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5 Hollywood power-office designs from ‘Metropolis’ to ‘Succession’

As we bid goodbye to the Roy family as Succession Season 4 ends, we look at the design behind some of TV and film’s most iconic power-offices, from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis to Netflix’s The Crown and Showtime’s Billions

Hollywood has long held a fascination for the upper-one-percent. Showcasing the luxury and excess that goes hand in hand with great power and influence, audiences can’t get enough of their complex and multi-faceted lives and the shiny toys, private jets, superyachts, and multiple mansions only near-limitless resources can bring.

From Fredersen’s office in Fritz Lang’s 1927 Weimar masterpiece Metropolis, and “Master of the Universe” Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street (1987) to Christian Bales’ wealthy investment banker Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, the ultimate power office is an essential part of the set design.

Netflix tasked production designer Martin Childs to create the regal sets of The Crown
The ultimate power-office: Netflix tasked production designer Martin Childs to create the regal sets of The Crown (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

Thanks to Hollywood, viewers have an armchair peek into Queen Elizabeth II’s traditional office, equipped with antiques, a collection of personal framed photographs and an oak desk gifted from Canada. Newspaper magnate Gail Wynand (Raymond Massey) in Ayn Rand’s adaptation of The Fountainhead is also noteworthy with its dark woods, ornate mahogany desk and sweeping views of Manhattan.

newspaper magnate Gail Wynand's power-office in The Fountainhead in Effect Magazine
Dark woods, ornate mahogany desk and sweeping views of Manhattan: newspaper magnate Gail Wynand’s power-office in 1949’s The Fountainhead (Photo courtesy of Warner Brothers/Photofest)

Two of the more recent additions to the genre are HBO’s Succession and Showtime’s Billions, both of which explore themes of power, corruption, and family against a backdrop of escapism and great design-porn. Both shows feature powerful characters in the world of finance, but with distinctive styles and contrasts.

As we sadly bid farewell to the final season of HBO’s Succession, here is a quick primer for the uninitiated. The satirical series depicts the fictional Roy family, who control the world’s largest media and entertainment company Waystar Royco. The plot revolves around family dominance and dysfunction (and bears a striking and timely resemblance to the Murdoch family). Primarily filmed in Manhattan, the show’s production designer Stephen H. Carter and Emmy-award-winning set decorator George DeTitta Jr. looked to the lifestyles of the Murdochs, Redstones and Bronfmans, where the aesthetic of new and old-world money collide.

For the company headquarters’ sleek towers in the sky, the designers created a series of offices in Manhattan’s World Trade Center 7. “We always treated that floor as strictly the corporate floor with each of the Roys all having their own version of power offices,” says DeTitta. “All this was done with an eye toward good clean design, each with their own seating areas and all these glorious views overlooking downtown Manhattan. I think the sheer idea of this glistening tower in the sky probably did more to influence the direction of the decor.”

The office of scion Logan Roy (Brian Cox) is a study of old-money with traditional furniture and warm tones. “Because of where Logan came from, we knew it would have been more traditional due to his taste,” says the set decorator. Daughter Shiv’s (Sarah Snook) office is designed with a more feminine touch that separates her from her male counterparts. As DeTitta further details, the corporate office designs are a “mid-century contemporary look that felt crisp, clean and right for a media company doing business in today’s world.”

One of the most distinctive set elements is the use of large windows that provide a panoramic view of the skyline, highlighting power and influence. And since this is all about a media empire, the use of technology was paramount as offices are equipped with state-of the-art computers, screens and video conferencing equipment, reflecting the importance of digital media in the modern world. And one of the most notable details of a power office? It’s clutter-free and paperless so as not to compete with the landscape.

Season Seven of Showtime’s Billions centers around the opposing yet connected worlds of high finance and politics between the influential New York Attorney General Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti) and his nemesis Mike Prince (Corey Stoll), who is the new head of Axe Capital (and rumor has it, Damian Lewis as Bobby Axelrod will make an appearance).

Drawing inspiration from real-life Attorney General Preet Bahara and industry disruptor Elon Musk, the offices are a study in contrasts. Created by Emmy-award-winning production designer Jim Gloster and set decorator Christina Tonkin Noble, the Axe Capital offices denote wealth and power, where art is the ultimate status symbol. Comprised of a few statement pieces (and like Succession, devoid of files and the proverbial knick-knacks), the office looks are modern and minimal.

Since Axe is a self-made billionaire from humble beginnings, collecting blue chip art is both a sport and passion as real-life works (copies of course) have adorned the walls since Season One. The collections range from Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Nile and Van Gogh’s Siesta to museum-quality works from Yves Klein, Robert Motherwell, Rothko, Pat Steir, and Huma Bhabha. Viewers were also treated to art from director David Lynch and the iconic Bob Dylan as the designers feature new pieces each season.

In contrast to Axe Capital, New York Attorney General Chuck Rhoades’ office in Billions use wood-paneled walls, bookshelves and leather armchairs for a more traditional and classic Old New York feel (Photo courtesy of Showtime)

The sets of Billions have a more modern and sleek design aesthetic, with clean lines and minimalist decor. The color palette tends to be cooler, with a gray, black and blue color scheme and an emphasis on high-tech gadgets and cutting-edge technology reflecting the high-stakes world of finance. As a contrast, Chuck Rhoades’s office in the Thurgood Marshall courthouse has a more traditional and classic Old New York feel. The wood-paneled walls, bookshelves filled with law books, and leather armchairs (influenced by Bahara’s actual Manhattan office) tell us all we need to know about the character. No matter the film titan, the ultimate power office has a commanding presence that creates a space to communicate authority and success and ultimately, for the viewer, aspirational eye candy.

Read more: Interior Designers I Interiors |  Design | Mid-Century | Production DesignLos Angeles