LIFE AS A HOUSE
About The Location
Even as it depicts the sometimes dark underside of American life, Life as a House is set in an almost fairy-tale location — with the story perched, for the most part, on a sheer cliff dangling above the crashing Pacific ocean. It is here that George Monroe has lived in squalor for years, and here that he decides to finally take a wild plunge and build his dream home.
For Kevin Kline, the overwhelming natural beauty of the location was part and parcel of George's transformation. "George lives in a place that's almost too magnificent — I mean everyday you've got the sunrises and the sunsets and the fog rolling in and out and the waves crashing. It's gorgeous but he takes it for granted until he suddenly wakes up."
Summarizes producer Rob Cowan: "We wanted to shoot in a place where you would think: how could anything go wrong in that neighborhood? You've got the palm trees and the ocean and the sun, but that's not the whole story. At the core of it, these people still need a wakeup call."
The film was shot primarily on the southern slopes of the Palos Verdes Peninsula, a Southern California seaside community noted for its spectacular ocean views and handsome upper middle-class homes. Incredibly, Irwin Winkler, producer Rob Cowan and production designer Dennis Washington discovered during a helicopter search over the area their perfect idyll: a desolate bluff surrounded by a trendy residential neighborhood. The area is known locally as Long Point, a sprawling piece of land that once housed the Marineland Aquarium and still contains some 4,400 feet of breathtaking ocean frontage.
"We were so fortunate to find this location with such an incredible vista," says Cowan. "You really believe that a man could build something wonderful and
lasting here, something that would withstand the winds and the waves over the years."
Here, the production crew first designed Kevin Kline's dilapidated shack -- and the many different stages of its destruction and reconstruction as an open-air architectural home. In fact, production designer Dennis Washington decided to actually erect a pre-built house to give George Monroe's project an absolutely authentic feeling throughout. In addition, Washington constructed enough facades to form an entire cul-de-sac of suburban homes that surround Monroe's property.
"The changing state of George's house really reflects what's going on inside him," notes Rob Cowan. "At first it's just this unwanted shack with a rundown, lonely feeling to it but as they begin to build the new house, it takes on a warmth and openness and becomes something that you can see will be very lasting. And we have Dennis Washington to thank for creating these amazing designs and integrating them to become a part of the story."
Fortunately for the filmmakers, Washington actually studied architecture before beginning his career as a set designer — and it was he who drafted the blueprints for the stirring final house. "He was incredibly creative in his design," says Irwin
Winkler. "We decided early on that we didn't want it to be some impractical castle, but something you would really live in using the natural elements of the surroundings. Dennis took it from there."
Continues Washington: "I wanted a house with the charm and the craftsmanship that a character like George would have designed. It had to have a real elegance
— and stand out from everything else around it."
Although most of the filming took place at Palos Verdes, the cast and crew of Life as a House also shot at nearby coastal coves and other locales throughout Los
Angeles. The interior of Mary Steenburgen's house was found in Long Beach. School scenes with Hayden Christensen and Jena Malone were photographed at the Salvation
Army/Crestmont College in Palos Verdes. Kristin Scott Thomas' luxurious ho
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