When I asked you which Christmas-movie houses you’d like to see that I hadn’t featured yet, I got a lot of requests for Orchard House from the 1994 version of Little Women. I thought that was a great suggestion, so I watched it again over the weekend and revisited the warm and welcoming home of the March family. The sets in this one really are gorgeously done.
The exterior was built to look like the real Orchard House that was the longtime home of Amos Bronson Alcott and his family, including Louisa May Alcott who set her novel there. Here’s the real thing in Concord, Massachusetts, which looks almost identical to the movie version:
Here’s a behind-the-scenes shot of them filming outside the Orchard House facade:
Laurie’s house is a complete facade in front of a real house that the owners continued living in during filming. The director, Gillian Armstrong, points out that it must have been dark in there!
And here’s how it looked in the movie:
The opening scenes of the town were shot in Deerfield, Massachusetts, in the winter (real snow). This was the first film that had ever been allowed to shoot there. They made an exception for Little Women because Louisa May Alcott was from the area.
The interiors of Orchard House were all built on a soundstage, and that’s where the majority of filming was done.
The Production Designer was Jan Roelfs and the Set Decorator was Jim Erickson. They really did an amazing job bringing these houses to life and making them feel like they were real, and had real history in them.
Gillian Armstrong, the director, explained in the DVD commentary that although the sets were built to resemble the real Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts, where Louisa May Alcott lived, the rooms had to be built bigger to accommodate the filming equipment.
The colors are much starker and the look is more formal inside the real Orchard House, as you can see on the museum’s website. Lots of white walls.
Most of the furnishings in the Orchard House Museum belonged to the Alcott family, and the rooms are kept the way they did when they lived there. I’d love to see it in person someday.
The filmmakers wanted their version to look warmer than the real thing. They chose “restful, earthy colors in the greens and grays so everything blends together and feels as one in the home,” according to Armstrong.
The Alcott family bought a 12-acre apple orchard in 1858 that came with two early-18th century houses. They moved the smaller of the two houses onto the back of the larger one and named it Orchard House.
Alcott based the Little Women on her real sisters and gave them all different names except for Beth, who had died. She said she couldn’t bear to change her name–she wanted the character to be as exactly as she remembered her sister.
The house in the movie looks as sad as its inhabitants do after Beth’s death:
The movie wasn’t greenlit until Winona Ryder, who was a rising star in the early ’90s, was cast as Jo. (I featured her house here if you missed it!)
Here grown-up Amy (who was played by Kirsten Dunst in earlier scene) visits her sisters Beth and Jo in the attic. Amy, who was a budding artist in the novel, was based on Alcott’s sister May. She never became a successful artist as she hoped. She illustrated the first edition of Little Women, but her artwork got negative reviews.
May/Amy did, however, teach Daniel Chester French, who became an artist and sculptor. She gave him the tools that he eventually used to sculpt the statue of Lincoln that sits in the Lincoln Memorial. Pretty cool, right?
When May died, she left behind a 2-year old girl called Lulu. Alcott took the toddler in and raised her.
In one interview she gave, she explained that she had decided to be a lifelong spinster “because I have fallen in love with so many pretty girls and never once the least bit with any man.”
I told my husband that I wished I still had my old copy, and he found one on eBay for me for Christmas. How sweet is that? It was one of my favorite gifts this year. Looking at the illustrations in the book really brings back memories of poring over the book when I was little and wishing I had a house full of sisters like theirs!
P.S. Visit my Movie Houses page to see if your favorite onscreen houses have been featured!