Thursday, April 21, 2011

TV And Movie Houses: Beetlejuice

One of the most iconic movie houses (at least in  my opinion) is the Maitland-Deetz residence from Tim Burton's 1988 dark comedy, Beetlejuice. The film stars Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin as Barbara and Adam Maitland, a couple who have lovingly renovated and decorated their old Victorian home. They own the local hardware store, but in the opening scene of the film, we learn they are taking the week off to do a few projects around the house. Their love of the old Victorian is evident--their vacation gifts to one another are "Manchurian Tung Oil" and wallpaper for the guest room.

The house as it looked when the Maitlands owned it.

The local realtor, Jane Butterfield, is intent on convincing the Maitlands to sell their idyllic house. In the first minutes of the movie, she brings an unsolicited offer of $350,000 that has come from a New Yorker desperate to get away from the city. But Adam and Barbara aren't interested, of course. But it turns out that the New Yorker gets his chance after all. Adam and Barbara die in a car accident a few moments later as they head to the hardware store to get a good brush for applying the Tung Oil.

Their ghosts live on though, trapped in the house as a sort of purgatory. Their graves are still fresh when Jane sells the house to Charles and Delia Deetz, who move in with their daughter Lydia. Charles is a businessman who has suffered some sort of mental breakdown, Delia is an aspiring sculptor and artist, and Lydia is a brooding "goth" teenager.

Delia, played by the wonderful Catherine O'Hara, is a snobby fashionista who finds the house utterly unlivable. Her decorator, Otho, is an overweight and pretentious man, and he consents to leave the city to assist with the redesign she feels the house needs. The contemp they hold for the house is obvious as they walk through it on move-in day.

"Well deliver me from L.L. Bean." Otho quips with a roll of the eyes. The house's lack of "organic flow through" doesn't sit well with him, and he warns Charles that the renovations are going to cost him big.

The rest of the movie is a hilarious romp as the Maitland's ghosts attempt to get the Deetz family OUT of their house. The ensemble cast plays their parts perfectly, but the real star of course is the house. Had the Maitlands not loved the house so much, and if the two families taste had been more in line, there wouldn't have been a story! And their tastes could not have been more different! Take a look:

I have to assume the Maitlands hadn't gotten around to doing a lot to the exterior before they died. It's perfectly charming, but more than a little timeworn.

An army of workers arrive with the Deetz, transforming the house into a Post Modern monstrosity.

The house as the Deetz (with Otho's  help of course) redesigned it. I've always thought the exterior was rather interesting this way. The style is pure 80's, but looking at it now, it really doesn't seem that dated. I like how the "bones" of the original house are still there and visible and the modern elements have been applied almost like an exoskeleton. The striped bands at the base of the house are a Tim Burton signature!

The Deetz' new porch wouldn't pass any building codes I'm aware of! Up close, it appears the stripes are bands of shingles. While I can appreciate what they did outside, the interior is a different story...

Here, we catch a glimpse of the kitchen as the Maitlands had it. Painted cupboards, a soft green on paneled walls, and a checkerboard backsplash--pure country house!

The Deetz' kitchen is a nerve-wracking combination of glass block and acid blue. I'd need a big glass of merlot to calm my nerves if I were in this room.

The Maitland's ghosts see their remodeled house for the first time. Otho and Delia have painted every surface in dark faux-finishes, and stripped much of the original details in favor of post modern pieces like this mantel with a lighted hearth.

Otho stands inside of his creation with Lydia. I actually like the abstract painting, but the fleck-painted walls and moldings, not so much.

The Deetz' dining room, with horrible faux-marble paintjob, is severe to say the least. A glass atrium at the rear of the room showcases Delia's sculptures--which are wrapped in glass block and sitting on a floor of white sand. The jagged stone slab that makes up the table is very cold looking, and those strange chairs couldn't possibly be comfortable!

In the foyer, Delia and Otho have once again painted everything in a monochromatic gray faux finish. This room looks like it has heavy smoke damage to me! In one scene, the snakeskin covered handrail turns into a real snake that attacks Delia.

At the end of the movie, Adam and Barbara come to an agreement that allows them to live peacefully with the Deetz family. They begin renovating the house BACK to the way they had it. Here, we can see they've got a bit more to do to restore the foyer.

There is no "real" Beetlejuice house. The exterior was just a shell built for filming on a hill overlooking East Corinth, Vermont. The interiors were built on a soundstage and were designed by set decorator Catherine Mann, who did a handful of late 1980's movies. As an interesting aside, the actor who played Otho (Glenn Shadix) moved back to his hometown of Bessemer, Alabama in 2007 and purchased a white Victorian built in 1886 that bore some similarity to the Maitland house. Unfortunately, his Victorian was destroyed by fire in 2008, and Shadix  himself passed away in 2010.

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  1. How cool. I really like how you can take interesting topics like this and find architectural interest and design conversations out of it. Very readable to me.

  2. Thanks Claire! That's a great compliment. It's an occupational hazard I guess-everyone else watching a movie might be trying to figure out "who done it" and I'm wondering where the drapes came from...ha ha!

  3. I wanna know where the house is located and is it for sale. If it is how much would it cost to move in and have it renovated just like the maitlands house before they died.

  4. if any one Knows send me an e-mail at

  5. The house in the movie is not a real house. The front was a facade and the inside was shot inside a filming studio.

  6. The house IS real. In fact my best friend's mother owns (and currently lives in) the house and, sadly, it's not for least not yet. It's located in East Corinth, VT which is pretty much smack dab in the middle of the state (running north/south) and very close to the NH border. The real estate prices in that area are relatively cheap the further away from I-91 you get.

    1. The house in the movie is not a real house. The front was a facade and the inside was shot inside a filming studio.

    2. I live in the next town over. The house was a tilt-up shell on a single deck, with no interior walls. The roof was made of painted canvas that was inflated during exterior shots, to make it look like a real roof. The empty interior of the building was used by the crew as an impromptu basketball court. Some interior shots were done in local houses, but most were on a sound stage. The hardware store was actually the town's general store, which is now out of business. The library and church are still there. The "school" was actually the masons hall, with a bit of Hollywood magic applied to the exterior. The cover on the covered bridge was fake, and is now used at a local ski slope to house equipment.

      - A Different Anonymous

  7. I just saw this movie on cable tonight and it really hasnt aged at all.
    The interior design,as wierd as it is, was a big influence on me, and I still use some of the ideas from it.

  8. Residential Filming Locations becomes more iconic because of the different scenes taken into it. Scenes in a film also being affected on how the set will looks like.

  9. Stumbled Across this article while looking for dated interiors. Fun and inciteful. Good Read!

  10. Anyone know who the artist of that abstract painting is? It looks similar to the piece in the "Prince Valium" scene with Delia asleep.

  11. I would totally be a Deetz. Taking that ugly old farm house and turning it into something wild! Who wants conformity. I plan to build one of those decks myself!