Since Halloween is around the corner, I thought it would be fun to revisit one of my favorite movie houses: the romantic Victorian built for the 1998 movie Practical Magic. It’s one of the most-searched-for houses on my site this time of the year, so I know I’m not the only one who loves it!
Director Griffin Dunne hired Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch of Roman and Williams to design a house that looked like it could be home for generations of witches. After the movie came out, we all flipped for it and wanted to know where the house was.
They say they even got a call from Barbra Streisand, who wanted to buy it. They had to break the news that it had just been an “architectural shell,” with nothing inside, telling her, “It was fictional. And unfortunately, it’s been torn down.”
She’s not the only one who was disappointed to hear that! We’ll always have the movie, though, and these photos of it. Let’s take a look…
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The “Practical Magic” Victorian
Standefer and Alesch were inspired by both Victorian houses with 19th-century scrollwork and East Coast lighthouses.
The story takes place in New England, but the house was actually built on San Juan Island in Washington (Friday Harbor).
Here’s a photo taken during construction:
It took them 6 months to build the exterior and create the landscaping and gardens surrounding it.
Many of the flowers around the house were fakes, just like the house!
Sisters Sally and Gillian lived here with their aunts Frances (Fran) and Bridget (Jet).
The movie was based on a bestselling novel by Alice Hoffman (Amazon affiliate link):
There are differences in the book. For one thing, the girls don’t live with their aunts like they do in the movie.
This side porch overlooks the garden and water:
Entry Hall and Staircase:
The interior sets were all created in a studio in Los Angeles.
Alesch and Standefer decorated the sets with treasures they found through architectural salvage.
The Potions Room:
The props department was tasked with filling hundreds of bottles to put inside these glass-fronted cabinets.
The Attic Bedroom:
Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock played sisters Sally and Gillian Owens.
Both actresses have starred in other movies with great houses, too, from The Proposal to Bewitched.
The stairs go up from the attic to the lighthouse-like tower.
They planned an exorcism of sorts in the parlor.
Some of these set photos were featured in a 1998 issue of Victoria Magazine:
The author of the novel Alice Hoffman said:
“When I visited the stage set for Practical Magic in Los Angeles, I realized that the set designers had created a complete physical world out of their imagination, just as I had. It was as if we were both novelists.”
“The Aga is almost like a shrine,” production designer Robin Standefer said of the range in the kitchen.
“This is the place where they do their work; it’s where they place the cauldron.”
There’s a back stairwell that leads to the kitchen, something I’ve always wanted in a house:
BTW, a reader designed a kitchen inspired by the one in Practical Magic:
There are double doors leading from the kitchen to the conservatory:
“The house itself has a certain magic to it,” Standefer says.
“There is a whole world in this house and garden. These women are outcasts and this place is their sanctuary.”
Director Griffin Dunne says he was enchanted by the script when he read it:
“It was literally like a cauldron. Every emotion, theme and ingredient you could imagine was swirling around in it. I particularly liked the women’s use of magic; it comes right from the title. It’s about a more practical, almost holistic approach that seems like a gift that virtually anyone could have.”
Dismantling the “Practical Magic” House After Filming:
A reader named Derek sent me this photo, explaining that the exterior set was built on an old burial ground, so they weren’t allowed to dig there.
The entire house was built on a giant platform so the earth wouldn’t be disturbed. In this photo he sent me of it being taken down (above), and you can see that it was “empty” inside.
Is this one of your favorite movie houses, too? It’s definitely one of the most memorable!
BTW, the town they used for Sally’s shop was Coupeville on Whidbey Island in Washington, and they painted many of the storefronts white for filming.
The set photos were featured in a 1998 issue of Victoria Magazine.
I took most of these screenshots while watching the movie but found others online without attribution.
Visit my Houses Onscreen page to see the others I’ve featured, listed A-Z.