The Design Secret of ‘Crimson Peak': The House Is the Real Monster

OscarWrap: “We designed the house for visual melodrama,” says Guillermo del Toro of his Gothic romance

This story originally appeared in “The Look” section of the Nominations/SAG/Golden Globes issue of TheWrap magazine.

Guillermo del Toro is known for the fanciful beasts in his movies, but in “Crimson Peak” the monster is made of wood and brick, not flesh and blood.

“The house is a creature, the house is a monster,” del Toro said of the enormous, foreboding mansion in which a young bride played by Mia Wasikowska goes to live with her new husband (Tom Hiddleston) and his creepy sister (Jessica Chastain). “That’s the key to the movie, in a way.”

So del Toro insisted on building the entire mansion in Toronto, putting up a complete three-and-a-half-story structure in one of the largest soundstages in North America. “We built every piece, from the cellar to the top floor,” he said.

“We had a working elevator, working tap water, working fireplaces. It took about six or seven months to build it, and it was truly a titanic labor.”

In the “Crimson Peak” design stage, del Toro gave detailed character biographies to production designer Thomas E. Sanders and asked him to translate those biographies into visual detail. “We did a very elaborate exercise of coding the movie, with the shapes on the wallpaper, the woodwork, the floor patterns all supporting a theme,” he said.


“I felt we needed to design the house for visual melodrama, because the tone of the movie needed to be operatic and melodramatic and a couple of notches above reality.

“And in my opinion, the actors feel supported and real if they arrive and see a set, as opposed to a green screen. And the director and the cinematographer, we get inspired and light that set in a way that is far more tender and careful and loving than if you know it is going to be CG.”

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