For all the razzle-dazzle of costumes worn by
It's a look that, for better or for worse, is experiencing a revival among contemporary designers just in time for the movie's premiere Sunday.
“There was a lot of glamour in the '70s that really has not been repeated since,” Los Angeles designer Kelly Wearstler said, citing
Wearstler, who was not involved in "Behind the Candelabra," gave many reasons why elements of the look are coming back. "An air of excess, for sure, but tempered with a sense of optimism and modernity that looked towards the future," she said. "Color was much more adventurous, and casual elegance ruled."
Of course, "casual elegance" might seem incongruous when talking about Liberace. An inveterate shopper, he ranged from tasteful to tacky.
“He’d buy an expensive antique and put it right next to a trashy thrift shop piece,” said “Behind the Candelabra” production designer Howard Cummings, who has worked with director Steven Soderbergh on several films, including the recent “
Shot in Los Angeles, Palm Springs and Las Vegas, where Liberace's homes adhered to that aesthetic, the movie plays with a dichotomy of design.
"He could have bought a very expensive property," said Cummings, who had just six weeks of prep time and a made-for-cable budget. "He was one of the highest-paid performers of his time, but instead he purchased three lower-end houses, put a big mansard roof over all of them and called it Hollywood Regency. Then he just put in tons of marble, chandeliers and mirrors."
The apartment of Liberace’s lover, Scott Thorson (
"We had to drill holes in the ceilings to hang 800-pound chandeliers," said Cummings, who also got permission to drain the pool, paint piano keys on the sides and add a big "L" on the bottom — just like Liberace's original.
The production designer had tons of research at his disposal, including catalogs of the entertainer's estate sales and videos of his TV specials from the '70s. ("His Valentine's Day special was my favorite," Cummings said. "Lola Falana and Sandy Duncan were guests, and it included a tour of the house, so I got to see everything!")
"Lincoln" was shooting at the same time as we were, but we'd grabbed all the old chandeliers in L.A. and they were freaking out," Cummings said with a laugh.
For the adventurous, does the movie provide some design takeaways? "You can absolutely Liberacisize your apartment," Cummings said. "Hang some chandeliers — everyone looks better in that lighting anyway — mirror everything, buy furniture in pairs and remember: More is always better."