6 degrees with Elizabeth Erskine

Interior Design One Film At A Time

Oct 6th, 2017

It’s Film Friday and today’s feature is 6 Degrees of Separation, starring Donald Sutherland, a relatively unknown Will Smith and the always sublime Stockard Channing.

This film started a lot of my obsessions in the 90s: Kandinsky, luxury interiors, all things New York. And it was my idea of what life in New York would be like when I moved to Manhattan as an interior architect:  sumptuous apartments with Important Art on the walls, antiques dotted casually around the room and highly intellectual conversations about theatre, literature and culture. When I did finally live in New York, I sublet a room on the upper west side closer to Columbia than the park. It was not sumptuous, but it did the job. My parties were not nearly as smart, our conversations not as intellectual, but I did see several shows. A girl has to start somewhere, I suppose.  I still love New York and I still love this film.

I had rather forgotten the set was entirely red and pink. It was a bold choice, audacious even, which I suppose speaks to the plot: fortune favours the bold. One thing I particularly love is how the house is an active part of the scene. The characters interact with the furniture and the objects in a way we don’t usually see; they touch things, they use them as we would. Jeffery can’t help but look thorough the antique telescope, Ouisa nestles like a cat into the overstuffed sofas; Flan is constantly flipping that Kandinsky around. And while a lot of the set is very ‘of the time’ (I’m looking at you Window Treatments!) I find it very current.  Swap the paisley fabric on the sofa for, say this one and it could be an Architectural Digest feature.

Red might not be your colour, granted, but the simple move of painting every surface a rich and deeply saturated colour, then echoing it with lacquered timber can easily be found on Pinterest and in the design magazines today. Does this mean we’re returning to a 90s aesthetic?

I don’t think so. What this tells me is there is a calculated timelessness to traditional design that doesn’t seem to exist in other styles. It’s about Investing in rather than Decorating your home and has been the hallmark of the upper classes since the Tudor era, when decorating the house was about status and financial standing, not fashion. Would I want to live in a house that is entirely red? Perhaps not entirely, but my own home in Fulham features red upholstery on some Art Deco chairs that I inherited when I married my husband. I love them but would like to recover them. He loves them as they are, so the living room is chili pepper red and cocoa. One must always find the love in a project, as one of my mentors said.

Would Ouisa and Flan be comfortable in my house? Turns out, yes, I think they would be. We have filled it with antiques, art, and (softly) traditional design, not nearly as expensive as theirs, however. So I wonder if this film created more of my ideas as a interior designer than I realize. How influential has it really been in my career? It’s an interesting question. I call it a sofa, not a couch, but so do my parents. I pronounce it ‘bhottle’ not ‘boddle’ but that might be the expat in me. Circumstantial evidence at best.

But I do love a fancy pot of jam.