From House Beautiful
The most wonderful time of the year is just around the corner, which means it’s only right to get into the holiday spirit by watching the Hallmark Channel’s Christmas movies. These films are known for being quintessentially festive and merry, much like the production design that really brings this aesthetic to life. To find out how the magical world of Hallmark Christmas movies is fashioned, House Beautiful spoke to production designers Tom Lisowski and Shane Meador, who worked on A Nashville Christmas Carol and One Royal Holiday, respectively—and let’s just say, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!
For both Lisowski and Meador, inspiration for their set design starts someplace near and dear to us: “A lot of my references actually come from interior designers like Joanna Gaines and interior design magazines,” says Lisowski. “I also look at the way I’ve seen people decorate their houses for Christmas in real life and make a mental note when I see something I can use. Or I think back to my childhood, like I did for the flashback scenes in A Nashville Christmas Carol.”
Creating the production design for One Royal Holiday was Meador’s first time working on a Hallmark film, so he conducted research in various forms to prepare for his new role. He shares that he “studied previous Hallmark movies, traditional New England Christmas decorations, and illustrations by Norman Rockwell and Currier and Ives.” He also found inspiration in films like Crazy Rich Asians and The Great Gatsby. But the inspiration didn’t stop there—Meador also looked to images of Christmas decor at Buckingham Palace and the Biltmore Estate, the latter of which is located just a few miles from Meador’s home in Asheville, North Carolina.
The decor of Hallmark Christmas movies is undeniably enviable, but it’s much more accessible than you might think. Lisowski says his set decorator sourced the holiday decor for A Nashville Christmas Carol from local event rentals, online retailers, and even thrift stores. Some pieces were created specifically for the movie by the props department, including a magical music box and bean bag game boards.
Of course, a Christmas movie isn’t complete without a Christmas tree, so, in the case of A Nashville Christmas Carol, real Fraser Firs were brought in from a farm located a few hours away. And Lisowski reveals that the film’s Christmas decor was, at times, discovered serendipitously. “We found a bunch of decorative silver stars at a closed library that I happened to see through an upstairs window as I walked by,” shares Lisowski. (You can see these stars in the film’s Christmas market scene!)
This Christmas, things may look a little different because of the pandemic, and it certainly influenced how this year’s Hallmark’s Christmas movies were made. “One Royal Holiday was the first movie shot on the east coast during the pandemic,” says Meador. “This affected the way we sourced and shopped. Luckily, the production company, Synthetic Cinema International, has a large storage space full of Christmas decorations, including a collection from Balsam Hill, which gave us a base from which to start.”
Because many major retailers had to close their stores for months, the pandemic caused the Hallmark Channel production teams to turn to local businesses and residents now more than ever before. Meador’s decorator, Christi Whiteley, owns an antique shop called Eldorado Antiques, which specializes in mid-century decor, and “she brought her own collection of antique decorations, then reached out to a network of Connecticut dealers.”
This was just the beginning of turning to nearby stores to help bring this film to life. “Other local businesses were a huge help,” adds Meador. “Adam’s Garden of Eden provided flowers, handmade wreaths, and sourced all of our live Christmas trees in the middle of summer. MJ Decorations was instrumental in helping us pull off the ballroom scenes. The Christmas Barn in Woodstock, Connecticut, served as both a location and a great source for decorations. Prop master John Lauterbach worked with Victoria’s Station Cafe and Soleil Bakery to make and decorate gingerbread houses.”
In true Hallmark fashion, Meador says that “the town of Putnam came out for the holiday parade. Local involvement adds authenticity. People love these movies and are excited to get involved.”
Clearly, the magic of a Hallmark Christmas movie is just as real off-screen as it is on-screen, as the creation of these films illustrates the joy of coming together to make this holiday even more special!
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