From Malibu Mansion to Cabin in the Woods

With the release of Disney +, we, like so many other households have embarked on the epic journey through the Marvel films.

From start to finish, in chronological order, we are revisiting our favourite superheroes, even The Incredible Hulk (the Ed Norton one), as, according to a list found over on Tech Radar, it links in with the story. It’s no Mark Ruffalo outing but we’re committed and so it has been dutifully watched.

It’s ok, I mean, I hate The Hulk’s hair, but I guess there are very few stylists who specialise in ‘green rage monster’ dos… I digress…

Iron Man is my favourite superhero by a country mile. I’m a big RDJ fan and I’ve always felt that the character development of Tony Stark has been superlative. The scripts are sharp and witty and the tone and humour is very on-brand.

Comfortable there?

Now, as we know, the Marvel Universe has traversed galaxies, literally, and so with it there has been a plethora of production designers, art directors and set decorators on hand to master bringing to life these worlds, as imagined by the incomparable Stan Lee. J Michael Riva was the production designer entrusted with the first two instalments of Iron Man before his passing, when Bill Brzeski took on the role for Iron Man 3, where Tony’s Malibu mansion took a serious beating at the hands of Aldrich Killian (cheers, Guy Pearce). Lauri Gaffin has acted as set decorator on all three films, bringing that tasteful touch of art gallery meets Geppetto’s tech-heavy workshop to the Stark abodes with consistency and panache.

Taking in their fancy abode, just before Aldrich Killian trashes the place

Something that hugely enables Tony’s character arc is the sets that surround him. His houses are the epitome of minimal bachelor living mixed with incredible mechanical ingenuity. It enhances the story, not by stealing the scene but by melding with Tony and his suits.

The ultimate cliff-side condo

The Malibu ‘playboy’ mansion, an actual house as I’ve been well informed, which you can view on a tour of the coast of LA, is a grown up Tracey Island style pad for our own palladium powered superhero/mechanic. It is glossy, sprawling, so early noughties and mostly, completely emotionally cut off from any sentimentality; designed with the intent to reflect a protective, distanced world that Tony builds up for himself. Oh those metaphorical walls.

Is Tony stark angling for a job as a Thunderbird?

This is exactly the home our young Stark would have picked for himself in his early mechanic/philanthropist years. From the wide expanses of glass overlooking the ocean, to the curved, multiple occupant sofa, which we rarely see anyone sat on, this home has all the feeling of a hotel with single person occupancy. The sheet of water that spirals downstairs into his man cave is a subtle ‘shield’ and distraction from what lies beneath and would perhaps be more at home in a Four Seasons, but this is the smart-tech arthouse of Stark and who are we to argue? I’m sure Jarvis has an opinion he keeps to himself.

Don’t go chasing waterfalls, Tony

The classic Mid-Century iconic Eames chair sits unused in the open-plan lounge and even poor Pepper Potts is stooped upon a petit wooden stool in the first instalment of the films. That, and the neutral tones and shades of the stone floor and ceiling emits, not a clinical feel, but one of an emptiness, which is totally paralleled by Tony’s internal conflicts throughout the story. Tony believes himself something of a rockstar and the way the main space is accessorised plays to this tune perfectly, with a pair of guitars not-so-casually placed and those cool, stone tones of masculinity and power. It’s a party pad, but his parties usually end in him urinating in his suit.

work hard, play harder, work harder still

Now we know that Tony and Pepper eventually get together and this character relationship sub-plot is amplified by the sets and their designs. As we progress through, the sets soften in some areas and become more ‘metalised’ in others. We see the layers and textures appear in the bedroom, which has a heavy masculine quality but is much softer than the other spaces. We also see more of the juvenile games and toys, perhaps a visual metaphor for Tony’s unravelling and lack of control, coupled with his need to protect more than himself now.

The boxing ring, the car collection and the bar/entertainment room. It’s a very physical home, created for activities and with it, layers upon layers of tech, built into every table and wall space, as a shield – the ultimate protection. Even the artwork that starts in Tony’s garage eventually gives way to fan posters as we see Tony spiral in his efforts to save the world single-handedly. Here the set designers have cleverly woven in artworks and a very sleek and polished industrial look, appropriate for suit design and car storage. This kind of ‘man cave’ suits Tony’s persona but ultimately, assists his downfall. As he is eventually driven from this home, we see a transition of his physical space…

Softer, more comfortable living, but Tony has floordrobe issues

While we begin in the cool, ocean scene, cliff top house on the West Coast, with Tony always on the edge of brilliance and madness simultaneously, we then move, across cities and states, via New York and eventually to a beautiful luxe cabin setting that perfectly honours Tony’s journey. No more underground workshops, no more slick surfaces designed to dazzle people, this is a rural hideaway, a moment of serenity and a new kind of shield from a life that presents destruction at every turn.

Distractions and boys’ toys

When we arrive at Endgame it is to this super-cosy abode that the Starks have retreated to. A return to nature. The set design team, including Leslie Pope as set decorator, has taken Tony’s world to another level entirely, based on his experiences and the storyline leading up to here. There are wooden beams everywhere, an open fireplace, exposed brick walls and a solid wooden staircase as just some of the features to aid this transformation of sorts.

A luxury lodge

Heavy wooden shutters create a kind of recluse vibe and we realise that this is where he is protecting his family, so, while there is perhaps less overt tech, there is more of a sense of protection in the overall feeling of the space. A veranda edges the perimeter of their home, a classic trope of many an American abode (so film and television informs me) adorned with that rural wicker furniture and embellished with accessories in a relaxed, rustic, Southwestern style, but only hints of it.

Mahogany, deep reds and layered textures create a sense of security

Inside we have deep blood red tones in the antiqued Persian rug and red velvet chair we spy in one nook of the ground-floor space. Rich mahogany punctuates the entire house and most of the walls are bedecked with bookcases, packed with books, guides and manuals. There is a distinct return to basics, which is highlighted in the way the home is accessorised. At one point Pepper is seen reading a book on composting and even Tony’s work desk has old school leather bound tools, rolls of parchment and archaic utensils. It is an homage to the human side of Tony that he all but forgot. It is honest and earthy and very real. It is liveable and comforting, were the set designers have gone prop crazy with accessory upon accessory to make this house really feel like a home and a safe house for Tony.

From this billionaire cliff-side pad to ultra luxe cabin in the woods, Tony Stark has treated us to an evolving timeline of homes. In his search for peace we have experienced the sleek lines and stone wash of his Californian pile, his home from home office atop the Avengers HQ in NYC and finally, the rough luxe textures of the cabin, my personal favourite in his property portfolio.

Tony, I love it 3000.

Design Facts and Credits:

Name: Iron Man (all individual films, including the Avengers collection)
Year(s): 2008 – 2019

Iron Man

Production Design:
J. Michael Riva

Art Direction:
Liz Carney
David F. Klassen
Richard F. Mays
Suzan Wexler

Set Decoration: 
Lauri Gaffin

Iron Man 2

Production Design:
J. Michael Riva

Art Direction:
Page Buckner
Michael E. Goldman
David F. Klassen
Suzan Wexler

Set Decoration:
Lauri Gaffin

Iron Man 3

Production Design:
Bill Brzeski

Art Direction:
Alan Hook
Desma Murphy
Jay Pelissier
Brian Stultz
John Eaves (uncredited)

Set Decoration:
Danielle Berman
Lauri Gaffin

Avengers Endgame

Production Design:
Charles Wood

Art Direction:
Julian Ashby
Jim Barr
Thomas Brown
Jordan Crockett
Jann K. Engel
Beat Frutiger
Matthew Gatlin
Kevin Gilbert
Kevin Houlihan
Chris ‘Flimsy’ Howes
Sean Ryan Jennings
John Plas
Mike Stallion
Brian Stultz
Mark Swain

Set Decoration:
Leslie Pope


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s