The mid-century set design of ‘Don’t Worry Darling’

Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros. pictures

Based on early reviews of Olivia Wilde’s new film, Do not worry, dear, there is more drama surrounding him than there is in the actual film: whether Shia LaBeouf left the film or Wilde fired him, the icy dynamic between Wilde and lead actress Florence Pugh, gossip about the on-set romance between Wilde and Harry Styles, and who could forget about Spitgate. But watching the film, which is in theaters today, it’s easy to get caught up in the sets, which are an homage to mid-century Palm Springs – a photograph of Slim Aarons comes to life. The sets are by far the best part of the movie. “We were interested in the fearlessness of the mid-century aesthetic,” says Katie Byron, the film’s production designer. “We wanted to build a bold world.”

in the heart of Do not worry, dear is the Vitória Project, a planned company city. It seems the townspeople, who live in nearly identical white suburban homes, are leading happy and fulfilling lives — including Alice (Pugh) and Jack (Styles), a couple who are madly in love (and madly aroused). During the day, Jack drives a silver Jaguar convertible to the Victory Project headquarters, where he works on a top-secret project. Frank (Chris Pine), the enigmatic creator of the Victory Project, has chosen Jack and every other man in the community to be part of his mysterious business. The women lounge by the pool, stroll through the mall and prepare elaborate meals that are on the table when their husbands come home, doing their part to play the fixed, traditional gender roles that are central to the Vitoria Project’s vision. At night, at martini-filled dinners that dominate Alice and Jack’s cul-de-sac, couples jokingly accuse each other of being drunk against a backdrop of conversation pits, teak furniture, stone fireplaces and gleaming appliances. But cracks in the all-too-perfect facade begin to show as Alice begins to experience disturbing events that no one else will recognize.

Do not worry, dearThe Victory Project’s planned community was filmed at Canyon View Estates, a subdivision of Palm Springs designed by William Krisel.
Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros. pictures

As with many films set in a mid-century suburban setting, the illusion of a perfect life breaks down in sinister ways, and the impeccably shot glamorous sets play a central role. “Prestige homes for prestigious people, who appreciate the best.” This phrase could have been said by Frank, but it actually comes from a 1965 ad for Canyon View Estates, the actual Palm Springs neighborhood designed by William Krisel where Do not worry, dear was filmed. It is not surprising that a film directed largely by a character who believes he is giving people a better life is set in the 1905s, a dogmatic era about his idealism. Before mid-century modernism became the Pumpkin Spice Latte of design, thanks to an excess of Amazon and West Elm knockoffs, it was a radical move. Designers like Krisel (who defined desert modernism and popularized the butterfly roof), Albert Frey, Richard Neutra, and Charles and Ray Eames believed that our homes and the objects we fill them with should look good, work well, and most importantly importantly, be affordable. (Krisel’s Palm Springs homes originally sold for less than $30,000 but now cost nearly $1 million.)

The interior of Jack and Alice’s home was built in a soundstage and filled with custom furniture and selected pieces from Palm Springs antique stores and home sales.
Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros. pictures

As the film continues, the Victory Project begins to feel less like an aspirational community and more like a cult with a MAGA-like obsession with the “good old days”. (Nostalgia, as we know, creates a rosy version of a past that never was.) In an opening scene, Frank throws a party at his home, which is outside the planned community and far more elegant and luxurious than The houses. your employees have. (This was filmed at Richard Neutra’s Kaufmann Desert House, a blow to Wilde as this is the first time a production has been allowed to film there.) In a speech to his guests, Frank asks, “What are we doing?” In unison, the crowd responds, “Changing the world.” They absolutely trust Frank’s vision. Everyone seems honored to be a part of Frank’s “important work” and to live among friends in a community where their every need is met. However, the true purpose of Project Victory remains a mystery until the film’s unnerving final 20 minutes.

“When we look back at the 1950s, we often see what was sold to us,” says Byron — the beginnings of mass consumerism and the advertising that made it all so appealing. “If Frank wanted to create a world that would tempt a modern man or woman equally, it would need to be spectacular and luminous.” While most of the exterior scenes are real locations, the interiors are all built into sets from the ground up. “Receiving a note from Neutra and Alexander Girard, we wanted Frank’s vision for the homes to be total,” says Byron. To create her captivating “dream world”, she envisioned “pastels and idyllic exteriors mixed with dark, dreamy interiors. Smoked windows and mirrors. Fully stocked bars. Recording cabinets equipped with the best speakers.” Most of the furniture you see in the movie is custom-made. Set decorators Rachael Ferrara and Ashley Bussell scoured Palm Springs real estate sales and antique stores for some of the smaller items — including a vintage Sylvania television. Modernica provided some of the antiquities.

Frank’s house was filmed at Richard Neutra’s Kaufmann Desert House. He keeps a scale model of the Victory Project – with houses arranged in concentric circles around a mall downtown – on display. Photos: Merrick Morton.

Frank’s house was filmed at Richard Neutra’s Kaufmann Desert House. He maintains a model of the Vitória Project – with houses arranged in …
Frank’s house was filmed at Richard Neutra’s Kaufmann Desert House. He keeps a scale model of the Victory Project – with houses arranged in concentric circles around a mall downtown – on display. Photos: Merrick Morton.

As perfect as the world seems, Alice is rightly skeptical. She witnesses a horrible incident at the beginning of the film, and no one believes her when she tells what she saw. A doctor from Project Victory tries to convince her that it was a hallucination. Then more inexplicable things start to happen: walls close in on her, she crushes a carton of eggs only to find there is nothing in their shells, and she has a recurring nightmare of nearly identical platinum blonde women in a kick line. . She becomes convinced that Frank is hiding something from the entire community and is determined to find out what is going on. To do that, she breaks the Victory Project’s cardinal rule – stay within the community – and ventures miles into the desert to visit the company’s headquarters, a vaulted structure atop a mountain. This is a true mid-century building too: the Volcano House in the town of Newberry Springs in the Mojave Desert.

Harold Bissner Jr.’s Volcano House, built in 1968, replaces the Victory Project headquarters.
Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros. pictures

Architect Harold Bissner Jr. designed the Volcano House in 1968 for Vard Wallace, a wealthy engineer who was obsessed with the architecture of the San Onofre nuclear power plant and wanted his home built in his image. “The Volcano House is a landmark shrouded in enigmas,” says Byron, and the white dome atop a lone mountain in the sprawling desert looks as mysterious in real life as it does on screen. In the film, Alice places her hands on its mirrored glass walls before waking up in her bed at home, wondering if it was all a dream. In the end, the structure remains a mystery to her. Despite this, she eventually discovers the building’s true purpose and realizes that her perfect home, cinematic neighborhood, and loving husband are not at all what she believed. The offbeat stories of mid-century architecture are Hollywood tales in and of themselves.

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