In turning Alice Hoffman's novel "Practical Magic" into a Hollywood film,
Production Designer Robin Standefer had to conjure a fully decorated house --
from scratch. One day she faced a barren patch of rented land on
Washington's San Juan Island, then poof! a Victorian house grew.
Here she shares the decorating tricks and secret sources
that helped cast a decorative spells over this wonderful movie...

In her office on the Warner Brothers set, Robin lined a wall with references
ranging from English country homes to New England estates.
Then she watched as the shape of the house came to life through the pen
of Art Director Steven Alesch, her partner in the decorating firm Roman & William.
Once the floor plan was determined, interiors were built at the Los Angeles studio.
Months later, key sets like the conservatory, which leads to the garden,
were transported to Washington and reassembled so outdoor scenes could be shot.
Though this Victorian house looks as if it's been in place for a century,
it's actually an architectural shell. Even the blossoms on the trees are fake --
they're made of silk.

The aunts' house is every bit a main character in the movie, but Alice Hoffman's
book offers scant clues as to how to translate its eccentric charm
into clapboard and shingle. Robin, by and large, was on her own.
"I analyzed the descriptions of the stairways and the tangle of vines growing
over the back door, and decided it had to be Victorian," she explains.
"But it couldn't look haunted. It had to be clean and white, not fading and cobwebbed."

"When I visited the stage set for Practical Magic in Los Angeles,
I realized then that the set designer had created a complete physical word
out of her own imagination, just as I had. It was as if we were both the novelists."
-- Alice Hoffman, author of "Practical Magic"

It's said that a good novelist knows what's in her character's cupboards,
even though she may never have the occasion to describe it. The flip side
of that premise is that a good production designer stocks the cupboards,
filling every possible ellipsis in the story. It's her job to worry about
the right cupcake, the right twig chair in the garden, the right emotional timbre
for a room's palette. "Propping has to be very meticulous," says Robin.
"The empty cup and plate that the aunts leave on the table can't be
just any cup and plate."

Like the actors, Robin spends an enormous amount of time imagining
the chracters' lives. But instead of musing about gait and gesture, she ponders
the leaded glass in the bay windows and the gingerbread trimming a doorway.
She worries about mouldings and hardware, things that will, at best,
show briefly in the final cut. In the kitchen, for example, Robin decided
the glass in the cabinet doors should be rippled, as handblown glass
would have been a hundred years ago. "It casts a different light,"
she says. That kind of detail -- fleeting though it may be on film --
makes the world of the movie come alive....

Above text from Victoria Magazine,
Casting a Decorative Spell
,
October 1998

 

Production designer Robin Standefer labored for months researching
what would constitute the perfect house for a family of witches.
Once sketches were completed, it took an additional eight months
to bring her initial artist's conception to three-dimensional life.

Above text from the Practical Magic production notes