The house plays so much of a character in the film that Sucsy and production designer Kalina Ivanov were eventually given no choice but to build a full façade-in less than six weeks. "Everything was real," says Ivanov, who referenced the architectural plans of the real Grey Gardens. "I think that when you're dealing with a house like that, you have to use the real materials. We duplicated the windows, everything."
Aging the house proved far more complicated than constructing it. An unforgiving shooting schedule left only a few days for Ivanov and her crew of more than 30 to add decades of distress between each of the four "eras" they shot in. "We dropped our construction lift on the roof to break it and then cut down the posts to make it sag," she says. "It's actually harder to build things that are crooked."
There were only a few reference photos available for the clean 1930s look of the home, but Ivanov did receive a swatch of the original curtains from its current owner. "When you do a period movie, for me personally, it's very important that the houses look like real people inhabit them," she says. "It can't look like a museum." Straw chairs, light furniture-and of course this recreation of the Albert Herter oil portrait shown in the documentary-felt right for a beach house belonging to free-spirited women.
As the house grew more cluttered, so did the prop and decorating needs. "We made 2,000 cans, and it wasn't enough," Ivanov says. "In hindsight, I'd say we should have made 10,000." Grey Gardens fans and enthusiasts also helped out, lending authentic items for use on set. In fact, the small box that holds Big Edie's wedding jewelry at the end of the film was actually salvaged from the real Grey Gardens. "Some of these guys were so gracious and lovely and gave us all these items that were just one of a kind," says Ivanov, who returned the favor by inviting them for tours of the set.
Making Grey Gardens
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Find out more about the actors in the film in the Cast and Crew section.