HBO’s summer series The White Lotus finds a group of very rich and somewhat clueless hotel guests taking a week’s vacation at a sumptuous resort in Hawaii. Rather than build hotel room sets on a soundstage in Los Angeles, series creator Mike White filmed inside the Four Seasons in Maui, which was closed due to COVID-19. Though the hotel exteriors, including an infinity pool and gorgeous beachfront, were camera-ready, the rooms, done in a neutral palette, were deemed too bland for filming. Per hotel restrictions, production designer Laura Fox could not paint or otherwise alter their pale wallpaper or move the headboards. Still, she managed to redecorate the rooms to celebrate the natural flora of the island and reflect the personalities of the eccentric characters.
“They’re lovely rooms, but not to film in,” Fox tells AD. “I think [my job] was trying to find a version of a new hotel that was kitschy and flawed and rich, like the characters.”
The shoot lasted from late October through most of December 2020. Fox and her minimal crew worked nonstop out of one of the hotel ballrooms, sewing curtains, pillow covers, and headboard covers for the four main rooms: Tradewinds, the Palm Suite, the Pineapple Suite, and the Hibiscus Suite. Fox relied on shoppers Katrin Chong and Sam Sternthall, who combed Maui and the Big Island for lighting, rugs, fruit, flowers, plants, and pots, while Fox trolled the Internet for fabrics, poring over samples while quarantined for 10 days at the hotel. “I picked 10 fabrics and asked them to ship us three yards of each,” she says.
Tradewinds is where the Mossbacher family, including parents played by Connie Britton and Steve Zahn, stays. In real life, it’s the Four Seasons’ presidential suite. “It’s huge,” Fox says. “We edited it down to the living room and one bedroom and kind of changed out the doors.” For the color palette, Fox took her cues from the ocean views off the balcony—and the ’70s-style paintings by Hawaiian artist Herb Kawainui Kāne that hang on the walls. “His artwork defined it,” she says. “That was the first step. The search for fabric went from that palette of blue. The use of turtles and everything evolved from those paintings.”
The Palm Suite becomes a plot point as disgruntled honeymooner Shane Patton (Jake Lacy) has an ongoing argument with hotel manager Armond (Murray Bartlett) about a reservation mix-up with the Pineapple Suite. Fox and her team, including set decorator Jennifer Lukehart and draper Andrea Hambuchen, chose vibrant greens for this one. “It’s all kind of vintage-looking fabric and it’s quite thick,” Fox says. “I really like using velvet because it’s so over the top. I have a green velvet couch in the Palm Suite. In the Tradewinds, they have blue velvet chairs. To me, it’s so anti-beach.”
The earthy theme is continued in The Pineapple Suite, where the curtains and pillow covers are yellow and green, all decorated with pineapple motifs, and the furniture is brown. One thing Fox did veto, however, was orange accents. “We have to live in these colors,” she says. “For me, it was creating tacky yet elegant backgrounds that helped feed the story in an over-the-top room.”
The Hibiscus Suite is one of Fox’s personal favorites, perhaps because this room best reflects the personality of its guest—Tanya McQuoid (Jennifer Coolidge), a flamboyant boozer who’s come to Hawaii to scatter her mother’s ashes. Color her room red. Tanya wears her heart on her sleeve, and the florid headboard and curtains are a perfect match for her ardent nature.
“There were several fabrics with hibiscus,” Fox says, “and I spoke to Alex [Bovaird], the costume designer, who said, ‘Jennifer’s in a lot of prints.’ They clash and they go [together] perfectly. And we went for it. Although Tanya’s very earthy, she’s also bright and bold. It’s funny how the room develops with the story and everybody’s in the right place.”
Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest