My sister-in-law 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.
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 in-laws 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: