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Nancy Meyers’s Set Designer Spills Her Design Secrets

Beth Rubino is one of our favorite set designers. She has worked with Nancy Meyers on several projects including It’s Complicated, Something’s Gotta Give, and What Women Want. You may have seen her work in Twilight or American Horror Story, too. Better yet, Rubino was also the set designer for just-released holiday must-see, Love the Coopers. We sat down with the trailblazing professional and mother of two to ask her about her work, family, and inspirations. Scroll through for details on the designer of our favorite fairytale Hollywood sets.

Meet the Expert

Beth Rubino is an American film production designer and set decorator who has been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Art Direction twice for her set decoration.

nancy meyers set designer
Courtesy of Lionsgate

From the set of Love the Coopers.

MYDOMAINE: You have an impressive filmography, including multiple Academy Award nominations. How did you get your start in the business?

BETH RUBINO: I originally studied theater and art and when I came back to Los Angeles from New York, and I started working off-off-off Broadway as a minor thespian. I worked in the theater for a bit, then I was a photo editor for years doing a lot of independent films. Between theater and film, it was a very open market. Many people flowed between both worlds continuously.

MD: What did your background in photo editing teach you about the film designing process?

BR: The ability to tell a story in a very isolated moment. What’s that saying? A photo is worth a thousand words. With photo editing, you learn how to tell a story within a frame.

MD: What is your design process? When you sign on to a project where do you begin?

BR: My design process is very much driven by the character. My process may be different than others’ processes. I really start off from figuring out what defines the main character or characters of the film. I design from the tangible minutia of the detail to the big stroke picture.

MD: What are your favorite design resources?

BR: Books, magazines, and references that I’ve pulled from over the years are my main design resources. And then there are so many sites. But they are not what you would expect. I look to gardening sites for color inspiration and texture. I look to industrial sites for materials and scale. And art. I love art. I’m also very influenced by the environment and the season that I’m experiencing. I love Christmas.

MD: What is your favorite style of art or artist?

BR: I’m too much of a chameleon to decide. My love of art is too vast. I don’t think that I could say that there is one style, sculptor, or painter—many of them steal my heart. I’ll love something and then the wind blows and something else will tug at my heartstrings.

MD: Do you have a favorite art exhibit?

BR: Yes! Recently it was China: Through the Looking Glass at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Metropolitan Museum of Art x Andrew Bolton China: Through the Looking Glass $45.00

MD: Do you have a favorite book that you reference? 

BR: Probably the photography books that I’ve had for 20 or 30 years. I also love cookbooks and interior architecture books. The books I’ve had for years, I tend to covet them.

MD: You created our dream home in Something’s Gotta Give. Can you describe that process? What was it like to work with Nancy Meyers?

BR:  Nancy Meyers is a tour de force. We work together a lot (most recently on The Intern). Nancy is wonderful, very detail-oriented, and she has a keen sense of style. She is the writer-director and she writes to environments, she is really clear about the storytelling visually and through words. The physical entity of the set is the third character, the silent character. That character is created through design.

Courtesy of NBC Universal

From the set of The Intern.

MD: Love the Coopers made us laugh, cry, and get very excited for the holiday season. Was it challenging to design the set, especially since most of it took place in an airport and hospital?

BR: Yes, it was challenging. Christmas movies have the joy, no pun intended, and warmth that you don’t get in any other season. The way you light Christmas trees and the sentiment that evokes, you can’t get that at other times of the year. It gave us the opportunity to develop a consistent palette throughout the film. We actually had two palettes; we had a palette for the past and a palette for the present. The family home was like a snow globe—truly warm on the inside, with cool tones on the outside. This juxtaposition was meant to highlight the tension and challenge of family, which is a medley of warmth and coolness.

Courtesy of Lionsgate

From the set of Love the Coopers.

MD: And what about the love stories? How did you distinguish those storylines from the family storyline?

BR: Anything related to love, such as the moments in Allan Arkin’s story or the stories of the children and the ancillary stories of life, those were based on vintage Christmas ornaments. They had more color and warmth than the house, which was mostly gray.

Courtesy of FX

From the set of American Horror Story.

MD: Is there a room that you’ve created that you could never live in?

BR: Yes. The set of American Horror Story, season 1.

MD: Have you ever been told that you couldn’t do something? How did you overcome it?

BR: I say I’m deaf or hearing impaired. No, I’m joking. Yes, of course, I’ve been told no. If something is a no and I believe wholeheartedly that there are other ways to go about it, then I would present my case and see how it is perceived. Anything in design, may it be for film, design, or commercial, it’s a collaborative effort. In order to deliver and make everyone happy you have to be flexible.

Courtesy of Universal Pictures

From the set of It's Complicated.

MD: With your impressive career, how do you manage to create work/life balance?

BR: That is a real challenge. I have twin daughters. They’re eight and three quarters. That is a work-in-progress.

MD: What are your thoughts on being a working mom?

BR: One always has to keep life in perspective. Moments only happen once. I say that from the perspective of a workaholic. You have to stop and smell the roses. It’s so important. It’s the key to survival, to be able to balance it all.

MD: Why did you enjoy working on Love the Coopers?

BR: The whole essence of Christmas, I just love it. I think there is something very wonderful—what Director Jessie Nelson brought to the film was moments. Sensory overload is usual with Christmas, but her storytelling has a lot to do with moments.