Set Pieces: A slice of 1970s Santa Barbara in HBO’s ‘Cinema Verite’


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Filmed 40 years ago in Santa Barbara, the groundbreaking documentary ‘An American Family’ was a blueprint for what is now known as reality TV. The 12-part PBS program about Pat and Bill Loud and their five teenagers was an indelible document of a California lifestyle that has pretty much gone the way of wood-paneled station wagons.

The architecture and interiors of upper-middle-class Santa Barbara in the early 1970s has been vividly realized in ‘Cinema Verite,’ HBO’s fictionalized account of the Loud saga. The film premiered on Saturday and has encore and on-demand screenings Tuesday night and throughout May.


‘Santa Barbara at the time was a town of surfers and conservatives,’ production designer Patti Podesta said in an email, noting that Bill and Pat Loud (played by Tim Robbins, above left, and Diane Lane at the table) lived in a builder-designed home purchased in 1964.

‘I did make the pilgrimage to the real Loud house,’ Podesta said. ‘It is much changed since they lived there. Our Santa Barbara was found on the outskirts of L.A., in Altadena and Tarzana, San Pedro, Santa Monica and Upland.’

She described the original Loud home as a classic California ranch house: ‘A long, close-to-the-ground profile with minimal decoration with stucco and wood siding outdoors and some brick indoors.’

To find exteriors for shooting, Podesta examined houses in specific neighborhoods using Google Earth and sent location scouts to see them in person. ‘The houses you see in our film are still owned by the original families and have not been remodeled,’ she said. ‘The one we used for the front exteriors had no lawn. We put one in for the owners, added landscaping, painted their house and reworked the siding and windows.’

A second home about a mile away was used for its pool and the striking 1960s elements, including an unaltered original kitchen and a stone wall with a pass-through countertop. Podesta added a vintage refrigerator, re-created the rectangular white laminate table that the Louds owned and had blue swivel bucket chairs made.

Keep reading for more on the 1970s suburban splendor seen in ‘Cinema Verite’ ...

For the family’s pool terrace, right, Podesta rented Brown Jordan pieces, ‘the quintessential period patio furniture,’ from a prop house and augmented the rentals with pieces from a Palm Springs vintage store that were refurbished to match.


Although the adjoining kitchen-family room and the pool deck look entirely modern, the Louds’ lush boudoir and daughter Delilah’s room, with matching wallpaper and curtains, feels more romantic and traditional.

‘They had fabulous taste,’ Podesta said. ‘Chinoiserie, flamboyant lamps, an eclectic mix before eclectic was a style.’

Set decorator Meg Everist and shopper Jennifer Durban pulled together the Louds’ living room, below, after weeks of shopping at the vintage stores on 4th Street in Long Beach, at Ventura yard sales and on Craigslist. They purchased the sofa and chairs from a vintage store and reupholstered the pieces in tweed or a deep blue velvet. The classic Eames 670 lounge chair was Podesta’s idea.

‘The Louds did not have an Eames lounge chair, but they did have a black leather chair and ottoman against their windows and plants in the corner,’ she said. ‘I liked the idea that actors could sit on the chair or on the ottoman, cross-legged or in irregular positions, and this would bring Loud-esque casualness to a scene.’

-- David A. Keeps

CORRECTED: An earlier version of this post misspelled the last names of set decorator Meg Everist and shopper Jennifer Durban.

Photo credits, top and bottom: Sam Urdank / HBO


Photo credit, middle: Peter Iovino / HBO