notes.

Mad Men (2007-2015, USA) reż. Matthew Weiner

Mad Men (2007-2015, USA) directed by Matthew Weiner.

Photo: press materials

The Lake House

The spectacular lakeside house is a key location for the plot of the film starring Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves. The structure with a maple tree in the middle of the interior was built for the production on Maple Lake in Willow Springs, Illinois. The location turned out to be an ideal setting for the resulting film - a natural, peaceful and romantic environment. The title house was designed by British architect Nathan Crowley.

- The set design of "The Lake House" is also one of the most important elements of the film's plot. The interiors are not designed by accident - they are a combination of imperishable classics and modern flair, decorated in a style that finds its justification in the story presented - Joanna Kulczyńska-Dołowy concludes.

Dom nad jeziorem (2006, USA, Australia) reż. Alejandro Agresti

 The Lake House (2006, USA, Australia) directed by Alejandro Agresti

Photo: press materials

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