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Behind the scenes: Grimmauld Place

As the childhood home of Sirius Black and headquarters for the Order of the Phoenix, the dark and dingy Grimmauld Place was an important setting to get right.

Some members of the Order of the Phoenix wait outside Grimmauld Place
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Extracted from Harry Potter: Magical Places from the Films by Jody Revenson
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In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter is escorted by members of the Order of the Phoenix to number twelve, Grimmauld Place, the ancestral home of the Noble House of Black. There he joins the Weasleys, Sirius Black, and others as they discuss plans for stopping Voldemort’s army. Magically, number twelve, Grimmauld Place is only visible to those who know it’s there. ‘Grimmauld Place appears from behind a drainpipe,’ explains Stuart Craig. ‘It starts with one dimension, then develops out into two dimensions, and then three as the front steps pop forward and the windows sink back.’ Craig always felt that the natural location for Grimmauld Place would be in one of London’s Georgian squares among their early nineteenth-century houses. A physical façade of six townhouses was built at the studio, but the actual emergence of Grimmauld Place was achieved digitally. Then special effects were added to the materialisation: a fish tank judders, curtains flutter, and dust spills from the roof.

The exterior of Grimmauld Place
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

‘The exterior is typical of that time period,’ he reiterates. ‘What is atypical, of course, is the way it magically appears. We tried to reflect that on the inside, to have a strangely distorted space. When you open the front door, for example, there’s a very compressed hallway.’ Many of the corridors and the kitchen were created with forced perspective, so they disappear into infinity. Additionally, ‘Sirius Black is hiding out after his escape from Azkaban,’ set decorator Stephenie McMillan adds, ‘so there’s also the feeling of it being enclosed. Stuart designed it with very high, narrow ceilings. And it has tall, thin windows that are mirrored so that no one can see out, which, again, gives it another effect of enclosure.’ McMillan complemented the squeezed look with extra-tall wardrobes, dressers, and beds.

Craig chose a blue-black inky colour for the palette for Grimmauld Place. Stephenie McMillan purchased furniture to fill the house and had it painted dark ebony, which matched the ebonised wood that makes up the staircases and baseboards. Grey was also a prevalent colour, such as in the velvet curtains and the decaying walls, which are covered in a dark grey silk that glows with an eerie gleam. McMillan assumed that the guest bedroom Ron is staying in at the top of the stairs was decorated by the late Mrs Black. In one of what she calls her ‘rare uses of wallpaper’, an antique striped pattern adds verticality to the walls; the gray silk curtains are striped as well. McMillan dressed the room with black dressers and a curvy well-worn dressmaker’s dummy. ‘I started collecting old fans,’ she adds, ‘which I set in black frames, with dead moths inside.’

Harry and Sirius by the Black family tapestry at number twelve, Grimmauld Place
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

‘David Yates wanted the kitchen extended even longer than originally designed,’ says McMillan, ‘which I think was possibly to accentuate Sirius and Harry being apart from the family.’ McMillan wasn’t able to find a table that would run twenty feet down the Black family kitchen, so it was built at the studio. The sides of the kitchen were wild walls to allow for shooting, fronted by thirteen-foot-high sideboards. ‘They were jammed with old silverware and pewter in a jumbled mess, as Kreacher is looking after the house. There was also a collection of dark-blue-and- gold-rimmed china, with the family crest on it.’ McMillan added hanging cauldrons and huge teakettles for a homey feel.

The kitchen in Grimmauld place
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Harry returns again for refuge at Grimmauld Place in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1, along with Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, when they are pursued by Death Eaters. Stephenie McMillan had new challenges. ‘We had a big drawing room to do, and two bedrooms that we hadn’t had before, Sirius and Regulus Black’s bedrooms, which we hadn’t had before. The set had been taken down by then, so we had to rebuild it.’ McMillan already had in mind what she wanted for the drawing room, where Harry, Ron, and Hermione camp out.

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‘It didn’t feel right to have squashy sofas. I wanted Regency style, with straight upholstered backs, and I found them at a rental company. Two absolutely perfect sofas, upholstered in the most disgusting fabric.’ McMillan asked the owner if he would sell the sofas to her, ‘which he appreciated, as no one ever rented them out,’ she says with a laugh. The sofas were reupholstered in an Asian-themed black-and-gold fabric. David Yates asked for a grand piano for the thirty-foot-long room. ‘So we made a combination music room and sitting room with a fireplace at each end, and one whole long wall with the biggest bookcase I think I ever designed.’

Harry Potter: Magical Places book cover

Extracted from
‘Harry Potter: Magical Places from the films'