Life imitating artist, architect and actor

Lockdown has brought about some super films returning to our screens at home. We may have to social distance from our loved ones, but we’ll always have stories to entertain and delight us.

Across the various streaming services and channels we’ve seen some of the greats, films that I recall from childhood, and opportunities to watch movies I never got around to seeing on cinema release.

One film that I can never resist is Three Men and a Baby. Tom Selleck, Ted Danson and Steve Guttenberg living their best bachelor lives in New York during the 80s is what we all need a little of right now. 

I recall thinking how amazing their apartment was when I first saw it and how impressive the mural in the hallway appeared. Come to think of it, I never questioned how troublesome the idea of someone abandoning their baby on the doorstep of three bachelors was, but then that is not what the writers and director wanted us to be focused on, so instead they set about creating a romp of a movie, with equal parts drama, comedy, romance and medium-high stakes from the inept drug dealers.

I’d like to take a moment here to remind/inform you that this film was directed by Leonard Nimoy – that’s right, SPOCK. Spock, offa Star Trek, directed this film. Furthermore, James Orr and Jim Cruickshank, the writers, also exec produced Father of the Bride. My mind is blown for all the connections that my blog will be making in coming posts.

Three Men and a Baby (the follow up ‘little lady’ equally enjoyable and brings us to UK shores – hurrah) exists in a time of Look Who’s Talking, and later followed by Baby’s Day Out, so it could be argued that the film’s main appeal is adorable baby Mary and the haphazard relationship that ensues between adult and infant. However, I think a big part of the charm of TMAAB is it’s almost inexplicable penthouse apartment that the three men find themselves living in.

Now, it is important to remember that we’re in the peak of the 80s here; this is an apartment of such abundant character and creativity that it wins awards for screaming yuppie, artist and affluent over-achiever, all at once, which is essentially what the three male leads are. 

Ted Danson getting to know his baby daughter Mary whilst offering post-modernist realness in kitchen accessories

Let’s talk about the kitchen first, is it in a rooftop conservatory/greenhouse? A glass dome from which they can boost their perma-tans? Its external walls are largely made up of glass panelling with porthole style framework elevating out onto the New York skyline. This is a kitchen of multiple personalities, it’s a hash of makeshift metal shelving, a miniature island, pantry shelves and, do I spy a smattering of Formica? The pops of red in the kitchen accessories are perfect primary colour eye catchers and I think overall we can agree that this kitchen exists solely for the guys to chill beers and throw parties.

The glasshouse style kitchen with pantry style shelving

Moving through the apartment in what feels like a series of arched hallways and impractical double door configurations, I have to note the billiard room (read, man cave). Stage lighting, pinball machine and jukebox compete the look for another nod to their carefree lifestyles and ‘live for the weekend’ vibes. It is always after nine in this hub, with a soft neon low from the games offering a stark contrast to the rest of the apartment.

The Games Room. need I say more?

Now, it is worth remembering that Tom Selleck’s character Peter, is an architect, so I look at this entire space as a constant work in progress. It has all the makings of an incredible abode, with all the progress associated with one too many drinks at the weekend and a rather hectic work schedule. But it is chic in many ways, tres chic.

Michael’s Memphis Bedroom

Looking in more detail, Michael (Guttenberg’s character) is an artist/illustrator and so it is no surprise that they’ve gone full on Lichtenstein cartoon strip for his Memphis bedroom. The bed headboard is the stuff of kaleidoscopic dreams that will remain firmly in the 80s. More recently we have seen a reemergence of this trend through interiors, although in slightly more muted guises. It works particularly well on headboards as a bold pop of texture and colour, against solid colour backdrops, so it’s fair to say that production designer Peter S. Larkin and his team (Jacques M. Bradette and Hilton Rosemarin on set decoration) were on to a winner. Either way, this bedroom is the perfect setting for Michael’s creativity to flow.

Peter has an altogether more sophisticated take on penthouse living for his own room. Utilising the ‘original features’ of this apartment building, Peter’s pile consists of architectural stonework in the form of a huge arch that frames the entire space. All opening out onto glass double doors of course. The dark, atmospheric tones suggest utmost sophistication, I mean, he is an architect, and this places Peter as the more grown up of the trio and therefore capable of maintaining a stylish bedroom.

As for Jack, played by Ted Danson, we do not see much of his private space (probably luckily) but his nomad role as working actor sees him crop up in various settings. 

This penthouse has all the makings of plush 80s furniture, dipping a toe (or a whole foot) into the kitsch post-modernist style, flamboyant, overtly showy and with various nods to the work of Ettore Sottsass. 

That Mural

The takeaway from this film set has always been, for me, that huge mural on the front door or the apartment. Life-size caricatures of Peter, Michael and Jack with (SPOILER ALERT!) Mary and Sylvia added in at the end. Granted, this would not work on every door, particularly not if you live in a mid-terrace in the UK, but it is this iconic mural that forever sticks in my mind when I think of this film, and how cool it would be if I could draw more than a stick man and effortlessly dash pastel tones all over the wall. If only.

Design Facts and Credits:

Name: Three Men and a Baby
Year: 1987
Director: Leonard Nimoy
Production Design: Peter S. Larkin
Set Decorators: Jacques M.Bradette
Hilton Rosemarin


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