Getting A Tenenbaum Living Room: How To Mine Your Favorite Movie For Home Decor Inspiration (And Paint Like A Pro)

Wanna get the look of your favorite movie applied to your very own abode? Good news -- we want that for you, too.
Publish date:
February 5, 2013
home, painting, tiaras

So let’s talk paint.

When it comes to making a space your own, an easy and SUPER effective method is plain ol’ painting. (Apologies to those who aren’t allowed to paint in their living space -- been there, it sucks.) Choosing just the right color for a room can feel a bit daunting, but having a specific visual to use as a jumping-off point can be very helpful, such as a picture or (as we’re doing today) a movie.

Dana recently moved to a new apartment. She’s always loved "The Royal Tenenbaums," down to the glorious shade of salmon that coats the walls of the Tenenbaum home.


Now living on her own, Dana has found herself with absolute power over the color scheme, so we’ve taken the opportunity to get instructional.

Adapting inspiration to real life

The color we're using here is a pretty straightforward match, but with a tad more orange -- Cool Lava by Behr. That’s what Dana wanted; we do what we want and so should you. So if you want to tone down your inspiration color for whatever reason (e.g., you live with a boy who's afraid of color), you can just go a step lighter OR move toward the same base color, but with more brown or gray in it.

DON’T get stuck on perfectly aping some other room you saw to the detail, mostly because this is YOUR space and should reflect you, but also because it seems a bit silly. If you walked into a perfect re-creation of Amelie’s living room, wouldn’t that be a tad weird? (BAD EXAMPLE; that would be awesome.)

Shopping a movie

Honesty time: A lot of stuff from the Tenenbaums house was kinda ugly. BUT it appeared quirky and awesome through careful curation and it told us about the characters in the film.

David Wasco, the production designer, is a genius and worked on a bunch of Tarantino movies, including "Pulp Fiction." He builds characters that are deep and complex and flawed using only visual cues and tangible items. Like, he has to give us insight into characters using LAMPS. (How does one say "deadbeat dad" with a lamp? Never mind -- we'll save that one for Father's Day.)

Luckily, you get to say only nice things about yourself with your room, so you just want to pick pretty things and other stuff that speaks to your personality.

Watching the movie, we asked ourselves, “What do I love about this house?”

One of the great things about the décor in the Tenenbaum home is that everything feels collected over time; nothing is perfect or precious. Ornate Regency-looking frames house kids drawings -- nothing is respected for its age (much like certain characters in the film). Also, some of the stuff is just the tiniest bit creepy. Here are a few pieces that create that same vibe:

Painting like a professional.

BEFORE YOU BUY, get three swatches of each color you're considering. (Three?! Yes, three. Don’t worry about the paint department employees thinking you’re a greedy hoarder.)

Tape one right next to your carpet, one on the wall where your light is coming from (the one with the window), and one on the wall that gets the most light (across from the window); those last two go at eye level. Live with them for a few days, looking at them at different times of day. You don't want to get it on the wall and realize your sweet new color makes your carpet look dirty all the time.

This can totally happen if you have a brown or yellow-based rug and paint a cool, white-based color on the walls. Permanent dinginess = huge bummer.

First rule? Don't buy cheap paint. (Eva’s a Sherwin-Williams fan in general; Dana likes Behr but has zero brand loyalty.) And don't worry if the color you like is a brand you don't want to use (like Valspar); the paint counter can just match it. (BONUS! We chose to go with the paint with the primer mixed in and, OH, MAN, was a that a good call, since we were trying to cover a shade of pale green with the coral paint.)

** Side convo! **

Dana: Hold up, E. What's your beef with Valspar? How should a newbie determine a paint's cheapness before purchasing?

Eva: Valspar is just shoddy, in my experience. The thing is, you kind of just have to use a lot of paints and find what you like. I've had good experiences with Behr, Sherwin-Williams, and Benjamin Moore.

(And then Eva got into some real nerdy specifics that Dana did not understand and you probably don’t need.)

** End side convo ***

Materials you need:

  • A 2" short handled angle brush from Wooster (Eva: Some people might be like, “Oh, my Purdy brush is just as good.” Fine. It is. But mine is named Wooster, like from P.G. Wodehouse, so I win.)
  • An old T-shirt cut into 2 big pieces
  • A roller handle and roller cover (The roller cover (Eva likes Wooster, again) should be chosen for the surface of the wall. Bumpy stucco-y walls get a longer nap -- which means fuzzier. Foam rollers are for chumps.)
  • A roller tray OR bucket grid (If you’re using a 4” roller, like we did, you can get a bucket grid that dunks into the paint can -- that gives you a surface to roll out on without needing to pour paint into a tray over and over.)
  • 2 giant flattened cardboard boxes
  • Paint stirring sticks
  • Old clothes to wear
  • A friend
  • Tiaras (optional)

Stir the paint (or shake the paint can really well if you forgot the sticks). Unscrew and remove outlet and light-switch covers -- it's MUCH easier than taping around them. (NO TAPE? No tape.) Wet the old T-shirt pieces, wring ‘em out, and you and your friend each get one to stick in your back pocket. (It’ll be damp; it’s worth it.)

Now, while your partner gets busy rolling the paint on in a W formation (as pictured above), you are going to “cut in.”

Get your flat cardboard box under you (partner is doing the same; no need for dropcloths!), and arm yourself with a brush and cup of paint. Dip your brush bristles 1/2” deep into the paint, then wipe one side on the cup, nail polish style -- the side you wipe off will depend on which side the surface you don't want painted is on. In this instance, we want the trim on the right to stay un-painted, so that's the side of the brush we wiped off on the cup.

Now, place the brush 1/2” away from the trim, and push it down into the wall and toward the trim at the same time. This will push just a bit of paint past the right edge of your brush, and that's what's going to create the super straight line you're painting.

(We know -- that reads like it takes forever, but once you get the hang of it, it's super easy and fast. Seriously, taping over trim is SUCH a pain, takes forever, and requires a TON of that dumb tape.)

If you make a mistake, grab that damp rag you so cleverly remembered to have on you, and scrape the drip down. (Your damp butt is officially worth it.) If you’re painting over a non-carpet floor, you can non-bother with the boxes and just wipe up any drips if they happen.

Usually the rolling and the cutting in take about the same length of time. (It pretty much did with Eva on cutting in and Dana rolling, but E is fast and D is slow.)

Once you finish the first coat, wait 30 minutes (if it's cold or humid, wait an hour) and then go straight into coat two. Two coats does it 90% of the time, but if you used cheap paint or have a tricksy color, it could be three. We did two coats, but there were some minor touch-up needed around the edges to even things out.

BOOM. You did it, and it looks amazing!

Before you get a shower/treat/drink/nap, you have to wash your brushes. As you noticed, that Wooster was expensive, so don't ruin it. (Dana: Girl, you really love Wooster.)

You can let the paint dry in the tray then peel it out, but roller covers take a good scrubbing with water -- or just toss the used cover if you don’t paint often and are like, “UGH, scrubbing.”

Now go take that shower.