“The Help:” Four Perfectly Southern Houses from the 1960s

by hookedonhouses on April 16, 2012

The Houses from The Help movie

My sister-in-law Shelley was the first person who told me about The Help when Kathryn Stockett’s novel came out a few years ago. She gave me her copy and promised that I’d love it. She was right. Once I started, I couldn’t put it down. And when I heard they were making a movie out of it, I couldn’t wait to see it.

I thought they did a great job adapting it for the big screen. The ’60s-era sets were fun to look at, too. There were four main houses that “the help” worked at in the movie, so let’s take a look at them, starting with Skeeter’s classic antebellum mansion.

Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan’s Antebellum Mansion

The Help is the story of two women, Minny and Aibileen, who have spent their lives taking care of privileged white families in Jackson, Mississippi. “Skeeter” Phelan is an Ole Miss grad who’s expected to settle down and get married, but she’d rather be a writer. She decides to interview them and write a book about their experiences.

The novel by Kathryn Stockett came out in 2009 and stayed on the bestseller lists more than 100 weeks. Before she found a publisher, though, her manuscript was rejected by 60 literary agents who declined to represent her. Bet the ones who passed on it are kicking themselves now.

Although the book and movie have both gotten great reviews–and the movie garnered several Oscar noms, including Best Picture–they have also had their share of controversy. Not everyone loved it. For example, Ida E. Jones, the national director of the Association of Black Women Historians, wrote an open letter stating that “The Help distorts, ignores, and trivializes the experiences of black domestic workers.”

Stockett says it was based on her childhood experiences growing up in Jackson and her close relationship with her own nanny, Demetrie.

Production designer Mark Ricker and Set Decorator Rena DeAngelo had 47 sets to create for the film. They scoured flea markets, antique stores, and even some old attics to find enough period-appropriate objects to fill the scenes with. They did an amazing job pulling them all together.

The movie was filmed on location in Jackson, Clarksdale, and Greenwood, Mississippi. Ricker says the Phelan home was “lighter in tone and a bit newer in decoration choices as Charlotte (Skeeter’s mother) would have layered her own choices with the history of the house.”

Some of my favorite sets in the movie were the kitchens because you get a glimpse of their everyday lives in them.

Emma Stone plays Skeeter, whose crazy curly hair is the bane of her existence. Allison Janney plays her mother and makes her a bit more sympathetic than she was in the novel (at least for me).

One thing I didn’t like about the movie version was the change made to the story about Skeeter’s beloved maid Constantine, and why she left.

An aerial view of the property:

Elizabeth Leefolt’s Brick Ranch

Skeeter’s longtime friend Elizabeth lives in a more modern house in town.

Aibileen (Viola Davis) takes care of Elizabeth’s daughter Mae Mobly, who is pretty much ignored by her mother.

Ricker says that the rooms in Elizabeth’s middle-class ranch were designed to be “bland and uneventful.”

Elizabeth’s decor was inspired by Better Homes and Gardens decorating books from the era. I own one of them from 1956, and it does look like the photos from it, come to life!

Hilly Holbrook’s Traditional Colonial

Bryce Dallas Howard fearlessly played the horrible Hilly Holbrook. One of the funniest scenes is when Skeeter gets back at her by “misstyping” the newsletter to tell people to drop off their “old commodes” instead of their old coats at Hilly’s house.

Ricker says that Hilly’s house style was the “first phase of the new South,” and the interiors are “prim, perfect, pastel and icy”–like her.

My parents-in-law have these same chairs in their kitchen (below). Fun to see them pop up in Hilly’s breakfast room!

Bathrooms play a big role in this story. Hilly doesn’t want the help using hers and goes to extremes to make sure none of them do.

Celia Foote’s Plantation House

Celia lives on the outskirts of town with her new husband Johnny in the old plantation house that belonged to his family.

To say the house doesn’t suit her would be an understatement. She says she dreams of filling it with wall-to-wall white carpet and making everything more modern.

The stuffed bear in the story made me laugh–especially when Minny had to figure out how to clean it.

It came from a taxidermy shop in Wisconsin.

Mark Ricker says, “Celia’s house was a ton of work because we did everything in it. All wallpaper, complete reconstruction of the kitchen, building all the curtains, and the sheer amount of layering in the house. We wanted it to have the most ‘history,’ so we just kept buying and buying…”

The kitchen is really old-fashioned, and Celia doesn’t feel very at home in it (she doesn’t know how to make much more than corn pone), but I love it. So charming.

Octavia Spencer won an Oscar for her role as Minny Jackson.

Mark Ricker says he also looked to the classic Southern movie Gone with the Wind for inspiration when he took this project on.

Minny teaches Celia how to cook for her husband Johnny, who hasn’t been told that she hired help around the house:

If you loved the movie and the sets, you can read more about them at Atlanta Homes, Cinema Style, and Vignette Design. Photos via DreamWorks Pictures.

The movie ends with Aibileen (Viola Davis) walking down the street, away from the Leefolt house, and saying she has raised her last baby. She’s going to be a writer now. It’s hard not to cheer for her.

Hooked on Movie Houses? Click here to see more, including…

The Blind Side house

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Amy in PA April 16, 2012 at 6:58 am

Came a little late to ‘The Help’ party – finished the book last week & am looking forward to watching the movie in the upcoming weeks. Can’t believe the timing of this post!! The book was so good and I’m looking forward to seeing the movies – esp now that I got a sneak peek to the sets!! Keep up the great work!!

Erica April 16, 2012 at 7:34 am

Awesome post, Julia! Thank you! Loved the book and movie, though I did prefer the book :)

Pat@Back Porch Musings April 16, 2012 at 7:35 am

Having been born in 1943 and growing up in the era of the movie, I noticed the authenticity of the sets, right away. Wonderful book ( couldn’t put it down either) and movie and so pleased they did a fabulous job recreating the homes. I recognized kitchen elements and other furnishings from my own early homes, way back when.

J saw the movie also. He liked the interiors, but his favorite set “decorations” were the vintage autos.:-)

Bella Michelle April 16, 2012 at 7:43 am

I loved the book and movie but watched the movie a couple of times just to see the sets and clothes! I was excited to see a few items that I now own (that came from my Grandmother) in those sets as well!

Tara Dillard April 16, 2012 at 7:48 am

Have been in all these homes. Known their owners.

Metaphorically.

Glad you had a Coke in one of the pics. Knew the Coke bottles were missining from several of the pics. Iced tea glasses too.

Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

Jane April 16, 2012 at 8:11 am

What a wonderful post Julia! I love it as much as the book and the movie!

Carolyn April 16, 2012 at 8:25 am

Having grown up in that era in the south, both the book and the movie rang very true to me. Watching the movie with a few of my contemporaries, we kept saying, ‘oh we had that,’ and ‘I had an outfit almost exactly like that.’ Hilly’s house looks to be of 1920′s vintage, because my house of that age has the exact same bathroom sink and tile treatment. It’s a small bath and I’ve kept the vintage sink and tub, but I put a skirt on the sink. I grew up in a 50′s brick ranch not unlike Elizabeth’s, but smaller, with contemporary furniture of the time. I’m definitely not into 50′s – 60′s retro, having grown up with it! The furniture in Skeeter’s house is very reminiscent of my grandmother’s (though not the house – I wish!).

Sarah @ housecrazy April 16, 2012 at 9:01 am

Just saw The Help this past weekend – it was a tear-jerker for sure! And those houses were amazing. I was glued to the movie for the entire time just drooling over the sets and the scenery!

Molly @thewaffler April 16, 2012 at 9:24 am

I loved the book — definitely one of the best book group discussions we have had. I enjoyed the movie, but it felt just a bit flat for me. The houses are spot on, though. Great post!

Ricki Jill Treleaven April 16, 2012 at 9:29 am

I loved the movie and the book. I think that with the exception of one or two plot points the adaptation was very close to the book

We lived in a house in Mountain Brook, Alabama that had a maid/gardener’s bathroom you could enter either from the laundry room or the garage. We also had an outdoor water fountain for the gardeners.

We did not build the house, we lived in it during the 1990′s…it looked very similar to the Leefolt’s ranch, and the brick was even the same color!

LOVE this post, Julia!

xo,
RJ

Jocelyn April 16, 2012 at 9:30 am

When we got married we bought a house that was built in 1956!!! And looking at Elizabeth’s house, it reminds me of the kitchen we lived with for several years before remodeling. And the knotty pine wood paneling in the family room is still there :-) We still own the house, with renters living there, but the kitchen has been redone twice, and we have tried to update as much as possible. But it was a walk down memory lane to see the oven, and the wood cabinets in the kitchen. I think we even had the same door handles.

Black Eyed Susans Kitchen April 16, 2012 at 9:49 am

Great post Julia…I also loved the book and movie. I thought the homes were all very well done.

Laura @cookiecrumbsandsawdust.blogspot.com April 16, 2012 at 10:04 am

Last year we bought a 1960′s house and discovered that same brick vinyl flooring under the carpet. That was a fun surprise.

I guess it really was popular.

Laura

Krista April 16, 2012 at 10:13 am

I absolutely LOVED this book and movie! Thanks for giving us a breakdown on each of these gorgeous homes. :) *sigh* Your blog just rocks my world.

Brandy April 16, 2012 at 10:45 am

My grandmother still had that brick vinyl wallpaper in her kitchen (on the backsplash AND the floor) into the late 80′s, in a house built in either the late 60′s or the early 70′s! It must have been really popular.

Jessica at Lavender and Lilies April 16, 2012 at 11:41 am

I loved the movie too. You are right the kitchens are great. I love the Phelan’s kitchen. We still have lots of old Southern plantation homes around here and the movie really hit the nail on the head.

Rick April 16, 2012 at 11:46 am

I love the movie sets and all that goes into the design process.
There is a web site that shows many interiors and an interview with the set designers.

http://www.setdecorators.org/incEngine/?content=admin&&art=film_decor_features&article_id=1052160983&SHOW=1052161243

If you google The Help and the cities used for filming you can get local newspaper articles telling of the experience. Loved them all.
I am beyond hooked.
rick

hookedonhouses April 16, 2012 at 12:23 pm

That’s great–thanks, Rick!

Amanda @ Serenity Now April 16, 2012 at 12:36 pm

Great post! I loved the book, and thought the movie was pretty good. Octavia Spencer was exactly how I picture Minny. She was great in the role. I loved taking a closer peek at the houses today. :)

Maria April 16, 2012 at 1:37 pm

As someone who grew up in that era, the sets were spot on. I still remember fondly playing with (and having to clean) the lights on those pole lamps.

I love Movie Mondays — thanks for a great post!

Elizabeth April 16, 2012 at 1:50 pm

Ahhh such a great book! I loved Octavia Spencer as many people likewise have said. These homes are just breathtaking. I love plantation style properties in gneneral. Great mix of a big house, open spaces, and nature all around. Kentucky has some of the most beautiful plantation homes I have ever seen. By the way, don’t you just love those old tacky wall-papered bathrooms that came in either pink or olive green lol? Some things are better left in the past!

laney April 16, 2012 at 1:55 pm

…having been born in…and lived only in the south…the houses were very familiar to me…as were the people…both the ugly and the lovely…houses and hearts that is…southern houses and southern people tell stories…this story told honestly…both the shame of my native land…and the pride of it too…blessings laney

Lisa July 14, 2013 at 3:31 pm

Well said, Laney. Thanks.. The “ugly and the lovely”….
I went to a Southern women’s college in the late 60ies so reading the first 3 chapters of The Help was painful for me. I didn’t like the book mainly because I thought it was arrogant for a white woman to write this and assume she could give an accurate perspective of black women’s experiences. The movie was better than the book. I still had “trouble’ watching it, especially about how white people were (are) in such denial) about anyone whose lives were less than theirs.

Thank you, Julia for your efforts to show the film’s sets.
Lisa

Maddie April 16, 2012 at 1:56 pm

I went to see The Help with a bunch of friends and as soon as the scene with the pink bathroom came on, they all started laughing. Yes, its my bathroom–almost exactly. I keep hoping to remodel it soon (I’ve only lived here for 25 years), but my contractor told me to sell the fixtures on Craigslist. Apparently pink bathrooms are back. There is even a website called “Save the Pink Bathroom”.

MustLoveBlogs April 16, 2012 at 2:43 pm

Thank you so much for sharing this, Julia! You’re right, the book is excellent – I too could not put it down. Matter of fact, I’m about ready to read it again! Being a Southerner, I love big, old houses ~

BeColorful April 16, 2012 at 3:22 pm

Such a delightful movie. I loved the book too but while watching the movie I was forever, probably like you, studying what what was going on in the background. This was such a fascinating period in history and an era of design change. Great post as usual. I have been remiss about blog reading so it is fun to see what you have been up to.
pam

debbie bailey April 16, 2012 at 4:28 pm

Celia’s plantation kitchen is my dream kitchen. I wouldn’t change a thing.

Kim April 16, 2012 at 5:29 pm

What gorgeous detailed homes. I had a hard time picking a favorite because all of them were just as nice as each other.

With lots of searching and looking on google, I was able to find Celia’s plantation home. Here’s a bing view and the website to the house: http://binged.it/I0AjTL, http://www.cotesworthcenter.org/Home.html They even mention the the movie being filmed there.

hookedonhouses April 16, 2012 at 6:34 pm

Wow, Kim, that’s GREAT. Thanks so much for tracking it down!

Kim April 16, 2012 at 7:18 pm

You’re Welcome! :)

tiffany of camp1899 April 16, 2012 at 7:48 pm

***LOVE*** this post!!!! thank you for doing the help!! xo, tiffany

Sharon April 16, 2012 at 9:16 pm

I loved this post! Thanks for sharing all these great homes from such a wonderful movie. However, I would love to see pictures of Aibileen’s darling cozy home and kitchen!

hookedonhouses April 17, 2012 at 6:32 am

I intended to show hers and Minny’s, as well, but I wasn’t able to find any set photos of them, and the post was getting way too long anyway. I especially liked Aibileen’s kitchen, though.

Kelly at Talk of the House April 16, 2012 at 9:39 pm

This was a wonderful post Julia (and wonderfully researched too!) I loved the book and felt the movie was one of the best “match the book” movies I have seen. It made me decide it is better to see the movie first and then read the book after (specifically the scene with the chocolate pie made me decide that.) The movie made me feel much more for Celia than the book did…not sure why. Thanks again for a entertaining and enlightening post!

katherine April 17, 2012 at 8:05 am

Haven’t seen the movie yet, but loved the book and loved the sneek peak at the movie! I live in the historic South too, so looking at all these set designs was like taking a walk around my own neighborhood. One my friends is selling her gorgeous plantation house, which was built in 1790 – if you’d like to see a house tour via a short you tube video you can follow this link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KkKy80WhLwk
It definitely looks like something straight off the set of The Help!

hookedonhouses April 17, 2012 at 8:08 am

Gorgeous! Thanks for the link, Katherine!

Frances Schultz April 18, 2012 at 9:55 am

Well I’ll just join in with the thousand others to say how much I loved this post – was like re-living the book and movie – and going home again.

Jodi from New Jersey April 18, 2012 at 9:59 am

What a great post. I plan to see the movie –what fun to see the sets. I’m kind of embarrassed, though, I have the same black folding chairs.They’re not that old,but, I guess there’s not much you can do with folding chairs. Those hutches could fit right into today’s homes with the turquoise backs. I love the magic of movies!

Jillian@TheHumbleGourmet April 18, 2012 at 12:49 pm

I am going through a huge Southern obsession right now, so these homes just hit the spot!

Beth April 18, 2012 at 8:54 pm

That pink bathroom! I knew someone with that exact bathroom sink/toilet. I can almost smell the scented soap, all that is missing is a roll of toilet paper hidden under a doll with an enormous skirt.

Slab April 21, 2012 at 7:58 pm

I haven’t seen the movie, but I read the book. Elizabeth’s house looks much better than I envisioned. In the book, she had aspirations beyond her means. The house only had one bathroom (initially). She was always sewing something, and the results were not good. So, I expected the house to look small and sad.

Anne C. May 15, 2012 at 10:30 pm

Thanks for posting- these pics were fun to look at. We live in a four bedroom colonial built in the 1960′s- we bought 3 years ago from the 92 year-old, widowed original owner (bless her!)
Needless to say our lives have revolved around renovating since the day we moved in- not sure how, but in between home renovations and countless trips to Home Depot and Lowes we managed to fit in having our third child.
I see many features in these pictures that we have (or had) in our house-
colored ceramic tile in the bathroom, faux brick linoleum flooring, and the oven from Elizabeth’s ranch looks exactly like the one I currently have in my kitchen (we have not mustered up the willpower to start kitchen renovations yet). Haha- when I was seeing the movie for the first time in the theater as soon as I saw the oven I leaned over to my friend and said it looked like mine- she agreed! It’s old, but it works- I wonder if there are any appliances made today that would work for FORTY years!!!

kadie June 4, 2012 at 7:56 pm

there is scene in the movie when skeeter runs into her house and up the stairs …. my heart stood still I LOVED THAT HOUSE there was something about it. Thanks for the pictures

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