A Glimpse at the Cinematic Style of Nancy Meyers

Feast of the Seven Fishes Pie

Nancy Meyers

You are a nice Jewish girl who was raised on Philadelphia’s Main Line in the 1960s and you grow up to be:

  1. A Housewife
  2. A Schoolteacher
  3. A Divorced Housewife
  4. The Most Successful American Female Writer/Director/Producer in the History of Movies

If you guessed D then we are talking about Nancy Meyers, and you are absolutely correct.

There’s no doubt Nancy Meyers’ movies are phenomenally successful—the last four combined grossed over one billion dollars (2015 The Intern, 2009 It’s Complicated, 2006 The Holiday, 2003 Something’s Gotta Give), and her all-star filled casts are delightful, featuring such luminaries as Diane Keaton, paired with a feisty Jack Nicolson, and  Robert DeNiro, who gave a heartfelt turn as the oldest, most junior employee on earth mentoring Anne Hathaway’s beleaguered chief executive.

While none of this is big news – there has been many a story and blog written about Nancy Meyers – for the final project for my INTD 150 class, Design Elements for Interior Environments, I used interiors from her movies to illustrate the Elements of Design. Possibly because the set designers and decorators employed to produce these movie sets are well schooled in these concepts, and any fabulous interior has to have these elements in order to be fabulous, it was easy to make the connections. While I should make it clear Nancy Meyers did not design these rooms herself, as their writer, director, and producer it is her vision and her version we see.

The coziest living room in all of England–from The Holiday.

Briefly these are the Elements of Design: Line, Shape, Form, Color, Value–which actually refers to Light, Space and Texture.  I think you could argue that line may be the most important element. Lines are created by the furnishings and architecture of a room and actually guide us through space.

As does Nancy Meyers.  Erica Barry (Diane Keaton), the main character in the movie Something’s Gotta Give, is a divorced playwright in her mid-fifties. You only have to look inside Erica’s fabulous Hamptons home, glimpse the quality and beauty of the furniture and accessories to realize not only is she loaded (ergo successful) but she is classy and tasteful too… Note how the interior of the room pictured below speaks volumes about our heroine before even a single word is actually spoken.

While we have all drooled over this bedroom and wished this was our desk overlooking the ocean, Meyers is sending us a message loud and clear. This bedroom and office combo shows us that Erica is a single, independent woman. She can work late, or whenever she wants, because this is a room of her own.

The stage is set; so how does line play a part in this silent dialogue with the audience? We can start with the vertical lines: from the trim around the office area, to the floor-to-ceiling drapes, onto the mullions in the French doors and the bay windows.  They all direct our eyes upward adding considerable height and drama to the room. We’re impressed.

All these vertical lines are softened by the horizontal lines in the rug and the throw by the bed; their purpose is to ground the space, and enhance the expansive luxuriousness of the room. They give this room a tranquil and peaceful feeling–essential elements, one imagines, for an author. Then the curves (more lines) of the chaise and the upholstered armchair soften and unite those multitudes of vertical and horizontal lines. By placing the upholstery pieces on the diagonal our eyes focus inwards creating nearly a complete circle! Genius at work.

Shape

When lines come together they produce shapes…when you mix and match those shapes a designer, or in this case a movie director, creates a mood that showcases how your home—or movie set—feels.

Erica’s living room has a variety of shapes starting with the Mora clock’s sensuous curves, a natural, organic shape that contrasts with the hard lines and and angular edges in the rectangular windows in the transoms and stair railings. Is Meyers trying to show us that there is more than one side to our heroine’s character? Soft on the outside and hard on the inside—or maybe just the opposite–hard on the outside and soft on the inside?

Form

Form is a three dimensional shape.

We’re going to switch movies and meet a new Nancy Meyers’ heroine. This bedroom belongs to Jules, Anne Hathaway’s character in The Intern.

In interior design, form refers to the shape of the room, furnishings, décor—the three dimensional objects that occupy the space. 

So what do these objects tell us about her character? An eclectic mix of mid-century and modern items, it’s trendy, transitional, and yes traditional—we can just see that armoire holding the tv in the far left hand corner of the room. So she’s hip, she’s young, and she’s cool. The bed is humongous, ship sized and clearly built for two. Anchoring that is a midcentury slip-covered sofa that keeps the bed in check. These forms bring strength and structure to the room, which is balanced by the rounded edges of that fabulous chaise and curved ottoman. This is someone who can break a glass ceiling–while wearing heels.

Color

Color, of course, is definitely one of the key elements of interior design. It is used to create aesthetically pleasing combinations and also works on a psychological level. 

In It’s Complicated Meyers shifts west to California. Her character, our heroine this time, is 69-year-old Jane Adler, aka Meryl Streep. Long divorced with three, mostly grown children, she lives in a hacienda-ish home and owns and operates a thriving Parisian style patisserie in Santa Barbara.

While white slipcovers are a no-brainer these days, a predictable, washable option for a lived-in family room, Myers drops a bombshell when she accessorizes with intense orange contrasted with a pop of navy.

So what does this say about our heroine? Well, if we consulted Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist who founded analytical psychology, about the properties and meanings of color in our lives—colors have qualities that elicit emotions and influence people in various ways. In this case the color orange demonstrates optimism, enthusiasm, self-confidence and agreeableness. Whew. That’s Jane to a tee.

So why that pop of navy? Because navy blue evokes feelings of power and authority–rather than the sense of relaxation and peace associated with  lighter shades of blue. Darker shades of blue tend to denote authority and importance.  No doubt who’s the boss here.

Value/Light

Lighting is a critical element of interior design. It can be used in dozens of ways to change the size and mood of a space and different types of lighting vary greatly in how they define the ambience of an area.

In the movies, lighting takes on a whole new dimension. It is a science and an art to make a room or a scene visible in a way that is not only illuminating, but also contributes to the “mood.”  Without adequate lighting all the other elements would vanish.

In this photo from The Intern we can see various forms of lighting from task—the kitchen pendant in the background—to ambient,  the Lindsey Adelman light fixture that hangs above the dining table—to accent, where she uses a George Nelson Bubble lamp for illumination on the console. This is a design trifecta!

Space

Space is a fairly simple design element to understand—it refers to the physical boundaries of a room.

When you are Nancy Meyers you get to choose both the dimensions of the room you are filming and how to use that area’s space and layout to your advantage.

Meyers gets a lot of credit for the popularity of open concept floor plans. In an open concept plan the walls between rooms are removed—giving them a lofty or open feel—negative space, in contrast to the areas filled with décor, islands, sofas, and tables that represent positive space. I think that is a “What came first, the chicken or the egg?” situation, but there is no question that her kitchens are phenomenal and wide open. In Something’s Gotta Give note how the kitchen with its two massive islands opens into an equally massive family room.

Texture

Our final element of design is texture which is the feel, appearance, or consistency of a surface and can refer to rough or smooth finishes, glossy or dull surfaces, and soft or coarse textiles. Everything from fabrics and furniture to decorative accessories brings different textures into a space.  Texture is often used to provide an added dimension to a space.

While some may bemoan the neutral palate of many a Nancy Meyers’ flick, she always makes sure to shake things up with a ton of texture: plush rugs, linens, velvets…you name it, she’s got it in there somewhere.

For example, in Jane Adler’s cozy bedroom in It’s Complicated Meyers showcases mixed and matched antiques and finishes with aplomb. Then there are bamboo blinds layered under linen curtains, an upholstered headboard layered with Euro shams and snow white sheets and pillows, and what looks like a homespun linen khaki coverlet layered with a knitted tangerine colored throw. The result? A cozy and warm haven. What woman wouldn’t want that?

Meanwhile this woman had to come up with a new recipe for a Christmas Eve dinner that was easy to make but elegant to serve. Fortunately Melissa Clark, acclaimed food writer for The New York Times published this recipe just before Christmas and saved the day. And I mostly followed the recipe so it tasted amazing–it was meant to serve 8 and Keith and I nearly finished it off! Full disclosure I did not have fresh (or even dried) tarragon so I used a shake of thyme and we used regular pie crust instead of puff pastry because the latter was sold out. Next time (maybe New Year’s Eve even) I will make sure to have both on hand but honestly it was really good just the way I made it…

 

Feast of the Seven Fishes Pie

INGREDIENTS

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 large leeks, white and light green parts only, halved and thinly sliced (4 cups)
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 anchovies, minced
  • ½ cup dry white wine or dry vermouth
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour, more for rolling out pastry
  • ¾ cup chicken stock
  • ½ cup clam juice
  • 1 pound mixed mild fish fillets, cut into 1 1/4-inch thick cubes (such as cod and pollock)
  • ½ pound large shelled shrimp (16 to 20 count)
  • ½ pound large sea scallops, side muscle removed
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 tablespoon chopped tarragon
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
  • 2 tablespoons drained capers, chopped
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 pound puff pastry, thawed
 

PREPARATION

  1. Butter a shallow 1 1/2-quart baking dish or casserole. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat, then stir in leeks and 1 teaspoon salt, and cook until soft, stirring frequently, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in garlic and anchovies and cook 1 minute, until the anchovies dissolve. Add wine and bring to a boil, then let simmer until the wine evaporates almost completely. Remove from heat and scrape into a heatproof bowl.
  2. In the same skillet, melt remaining 4 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Whisk in flour and cook until pale golden, 1 to 3 minutes. Slowly whisk in chicken stock and clam juice, and bring to a simmer, whisking constantly. Simmer for 1 to 3 minutes until very thick (it will thin out as it bakes), then remove from heat.
  3. Pat the fish cubes, shrimp and scallops dry. Stir them into the sauce along with the sautéed leeks, peas, tarragon, parsley, capers and remaining 1 teaspoon salt. Spoon mixture into prepared dish.
  4. Chill uncovered, for at least 1 hour, and up to overnight.
  5. Before baking, heat oven to 425 degrees. In a small bowl, whisk together egg with 1 teaspoon water. On a lightly floured surface, unroll pastry dough. Roll it 1/8-inch thick. Use a fish cutter or paring knife to cut out a fish from the center of dough. (Alternatively, you can cut circles from the dough and overlap them on top of the pie to look like fish scales).
  6. Place pastry on top of pie and trim edges, but don’t seal them (sealing impinges on the puffing). Brush egg wash all over pastry.
  7. Place pie on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until crust is golden, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 to 10 minutes before serving. 

(Movie photos are the from the Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Ratpac-Dune Entertainment)

Homing

Meat Pie Recipe

Homing refers to an animal’s ability to return to a place after traveling far away from it. While I know Keith loves living in the United States (he’s been here over 40 years for heaven’s sakes!) there will always be an England in his heart.  So it was brilliant to pop over the pond and soak up some real ale, visit with the relatives, and just be in that special British kind of groove for a couple of weeks this fall.First stop was in Surrey where we met up with Keith’s Auntie Pat.  No proper English home is without a garden and Pat always has one of the best. Love her hanging basket and bold use of color, so warm and welcoming.Next stop was arguably one of the most famous gardens in the United Kingdom: Sissinghurst, in nearby Kent. Originally owned by Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson and now the National Trust, it is a must stop for garden lovers and English lit majors the world over. Vita was a Bloomsbury Group original, lover of Virginia Woolf, and gardener extraordinaire.

In her own words: “My liking for gardens to be lavish is an inherent part of my garden philosophy. I like generosity wherever I find it, whether in gardens or elsewhere. I hate to see things scrimp and scrubby. Even the smallest garden can be prodigal within its own limitations… Always exaggerate rather than stint. Masses are more effective than mingies.” Trust me there are no mingies at Sissinghurst!

It wasn’t huge, as English gardens go, but with allees and walls and hedges and borders, vistas, large and small abound. And the totally famous White Garden, even in fall, was a masterpiece of design with a lush fullness and texture that belied its ostensible lack of color. Green is a color after all. There was not a corner left untended–or unplanted and every turn brought another awesome vignette.I probably took two hundred more photos; everywhere I looked there was a better shot.  But, eventually cocktail hour approached and we were meeting a cousin at a fabulous pub and B & B in Tonbridge  so it was time to get a move on.

And time for a pint.Next we headed to Bognor Regis, a classic and classy seaside resort made famous by King George the V, and our home for the next few days while we enjoyed our niece Chantal’s wedding festivities.Between the seaside and the architecture Bognor Regis is a great place to stay so if you go to that part of the English coast give Brighton, the better known city just to the east, a miss–overcrowded and over-rated in my opinion–and stay in beautiful Bognor.  The wedding was a civil ceremony in the town hall in nearby Chichester. Here we are with Keith’s brother and his partner. (I decided against the fascinator; tempting as it was I felt it best to leave that look to the natives).  The reception was a double decker bus ride away at the groom’s parents nursery and garden center just outside of town.Sadly all good things must pass, even weddings with six surfboard salutes; it was time for us to get to work. First stop, Christies Auction House in London to see how master U.S. designer Michael S. Smith curated that week’s sale. The brief was to show how antiques can be incorporated into everyday design–a no brainer except it seems for everyone under 40 these days.For probably around $10,000. (if the auction estimates were to be believed) you could furnish a living room–and dining room! Granted they were not period antiques, but who cares? Everything in the salesroom, whether antique or merely vintage, was well made, decorative and well worth the cost. We would have and probably should have and may well do in the future.The other designer setting up the exhibition was Martin Brudnizki and his styling was to die for.Check this out.And this:There was just a mad assortment of things old and new and what a great treat to see how these two design Ninjas put this with that and altogether came up with a whole room you just wanted to take home. Kudos to Christie’s for coming up with the idea to show objects in situ.

Our next foray was to Kings Road. Home to iconic shop after iconic shop, it is a little bit of heaven for anyone with a penchant for interior design. Osborne and Little were showing Nina Campbell’s new line.The latest from George Smith was on display.Timothy Oulton (familiar to Americans through his RH connection) had just opened a new store called Bluebird. And clearly was channeling Michael S. Smith’s Christies vibe.Then we spent a long time at Trowbridge Galleries, the leading purveyors of art photography in England, and a vendor we are considering for the store.Next stop was the London  Design Centre,Chelsea Harbour .They were madly putting the finishing touches on many of the showrooms in preparation for the London Design Week. Loved the color of these sofas; clearly you can’t go wrong with pumpkin this fall.  It was a great way to wind up our trip and a fabulous opportunity to see the latest in home decor from a whole slew of world-class designers and renowned retailers.  But eventually all good things must end; it was time for us to go home.

Meat Pie

But I couldn’t stop thinking about the meal we had at Chantal’s wedding. Everyone was served a meat pie and then gravy, mashed potatoes, peas and carrots were placed on the tables family style. I can’t believe I ate the whole thing!So I googled meat pies until I figured out how to do it.  Here’s the Nelson Family version.

Meat Pie

First make your favorite beef stew.  I delegated this to Keith and he made  a Beef Bourguignon, using his favorite recipe from The James Beard Cookbook.  The first night we had this in classic stew form, the next night we made meat pies.  All you need to do is buy some puff pastry–it comes in your freezer section and thaws in the microwave if you forget, like I did, to take it out of your own freezer.

Using an inverted glass, cut circles out of the dough and place in greased cupcake tins.  Fill with stew–a good trick I read and followed–is keep the filling on the dry side.  Next top with a pastry lid, using a fork to press the dough around the edges to seal the pies shut. Cut two small slits in the top, and brush on some egg white. Cook in a pre-heated 390 degree for 30 minutes.

Not bad for a first try–easy as pie! Keith was happy to have a taste of home and now you can too.

11:43:33

In the Works

Italian Sausage and Peppers Recipe

June swept by me and now July promises to do the same. However, right now I have a quiet moment so I can get to a few updates.

Let’s start at The Monmouth Museum – From June 1 to September 3 they have a timely exhibit for all of us home decor addicts. They are showing artwork with sofas and while the official stance is the art stands alone, the sofa is secondary, personally, I like it when it all matches. Here is what they paired with our British Cottage entry. Nice huh? Try to get there. The museum is in Lincroft on the Brookdale Community College Campus and there is a great children’s wing so maybe pop in on a rainy day.

Meanwhile, we are assisting with a mixed bag of design projects that showcase the variety of living situations in our two rivers area.  First, there is the Alderbrook update, where a very young at heart senior is curating a lifetime of possessions into a thoroughly up-to-date transitional interior. Then there is the Atlantic Highlands petite chateau where the owners have reclaimed their second story from their young son.  And are in the process of transforming it from a playground into a sophisticated master bedroom suite and home office for the work at home most days professional mom. This is the before. You are not going to believe the after but because this is a work in progress we all have to wait for the wallpaper to arrive…

Keep your fingers crossed. We’re counting on fabulous wallpaper from Thibaut and a to die for bed from Century to make this transformation a success.

Meanwhile who wouldn’t welcome an excuse to hang out at this updated Shingle Style home in Fair Haven, literally steps away from the Navesink River, where almost empty nesters are creating a sophisticated coastal haven?  Think the first-class berth on the QE2, no starfish and fishing nets here!

While we are not designers, after thirty years of shifting furniture around we’ve developed pretty good eyes and are usually happy to weigh in if asked.  At the store we marry the new with the old, casual with chic, and farmhouse with modern every single day so we are well aware of the challenges you face.  It is all about showing the things you love to their best advantage whether you are just starting out, or easing into retirement.

Speaking of taking things you love and mixing them up; try doing that with green, red. orange and yellow peppers. Add some hot Italian sausage and you have a fabulous, fresh dinner that tastes like summer.

The Wall Street Journal sometimes skews a little too right for my taste but their weekend features section is totally on the mark and my new recipe go to source.  This is from their “Slow Food Fast” column.

Comfort-Food Classic: Italian Sausage and Peppers

(Recipe by Chef Mashama Bailey of the Grey, in Savannah, Ga.)

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 pounds sweet Italian sausages
  • 2 pounds hot Italian sausages
  • 6 bell peppers, a mix of red, yellow, orange and green, cored, seeded and julienned
  • 1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 (14-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons Sherry vinegar
  • Kosher salt
  • Crusty bread, for serving

1. Swirl 2 tablespoons olive oil into a heavy pot over medium heat. Add sausages, working in batches if necessary to avoid crowding, and cook until browned on all sides, about 4 minutes. Remove sausages from pot and set aside.

2. To the same pot, add peppers, onions and garlic. Sauté until vegetables soften, about 15 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, remaining oil and vinegar. Return sausages to pot and turn gently to coat. Braise until tomatoes reduce to a sauce that cloaks peppers, about 10 minutes, adding splashes of water if pot looks dry. Serve with crusty bread.

Spring 2017 High Point Furniture Market

Bourbon-Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars Recipe

Lillian August for Hickory White at the Spring High Point Furniture Market 2017
Lillian August for Hickory White

Spring is always a busy time at British Cottage.  Besides the usual comings and goings on at the store, there is the spring furniture market in High Point, North Carolina to look forward to.  This year’s offerings did not disappoint.

We started out on Thursday afternoon at the Currey and Company preview party with a Bourbon with Bunny theme (as in Bunny Williams, designer extraordinaire).  We did not partake of the former, nor espy the latter, but we did see a fabulous array of chandeliers.  And you can see them soon, in person, at British Cottage!

Currey and Company Chandelier

Currey and Company ChandelierCurrey and Cmpany ChandelierCurrey and Company ChandelierNext up was the hunt for tables.  While we build a lot of our own product at our factory in Hungary, High Point Market gives us the opportunity to augment our inventory with some of the latest designs on the market.

42" Round Table with Bluestone top
Pedestal Table with a Bluestone top

Exhibit A:  we picked up this 41″ round table with a bluestone top.  It’s transitional, rustic, and beachy, and would be a winner just about everywhere.

7' table in whitewashed finish
Whitewashed 84″ table

Speaking of beachy, we thought this table was rather fun for those of us who live at the shore.  And at 84″ long by 36″ deep, it’s big, but not too big to fit into a banquette area.  Needless to say, you will be seeing it soon at British Cottage.

Oval dining table in white paint
Swedish style dining table

The Gustavian style is near and dear to our hearts, so we just had to buy this 9′ long table in that fabulous Swedish style.  Once again, it is as perfect at the shore as it is in town, and makes a change from the typical muted driftwood hues you see everywhere these days.

Long dining table with a trestle base, French Country Dining Table
Country French Dining Table

We loved the warm tones of this beautiful table made with vintage oak parquet and a bold trestle support; we even bought the faded rose-colored upholstered side chairs for a fin de siecle kind of vibe.

Next up was upholstery.  For the past several years we’ve been working with Hickory White, a family-owned company in North Carolina that makes fabulous sofas and chairs with hardwood frames and custom spring down cushions–in the United States!  Our visit to their showroom did not disappoint.

Oftentimes we will snap up the pieces made especially for the show, and in this case, Keith was not going to leave until we bought the chairs and couch you can see in these photos.  I even have a lead on the rug!

Hickory White Armchair
Keith at the Hickory White Showroom

Chesterfield Sofa, Velvet Sofa, Hickory White Upholstery
Velvet Chesterfield

Upholstered in an ecru colored velvet (actually, a fabric blend that wears like steel) this Chesterfield sofa exudes class and comfort.

Best upholstered Hickory White armchair
Tailored Armchair with Nailheads

The final piece in our Hickory White trilogy, this upholstered armchair in a tweedy fabric completes the ensemble.  Love the nailheads up top and along the perimeter.

Of course, this is just a taste of what we bought!  Stay tuned for updates on all these items, and more, on our New Arrivals page or on Facebook.

But wait–as usual, we have a recipe to share!  In honor of Bunny Williams (and bourbon), here’s one of our favorite recipes, just in time for this weekend’s Kentucky Derby.  Recipe courtesy of Joy the Baker‘s fabulous cookbook “Homemade Decadence”.

Bourbon-Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars (AKA Derby Pie Bars)

Shortbread Crust:
2 cups flour
3/4 cup confectioners sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1/2 tsp. salt

Filling:
1/4th cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
3 large eggs
2 Tbsp bourbon
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups toasted pecans, coarsely chopped (toasted if desired)
1 cup dark chocolate chunks (I used semisweet chocolate chips as I didn’t have dark chocolate)

Put a rack in the upper third of he oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9×13 inch baking dish with butter or pam spray.

For the crust, in an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, confectioners sugar, butter, and salt. Beat the mixture until combined but crumbly, about 4 minutes. Dump the mixture into the prepared pan and use your fingers to press the dough evenly across the bottom.

Bake the crust until lightly browned, about 12-15 minutes. Remove from oven to cool but leave the oven on.

For the filling, mix the butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, eggs, salt and bourbon together. Once well mixed, add the pecan pieces and chocolate chips. Pour all the mixture evenly over the baked crust and bake again until set, about 25-30 minutes. The bars will keep in an airtight container for up to 4 days if in the fridge.