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FOUR CHRISTMASES

Deck The Halls
Production began on December 4, 2007, when everyone was already in a holiday frame of mind.

Trained as an architect, Gordon spoke the same language as production designer Shepherd Frankel ("27 Dresses”) in setting parameters for the four family homes on Brad and Kate's whirlwind tour. "Seth understands floor plans, models and the use of space. I loved working with him,” says Frankel, who holds a masters degree in architecture from UCLA. Details became more meaningful and layered as the characters developed, with Frankel using their finally fleshed-out histories to inform his designs. "We weren't preparing four houses but four individual living environments.”

"Each household, like its owner, has its own distinctive vibe,” says Glickman. Gordon explains, "We constructed an elaborate back-story and timelines for all the family members so we could make sense of when things fell apart—which kid would likely have gone to live with which parent, and so forth. In Brad's case, for example, he obviously went to live with his more civilized mother at an early age and they become close, while his brothers bunked with Dad in the ‘bachelor cave.' Paula started over, went to school, became a therapist and moved to Marin, and we imagined what her world would look like: stained glass and eclectic, international furnishings, hand-loomed rugs, piles of books, mementos from travel…a kind of a hippie academic aesthetic. You would never mistake her home for any of the others, or vice versa, and that's thanks to Shepherd's virtuosity. Our goal was a commitment to the absurd, but in a way that no one would question.”

In contrast, Paula's ex, Brad's father Howard, has happily settled into a state of unchallenged male-centric comfort in what Gordon describes as "a ranch-style tract home that has seen better days.”

"We get the feeling that his house hasn't had the slightest upgrade since Paula moved out and since the two teenage boys pretty much wrecked the place,” says Frankel. "It has the classic cottage cheese ceiling, fluorescent lighting and 1970s-style accordion doors to the kitchen and, of course, the old-school turntable and TV.”

If the house has changed at all in the last 20-plus years, the designer suggests, "it's only in Howard's decorative embellishments that highlight his hobbies and those of his boys—specifically, hunting and fighting—complete with a taxidermy collection of squirrels, chipmunks and a skunk set into shadow boxes in the wall. Even his Christmas spread looks like the same old thing he busts out of the garage every year.”

Christmas decoration is also meaningful at the home of Kate's mother, Marilyn— or, rather, the conspicuous lack thereof. It's a clear indication to Kate that Marilyn has a new man, whose influence has prompted her to eschew her usual Santa and reindeer for something a tad more spiritual.

In keeping with Marilyn's malleable personality, her home is characterized by what Frankel describes as "surfaces and veneers, reflecting no real sense of self.” At the same time, it reveals a dedication to symmetry and order, with wallpapers matched to upholstery patterns, suggesting the hand of a woman who is constantly striving toward some higher standard of domestic design as much as she strives for the perfect relationship.

Finally, it's a set designed to embarrass Kate, with items from the past poised like tiny land mines to blow up in her face, including photos that chronicle some of the lowest points of her unpopular youth. Worst of all is the inflatable house of horrors she calls a jump-jump, in which Kate relives a painful memory from her childhood. As an adjunct to Marilyn's house, the party moves briefly to The United Church of Faith and Worship, Piedmont Branch, to showcase Pastor Phil in all his glory.

The church was an environment that m

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