Rule’s Don’t Apply: Fabulous 50s furniture and decor

rules dont apply 50s furniture

Steeped in 50’s Hollywood glamour, the fabulous set design and furniture in Warren Beatty’s Rules Don’t Apply (released in USA last November and arriving in UK and Europe throughout Feb to April 2017) is the focus for this guest feature duet. Karen Burg, editor of Set Decorthe Set Decorators Society of America online magazine – talks us through the set decoration of the film and Hannah Russell, Founder of vintage furniture website Layer picks out some of her favourite fifties furniture.

Rules dont apply 50s furniture

Rules Don’t Apply: Marla Mabrey [Lily Collins] after a visit to Howard Hughes’s bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Photo by Francois Duhamel. ©2016 Twentieth Century Fox.

Guest Feature Part 1 by Karen Burg, editor of Sec Decor online.


Set in 1950s Hollywood, Rules Don’t Apply follows the burgeoning romance between aspiring actress Marla Mabrey [Lily Collins] and her ambitious driver Frank Forbes [Alden Ehrenreich]. She is a small town beauty queen, songwriter, and devout Baptist. He is a Methodist engaged to his junior high school sweetheart. Both are employed by billionaire Howard Hughes [Warren Beatty] who has forbidden romance between his employees. As Frank and Marla fall in love and defy the rules, the sexual and cultural repression of the 50s makes way for the more liberated 1960s.
–Twentieth Century Fox

rules dont apply 50s furniture

Rules Don’t Apply: Marla Mabrey’s rental. Photo ©2016 Twentieth Century Fox.

This is old-fashioned movie making, in the best sense, with a fresh interpretation of the time, written, directed and produced by Warren Beatty, who knows to go to the best when you want the best. So it’s no surprise that he brought in masters in their fields Cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, Production Designer Jeannine Oppewall, Set Decorator Nancy Haigh SDSA and Costume Designer Albert Wolsky to establish the film’s vivid style.

Rules dont apply 50s furniture

Rules Don’t Apply: Marla [Lily Collins] and her mother Lucy [Annette Bening] give thanks for the opportunity and incredible setting in the Hollywood Hills. Photo by Francois Duhamel. ©2016 Twentieth Century Fox.

Of the multi-Oscar nominated PD and the Oscar-winning SD, Beatty says emphatically, “Jeannine and Nancy are just great…fun to work with, yet no nonsense, very clear, distinctive. There is nobody better than they are. With their instincts backed up by their knowledge, they always do the right thing.  So I was just very fortunate to have them.”

Rules Dont apply 50s furniture

Rules Don’t Apply: Beverly Hills Hotel. Marla [Lily Collins] waiting again for Howard Hughes. Photo by Francois Duhamel. ©2016 Twentieth Century Fox.

Annette Bening, who plays Marla’s mother notes, “There’s such a glamorous ambiance to the whole movie. It’s sort of a step up from reality, and more the way movies used to look.”

Beatty points out how key every set detail was, “One of my favorite moments in the movie is at the beginning when Annette as Lucy Mabrey, says, “Why are these chairs so far back?” And then she says without hesitation. “I’m going to move them.”

rules dont apply 50s furniture

Rules Don’t Apply: Beverly Hills Hotel. Lily Collins sits amongst fabulous fifties lamps and sofa pillows. Photo by Francois Duhamel. ©2016 Twentieth Century Fox.

Rules Dont Apply re-creates a world that existed not all that long ago, yet has nearly disappeared visually: the Hollywood of the late 1950s, which the team beautifully pieced together.

Rules dont apply 50s furniture

Rules Don’t Apply: Desert Inn, Las Vegas. Hughes has temporarily moved to Las Vegas. Frank Forbes [Alden Ehrenreich] has become his personal assistant. Photo by Francois Duhamel. ©2016 Twentieth Century Fox.

Since Hughes was known for his interest in architecture, instead of the iconic Spanish style bungalow for Marla’s house, they chose a Hollywood Hills Mid-Century. And found a former resort to use as base for some of the major hotels in which Hughes lodges throughout the film.

rules dont apply 50s furniture

Rules Don’t Apply: Acapulco lobby. Production Designer Jeannine Oppewall and Set Decorator Nancy Haigh SDSA brought a defunct hotel alive as a 1960s resort. Photo ©2016 Twentieth Century Fox.

Beatty notes, “I think that Jeannine and I were very much in sync, as we were with Nancy. Nancy’s just fantastic. I always think of what you do when you have a movie: think of Napoleon’s battle plan, which was, ‘First we go there, and then we see what happens.’ But it’s nice to have the right place to go, you know? And Jeannine and Nancy made that happen and then brought them to life with carefully edited detail.”

rules dont apply 50s furntiture

Rules Don’t Apply: Acapulco. Corridor to the suite of rooms where Hughes is in hiding. Hold that wallpaper in your mind for a moment, we’ll come back to that below. Photo by Francois Duhamel. ©2016 Twentieth Century Fox.

“There’s a retro quality to the movie because it feels so personal,” says Matthew Broderick who plays a Hughes top assistant. “It feels like a Warren Beatty movie, not a movie made by committee. You can see in his filmmaking that he cares about every hair on every head and it’s really and completely his movie. Those aren’t so common anymore.”

Guest Feature Part 2 on 1950s furniture and decor by Hannah Russell, Founder of Layer

Think about it. The war is over, rationing is behind you (by 1954 at least) and the world is your oyster. As economies grew, consumers looked once again to make their homes inviting and designers focused on creating softer, organic forms to bring luxury back into the lives of the public that had long been missing it.

Designers began producing furniture in new materials, such as the DSX chair by Charles and Ray Eames in fibreglass. This rare version in the original fibreglass weave shell, comes in very beautiful light grey, with an original black powder coated metal H base. This chair bears the Herman Miller stamp on underside of shell. The contemporary version of this chair is made of polypropylene which is not a patch on the original fibreglass models, which age beautifully.

This stunner is available on

Original DSX chair by Charles and Ray Eames in fibreglass available from Layer

Original DSX chair by Charles and Ray Eames in fibreglass available from Layer

Another designer to embrace the organic shapes of the 1950s, was Harry Bertoia, with his iconic Diamond Chair. As Bertoia himself said, “If you look at these chairs they are mainly made of air like sculpture. Space passes right through them.” Brilliant.

rules dont apply 50s furniture bertoia chair

A gorgeous original side chair designed by Harry Bertoia for Knoll in the 1950s. Available to buy from Layer

Designed by Neil Morris for Morris & Co, Glasgow in 1947, this table was named the ‘Amoeboid’ by the designer, but since then the table has become known as the ‘Cloud table’ for obvious reasons. It is a classic design from the post-war period and uses new methods to form wood into this perfectly curvaceous shape.

Rules dont apply 50s furniture neil morris cloud table

Neil Morris cloud table. Available to buy now from Layer

Whilst design classics like these have endured, they may not have been the stalwart pieces for ordinary families in post-war Britain. Instead, pieces manufactured with the intention of being affordable as well as beautiful, by great British makers such as G-Plan, Ercol, Stag, Hille and Archie Shine, were the norm.

Check out some of these designs which have endured to this day:

Rules Dont Apply 50s furniture robin day chair

Rare ‘Telechair’ designed by Robin Day for Hille c.1953. JUST SOLD by Layer.

The marriage between designer Robin Day and British manufacturer Hille from 1949 onwards was a prolific one, producing amongst other classics, the ‘Hillestak Stacking’ chair, the ‘Reclining’ chair and the ‘Qstak’. The above chair is a rare and collectible design from 1953.

Rules Dont Apply 50s furniture dressing table stag

Dressing Table by Stag. Available from Layer

Mass-produced but of robust quality, Stag’s furniture was affordable and innovative in style.

How could we exclude the master of mid century 1950s furniture and perhaps the most well-known? G-Plan was launched by High Wycombe based furniture makers in 1953 and it revolutionised the way Britons furnished their homes.

G Plan Fresco Teak Dressing Table with Mirror. JUST SOLD on Layer

Footnote by Film and Furniture founder, Paula Benson.

Here’s our pick of other 1950s furniture favourites currently available from Layer. For starters, this wonderful and unique set of room divider shelves, painted in dark grey with adjustable height by Jindrich Halabala is worthy of note.

rules-dont-apply-fifties-furniture-1950s Divider Shelves by Jindrich Halabala

1950s Divider Shelves by Jindrich Halabala available from Layer

Boldness and elegance rarely come in the same package but this pair of 1950s Italian chairs tick both boxes.

rules dont apply furniture 1950s Italian chairs available from Layer

1950s Italian chairs available from Layer

The drinks trolley is making a big come back. We have become rather attached to this Italian mid century drinks trolley with brass and glass shelves.

Italian Drinks Trolley with Brass and Glass Shelves 1950s

Italian Drinks Trolley with Brass and Glass Shelves 1950s available from Layer

And last but not least, two things that specifically caught my eye in Rules Don’t Apply were the wall coverings.

rules dont apply 50s furniture

This wallpaper above crops up a few times in the film: Production Designer Jeannine Oppewall and Set Decorator Nancy Haigh scoured vintage books, found a pattern they liked and then manipulated the colours to ones they wanted & had it printed. We’d love to see a wallpaper manufacturer make this available for sale. Would you?

rules dont apply 50s furniture

Warren Beatty as Howard Hughes in The Beverely Hills Hotel. The wallpaper is a giveway to the location.

The other wall covering which appears in the film and which is a firm Film and Furniture favourite, is the classic Martinique banana palm (above and below), designed originally in 1942 for the Beverly Hills Hotel by Don Loper.


Martinique banana leaf wallpaper

Martinique banana leaf wallpaper

It also which makes an appearance in another Howard Hughes biopic Aviator. Read our feature ‘What is that bold, green leaf wallpaper in The Aviator?’ with details on where to buy it here >

What’s your favourite piece of furniture or decor in the movie?


For tickets and latest info on theaters that Rules Don’t Apply is showing, check the movie’s official Facebook page >


About the author -

Paula Benson

Film and Furniture founder / Co-Creative Director at Form. Passionate about interiors, design, art, film, music and mind over matter.

Posted in: Feature, Guest Blog on January 11, 2017
Film Title: Rules Don't Apply
Film Year: 2016
Director: Warren Beatty
Genre: comedy drama romance
Set Designer: Jeannine Oppewall Nancy Haigh
Object Type: chair wallpaper wallcovering lamp light
Object Shop: Layer
Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,

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