Even before Mia Farrow stepped foot into her chicly redecorated new apartment in The Dakota in Rosemary’s Baby, monstrous creatures—and people—have resided in some of the most lavishly designed on-screen homes. Whether the Sleuth-inspired Thrombey Mansion in the 2019 film Knives Out (the sequel is expected later this year), the Hitchcock-influenced decor of The Flight Attendant, or the many odes to Agatha Christie and Stephen King on streaming services right now, today’s popular whodunits and horrors flicks borrow heavily from iconic visual constructs and conventions to tell their stories.
The macabre lends well to Gothic-revival architecture and old Victorian-style buildings, and as The Flight Attendant season one production designer Sara K. White points out, “Murder is an extreme culmination of a power struggle.” Beyond the physical or intellectual, power often comes in the form of wealth, which, let’s be honest, helps facilitate stylish interior design.
When creating a mystery, a production designer’s attention to detail must act with the precision of both the killer and detective’s eye. Rooms must tease characters’ backstories, hit plot points, and hint at the suspect’s motivation without revealing the culprit.
In recent months, a number of popular shows have struck the balance between creepy and stylish quite well. Below, AD looks at the productions that do it best.
Only Murders in the Building
The amateur detectives in this Hulu show are closer to something out of Clue than Agatha Christie, but their posh apartment building is right on the money style-wise. From Oliver’s (played by Martin Short) maximalist interiors of thick drapery, velvet furnishings, and dark green chinoiserie Pierre Frey wallpaper (Hankeou) to Charles’s (Steve Martin) “preppy American” luxury furniture (Milo Baughman, Ralph Lauren) and orange ombre kitchen wallpaper (French Cuirs leather by Élitis), the homes in this show do quite a bit of character-building.