Style Court

Textiles, Art History, Gardens, and a Little Mental Traveling with Courtney Barnes 2006-2016


Regency Redux

[Screengrab from Masterpiece Classic's Emma 2009. Squerryes Court serves as Hartfield, Emma's digs, in this adaptation.]

[Screengrab from Masterpiece Classic's Emma 2009.]

[© 1995-Paramount Pictures via IMDB.]

Nearly four years ago, I posted a question about the set decor in Amy Heckerling's Clueless. Since her screenplay was based on Jane Austen's Regency-era Emma, and her late-20th-century lead character, Cher Horowitz, lives in Beverly Hills (or is it Bel Air?), I thought it was ironic that the 1995 movie missed the Kelly Wearstler-and-Jonathan Adler-driven Hollywood Regency design revival by less than a decade.

[Clueless screengrab from Cinemagia.]

[Image from HB's June 2001 story about the KWID bungalow. Photography by Jonn Coolidge.]

The clothes in Clueless are considered innovative and memorable, with a few subtle nods to Austen's Regency.

[Screengrab from Clueless. Note the Empire waist dress.]

But do you remember much about the rooms? I wondered how the interiors in the movie might have changed if it had been filmed in 2005 when Hollywood Regency style was taking L.A. by storm. On my second attempt to introduce the topic I turned to our favorite Regency expert, Emily Evans Eeerdmans.

[Check out the table in this still from Emma © 1996 Miramax.]

[Screengrab from Masterpiece Classic's Emma 2009.]

I asked Emily if she thinks Clueless' 1990s Califoria decor, what I hastily described as Barbie-Dream-House-meets-McMansion, best suits Heckerling's story after all. Or would Hollywood Regency interiors have upped the aesthetic punch?

She said: "Although I've seen Clueless several times, I can't remember the sets at all -- which of course just goes to prove your point."

Emily stressed that Emma and all of Jane Austen's novels are set in the highly stylized Regency period. "Pomp and pageantry was the order of the day whether it was the flashing epaulets on a soldier's uniform or the gleam of ormolu mounts on a center table."

She added, "Emma Woodhouse is a character we all fantasize about being -- rich with a high rank in society (which was just as important as having lots of dough), young and beautiful-- and without an annoying Mama to cramp her style. Her house should be just as aspirational and here is where Clueless' Cher lets us down. If my memory serves me right, Cher's mansion (with the exception of her closet) is an upscale version of a Raymour and Flannigan store -- instantly forgettable. The mannered glamour of Kelly Wearstler and Jonathan Adler would have popped and sizzled and made the privileged life of Cher that much more fairy tale-like."

What's your take?

Related reading:

Historic Houses in Emma 2009

[Screengrab from Clueless. The pool at Cher's house.]

Update: 1.27.10
Fiona left a great comment below that reminds us all to take another look at Clueless. She remembers, for example, bold Claes Oldenburg sculptures and the dramatic area around Cher's pool. So maybe this weekend we should all watch it again with a special eye out for art. Thanks Fiona!


La Maison Fou said...

I liked the movie ( my daughter liked it more), it reminded me of the 80"s valley girl meets 90's barbie doll of beverly hills. I think I took away more of Silverstones wardrobe than anything else, and wasn't it the first real role for her ex-step brother, Josh? It was a cute film, also an intro for Brit Murphy.....

I think I remember the people better than the interiors.

Will have to see it again, I seem to recall Mc Mansions, mohair sectionals, and crystal everywhere.

Not exactly, the countryside, romantic look, of course most teens probably were not interested in the decor.


Style Court said...

Leslie, I loved Paul Rudd in this too.

I meant to add that since it was filmed before the Hollywood Regency revival of the 2000s, it's hard to say what look would've resonated with movie goers -- it's just fun to imagine the sets remade in about 2003-2006 :)


Lol. I was going to say the closet, but y'all covered that. I remember the 2 story foyer with a spiral staircase and a big painting of Cher's mom. I know there were steps between the living room and kitchen (all stainless I believe) and I have this idea that the couch was gray. More style than Country Club of The South, less than BHead. Haha. Ok, that's a generalization, but you get the point!
CONGRATS on Atlanta mag list!!

Style Court said...

Thanks Claire!

Great memory and really good point about the portrait. That sort of harkens back to the 19th century, novels etc.

Style Court said...

Oh and I don't know how many of you are following the latest Emma on PBS, but it's interesting to contrast the stronger colors -- richer hues were chosen for a lot of the clothes -- with the pastels in Paltrow's 1990s Emma. That film really had a great look, didn't it?

CDS said...

i've got the new Emma sitting on my Tivo, must watch.

Laura Casey Interiors said...

I don't remember the decor well in Clueless but I did love the movie and the clothes. Too bad that would have been a great opportunity for a really amazing house set. Emma is one of my favorite movies, outstanding sets and clothes. Next time I see Clueless in the movie scroll I will take a few to look at it again.

Fiona said...

The decor was nice enough, but not that memorable in Clueless, although the huge, sweeping staircase was pretty eye-catching. The Claes Oldenburg sculptures and the exterior around the pool were pretty memorable, though, imo.

I love the GP movie version of Emma. Everything is so beautiful in that movie that to me, it just reflects Emma's charmed life so well.

Style Court said...


Thank you so much for the Oldenburg reminder! I'll try to find an image and add it here.

Emile de Bruijn said...

As you say, Regency interiors were pretty over the top. One of the fasinating facts I learned from John Martin Robinson's book The Regency Country House is that some houses of the period became so grand and entertainment-oriented that they were impractical to inhabit day-to-day. Their owners resorted to building smaller houses elsewhere on their estates to actually live in. The sixth Duke of Bedford, for instance, built a 'cottage' called Endsleigh (actually a fairly large country house) as a bolt-hole from Woburn Abbey.

Style Court said...


Now you've raised another interesting point. The McMansion look, and maybe I'm wrong to be calling it that, of the Clueless house was definitely over-the-top.

I've read that Austen didn't care for the excesses of the Regency era and therefore many of the stately houses she describes in her books represent an earlier era, or older money, if you will. It gets complicated as we analyze it.

Janet said...

Thank you for identifying Squerryes Court! I keep meaning to google it and somehow forget. I have been watching and am enjoying. But, I will reserve my final judgement for the last episode....

Anonymous said...

It was story about a household with only a preoccupied father and a busy daughter; the mother was dead. The way I make sense of the lack of decorating fluorishes is that it reflected the mother's absence.