Weekly Feature | Aug 23, 2023
By Fred Nicolaus
HBO’s Succession is, among other things, 29 episodes of big-budget, high-caliber design porn. Over the course of four seasons, as the fictional Roy clan battles for control of the family media empire, they bicker and snipe in an endless stream of over-the-top homes: A stoic midcentury palace on a Los Angeles hillside, a classic Upper East Side town house, a 17th century Italian villa, each one more worthy of a shelter magazine cover than the last. The show became so known for its parade of ultraluxe interiors that AD ranked them.
But amid all that interior splendor, the show itself features only a single dismissive line about actual interior designers. In the third season, Logan Roy’s second ex-wife, Caroline, makes a wry joke about her new fiancé’s arriviste daughters: “They’re both in interior design. They’re unemployed.”
It’s not Succession’s job to portray the interior design profession in a good light. But that one line represents a broader truth. Over the past two decades, interior design has increasingly slipped into the bloodstream of American popular culture. But despite that, on TV and in movies, designers themselves are still usually reductive clichés. Hollywood loves design. Why not designers?
In Nicole Holofcenter’s “You Hurt My Feelings,” Michaela Watkins plays a designer whose job largely consists of lugging sconces around Manhattan – Photo Credit A24
There are a few common variations of the designer character on-screen. One is the superficial ditz—a trope recently employed in Jon Hamm’s detective comedy Confess, Fletch in the character of “lifestyle curator” Tatiana Tressley, played by actress Lucy Punch. In one scene, Punch walks Hamm through one of her designs, spouting empty clichés:
“Every single piece I curate is bespoke.”
“What does ‘bespoke’ mean again?” Hamm asks.
“It’s when an object bespeaks,” Punch replies.
Then there’s the Devil Wears Prada–esque designer: glamorous and slightly cruel. Take, for example, the firm in Showtime’s The Affair, where Helen Solloway, played by Maura Tierney, is mocked for her low Instagram follower count. (Tierney’s character, an affluent housewife who stumbles into design through social connections, is another trope all its own—see Cate Blanchett’s character in Blue Jasmine.)
Even when designers are portrayed with a little more humanity, the job is played for laughs. In Nicole Holofcener’s recent comedy You Hurt My Feelings, actress Michaela Watkins portrays a New York designer dea