Homes Photo Credit: Martin Tessler

Inside the Island Home of An Oscar-Winning Set Decorator

Academy Award-winner Jim Erickson has created an island getaway as memorable as his movie set designs.

The Gulf Islands have a well-deserved reputation for how they support an eclectic mix of characters. Even the most developed of the islands tend to have just one stoplight; they’re rural getaways, home to farmers’ markets, schoolhouse movie theatres, goat cheese purveyors and hills of roaming sheep.

And it was here on one of these islands, in his den, that the Oscar-nominated set decorator Jim Erickson sat with friends and family to watch the 85th Academy Awards. “I didn’t believe it at first when they announced my name,” admits Erickson, who (with Rick Carter) took home the Oscar for production design for his historically meticulous work on Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. “We spilled the popcorn!”

The twice-nominated set decorator first fell for the island in 1990, when he and his late partner Rod Nitz first spotted this bucolic nine-acre property. Personal journals and scrapbooks filled with ideas became the blueprint for the new home, which the couple designed with the help of friend and art director Michael Diner.

Based on an 1850 Shaker meeting house, the home is set amid towering Douglas fir trees and terraced gardens; pink heirloom Constance Spry roses climb its locally milled cedar siding. A vibrant red front door greets visitors; inside, Erickson’s collection of unusual pieces—gathered over the years from his travels to exotic film locations—pairs with contemporary paintings, indigenous woven baskets and eclectic antique furniture. Rooms are given historic shades of buttery yellows, sage greens and colonial blue.

Mementos from his work-related travel are given special significance throughout his home: a rare, hand-painted floral Tibetan cabinet from Seven Years in Tibet sits on his second-floor landing; Japanese temple hangings and a 19th-century wooden Tibetan Buddha rest on an intricately carved monk’s table. The hand-knotted mid-20th-century Persian rugs in his den pair handsomely with his Stickley Mission oak bookcases (now home to that Oscar). And, from 2003’s Beyond Borders, a Burmese stone Buddha inspires a meditative pause from the staircase alcove.

The master suite reflects both an austere Shaker design and Erickson’s love of crafted wood: a handmade bed by Vancouver Island-based Karen Trickett takes centre stage. A collector of contemporary paintings, Erickson purchased a Picasso-inspired piece by artist Vergucht in New Orleans when he worked on My Own Love Song in 2010.

It’s in the kitchen where Erickson can most often be found—he’s a prodigious cook and breadmaker who loves to throw an annual New Year’s Eve party for 50. The high-tech-meets-Downton Abbey space disguises a Bosch stainless steel dishwasher and Sub-Zero fridge built into the black walnut cabinetry, which he designed like a 19th-century butler’s pantry.

Yet Erickson likes his space to change, age, move—to develop the patina of time. His collection of 400 antique quilts may oxidize over time but, he says, that only adds to their appeal. And the raw copper and butcher block counters in the kitchen offer Erickson that shifting dynamic he loves. “Do you know what happens when vinegar spills on copper?” he asks. “It turns blue and looks amazing! The top of my island chopping block is maple, and I love all the cuts and stains.

“The floor is made from local green sandstone from the most northern part of the island and, believe me, it’s totally unforgiving if you drop something on it,” he continues. “But that’s okay—I want my house to breathe and change over time.” WL

Jim Erickson home

Jim Erickson home
In April 2013, the Set Decorators Society of America honoured Erickson in Hollywood with the Earl Cooperman Lifetime Achievement Award. “I’ve had such a great career,” says Erickson. “Why not go out on a high note? Now I can spend all the time I want here in my home—it’s never boring.”
Jim Erickson home
Erickson’s set design career has taken him all over the world, and his collections reflect his journeys: Japanese temple hangings, an intricately carved monk’s table and a Burmese stone Buddha.
Jim Erickson home
He loves for his pieces to develop the patina of time; the maple butcher block on the island is celebrated for its nicks and cuts, and leather chairs in the living room become soft with age.

Jim Erickson home

Jim Erickson home

Jim Erickson home
Set decorator Jim Erickson is known for his work on the movie Lincoln, which won him an Academy Award. He calls the Gulf Islands home and designed his house after an 1850 Shaker meeting space, featuring roses and orchids from all over the world.

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