The Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea served as the perfect location for HBO’s hit show The White Lotus. PHOTO BY LAURA FOX/COURTESY OF HBO
LAURA FOX, PRODUCTION DESIGNER OF HBO’S THE WHITE LOTUS, SHARES HOW SHE TURNED THE FOUR SEASONS RESORT MAUI AT WAILEA INTO THE PERFECT SETTING FOR THE HIT SERIES.
“Luxury hotels are super elegant, but a lot of that elegance comes from their surroundings,” says The White Lotus production designer Laura Fox. To create the perfect setting for a vacation from hell, she knew the real work would be all in the details. “I wanted to do this project because of [creator] Mike White—I was a huge fan of his work,” Fox says of the gig that came to her at the height of the pandemic. She explains White’s ideas as making a “rich kitsch—but not too kitsch—hotel.”
The logistics, however, were not as easy to navigate. “I arrived there and had to spend 14 days in quarantine in my room,” she says of first arriving on the island. “I pulled all these fabrics and ideas and put together the basic looks while I was in quarantine. And then I came out and we met and picked rooms and built off of that—we just kind of moved forward with it,” she says of collaborating with White. “It’s pretty easy to collaborate when you run into your director every morning, lunch, dinner and snack. There's no getting away from each other. So it's very easy to ask a quick question.”
Production designer Laura Fox explains that the featured suites she dressed for the show—like the Palm Suite shown here—reflected the characters’ wealth PHOTO BY LAURA FOX/COURTESY OF HBO
While in isolation, Fox had to create the looks for the various hotel suites and settings. “I had my decorator shopping in L.A. and we got fabric sent to us from Hawaii,” she explains. “So I left half the swatches with her and I took the yards with me. It was so silly—I'm in my room adding fabrics to boards and hanging up little bits of curtains... and then I'm emailing photos to my art director who is in quarantine down the hall.”
Ultimately, Hawaii had the perfect items for Fox and her team to use. “We had a shopper on the outside and on the Big Island who would go take pictures and find additional fabrics and artwork,” she says. For instance, in the Trade Winds Suite, she incorporated work by a famous painter from the ’70s. “We got the rights to reprint and use his stuff,” Fox says. “We really tried to use local artists' work and wood carvings to really push that more extreme Hawaii [aesthetic].”
As for staying in the Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea, which at the time was closed to guests, “It really felt like being Jack Nicholson in The Shining. You get out and there’s literally 10 people in this big space,” she says of the eerie feeling of quarantining in a hotel. “[But it’s beautiful], you’re in Hawaii, you could go swimming with turtles every morning… and then slowly, the actors started moving in, and then extras, and then the camera crew came in.” Fox compares the production team’s three-month stay at the luxury hotel to a summer camp experience. Midway through shooting, half of the property reopened. “Suddenly, all the restaurants opened and the food was fantastic,” she says of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
The Hibiscus Suite. PHOTO BY LAURA FOX/COURTESY OF HBO
Once out of quarantine, she scouted the various rooms. “It was really the juggle of what room suited what family, and then what could we do to them,” Fox shares. “For instance, the Palm Suite is one of the best-located suites in the hotel. It's at the right height where you have palm trees in front of it and the beautiful view. One of the things we were looking for [was to show] that it is so ridiculous that the character fights to leave this beautiful room for the Pineapple Suite, which is not nearly as nice, and then we put in an abundance of pineapples, which didn’t help either.” The rooms also had to match the financial aspect of the characters.
The biggest hurdle, according to Fox, was that “the limitations forced your creativity into a pocket and you worked within that bubble,” she says. “You couldn't go out shopping… so in some ways I feel that the limitations helped tighten the design. You push the envelope where you could,” she adds. “It was a really unique challenge.”