'Hannibal' on TV: In decorating, he's a man of good taste

By Craig Nakano
June 6, 2013, 1:10 p.m.
"Hannibal," the recently renewed NBC drama about psychiatrist-serial killer-cannibal Hannibal Lecter, may be as fiendishly gory as TV gets, but the interior decorating is undeniably elegant. Series creator Bryan Fuller, a partner in L.A. design store Fuller + Roberts, hired production designer Patti Podesta and set decorator Jaro Dick to bring Lecter's deadly lairs to life.

Podesta, whose credits include "Cinema Verite," provided L.A. at Home with a detailed postmortem via email on the show's stylish and atmospheric interiors for this edited Q&A:

What was your design brief, and what were your references?
I remember Bryan Fuller saying first to me, "Elegant horror movie." He has an immense appreciation for classical order and strange beauty. Nothing is too far out. I put together a group of painter's images to discuss qualities of spatial articulation, light and color, which included Francis Bacon, Gustave Caillebotte, Andrew Wyeth and Edward Hopper, and Gerhard Richter.

Is Hannibal Lecter's office a nod to the mix of antiques and modern we're seeing so much of these days?
He admires beautiful things from all periods, has an eye for things English and European. I suggested Danish Modern, as it has an order of its own. This was well before Mads Mikkelsen was cast as Lecter, so that bit of humor was fortuitous. Bryan’s first script mentioned Sir John Soane’s office in describing Lecter’s. I thought we could rework those qualities having American Gothic overtones via European Art Nouveau.

Hannibal's desk is an original Leif Jacobsen design purchased from Barry's in Toronto, where we filmed. The pairing of this midcentury desk and the desk chair, with its ultra-tight leather tucking, is a pretty good description of Hannibal. The gray therapy chairs were ordered new from Urban Barn in Toronto, and the side tables are Eileen Gray classics.

What about Lecter's home, setting for all his creepy parties?
The office is meant to impress and intimidate; his home is an enclave. He lives in the Baltimore area, and we thought it would be a historic single-family home that masks what goes on inside. So the exterior was to be precise and not too inviting.

Everyone agreed that Lecter would have a superb chef’s kitchen. In keeping with the lavishness of texture that defines all his spaces, the kitchen has barn wood on the appliance wall contrasting with the stainless appliances. And zebra wood on the cabinet wall, masculine and elegant, definitely European. The island in the center is stainless with pale gray leather panels on the front and sides. The counters and backsplash are two different kinds of travertine, solid on counters and the fabulous strata for the backsplash.

Is it a fully functional kitchen?
Yes. All the appliances are from the GE Monogram series. It is important, in high-end kitchens, for all the appliances to match. Since NBC is owned by GE, we thought we could get a good price on these very expensive items. It appealed to me as an in-joke that Hannibal does his work with appliances made by the network. They turned our request down (way harsh, GE). Maybe Canada Inc., who reps GE in Canada, stepped up and offered us a serious discount, so the appliances cost in the neighborhood of $18,000.

The dining room is to die for. What was the inspiration?
Bryan suggested a living wall for the dining room, and carrying this idea further, I thought to use a landscape as a backdrop. I found this etching online and loved its Gothic tone. It's by Oscar Grosch and is in the collection of the Staten Island Museum, which granted us permission to use it. It was reproduced as wallpaper, with corresponding strips covering shallow box shelves, floating on the wall.

The plants are all live herbs in containers. The shelves get smaller in size as they rise up the wall because the plants on the lower levels need to receive light in order to survive.

The walls made of moldings were Bryan Fuller's idea. He had seen them in a restaurant. For ours, I chose moldings that had voluptuous curves. We wanted it to become a singularity, and the color needed to be the indigo of the night sky, without going black on camera.  It’s a lighter blue than you would imagine. The stain was a mixture of Minwax custom colors, and the different woods gave it variation.

'Hannibal': Kitchen
( Brooke Palmer / NBC / June 5, 2013 )
"Lecter's kitchen is his performance space," production designer Patti Podesta said, "and while he may be performing for himself much of the time, it had to be a space that reflects his orderly, highly visceral aesthetic."

'Hannibal': Dining room
( Patti Podesta / June 5, 2013 )
Production designer Patti Podesta's rendering of Hannibal's dining room shows a series of planter boxes set against a wallpapered background. The other wall, with textured horizontal lines, was conceived by series creator Bryan Fuller.

'Hannibal': Dining room
( Matthew Davies / June 5, 2013 )
The dining room table was purchased new in Toronto from the Art Shoppe. The chairs from Modern Sense in Toronto. The chandelier is black Murano glass. For the centerpiece, set decorator Jaro Dick placed ostrich eggs in African feather headdresses. On the right wall: The tiered shelves for herbs. Along the back wall and at left: the wall effect created with molding.

'Hannibal': Dining room
( Matthew Davies / June 5, 2013 )
A close-up of the walls made of moldings. The painting is "Leda and the Swan" by Boucher. "It leapt to mind when I first imagined the perverse nature of Lecter. I found that it is in the public domain and its whereabouts unknown, so a little narrative developed: Hannibal secretly owns the painting and stares at it during supper."

'Hannibal': Kitchen
( Matthew Davies / June 5, 2013 )
Lecter's kitchen features a rolling prep table in stainless steel, a nod to medical labs and autopsy tables. The butcher block was purchased at an antique mart in Toronto. The appliance wall is covered in unpainted barn wood. The countertops are travertine. The floor is covered in ceramic tile. "I thought Lecter would need a non-porous surface he could sanitize so no forensic evidence would remain," production designer Podesta said.

'Hannibal': Kitchen
( Matthew Davies / June 5, 2013 )
Another view of the Lecter laboratory -- er, kitchen. The armchair belongs to set decorator Jaro Dick's father. "I imagined that Lecter might sit facing his kitchen, his studio, meditating on his acts and subsequent meals," Podesta said.

'Hannibal': Office
( Patti Podesta / June 5, 2013 )
From a stack of images, series creator Bryan Fuller singled out a photo of the old library room in a North Carolina state building and told Podesta: "I always thought it should look like this." This is her rendering of the space.

'Hannibal': Office
( Patti Podesta / June 5, 2013 )
Production designer Podesta's specification sheets for the Lecter office included antiques and a dramatic pair of drapes that are 13 feet high and made from red cotton and mushroom-color linen. "They were risky, too bold for a psychiatrist's office," Podesta said, "but not for Lecter, who challenges whomever walks in the room.

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