In the 1998 film Practical Magic, a Victorian house becomes as iconic as the stars Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman, who play Sally and Gillian Owens, two women born into a magical family.
The movie is based on Alice Hoffman’s 1995 novel and brought to life by director Griffin Dunne. It’s a story that highlights romance, family curses, and the power of sisterhood. The film follows Sally and Gillian Owens, who are born into a magical family but avoid using magic themselves. However, their family is also plagued by a generations-long curse that saw the men in their lives meet untimely deaths. Things get complicated when Gillian’s dead ex-boyfriend Angelov becomes possessed by an evil spirit.
But aside from the story and its characters, the Victorian house resided in by the Owens women plays a prominent role in the narrative. Here are some things you probably didn’t know about the set and perhaps about the movie.
The Practical Magic Home Is Not Real
Unfortunately, the iconic home featured in Practical Magic as the residence of the Owens women isn’t real. The house shown is just an architectural shell, built especially for filming the exterior scenes of the movie. This is because the filmmakers couldn’t find a home that was perfect for the film in the location they wanted. It resulted in having to build this architectural shell instead.
Dunne hired Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch of the Roman and Williams firm to design the house that looked like it could be an ancestral home for witches. The house was so iconic inside and out that it got many people curious, including celebrities. They even said Barbra Streisand called them asking if she could buy it, and they had to break the news that the house wasn’t real.
“It was fictional. And unfortunately, it’s been torn down,” they said.
Standefer and Alesch were inspired by Victorian homes with 19th-century scrollwork and East Coast lighthouses in designing the house.
Another thing about the house that wasn’t real is the flowers on the trees in the garden. The flowers were actually made of silk.
The House Exterior Was Built in Washington
While Practical Magic takes place in New England, the place where the Owens house was built was actually on San Juan Island. It took six months to build the exterior on the land. Once filming wrapped, the house was torn down. It would’ve cost a lot to build a house from scratch that included all the utilities that came with a real house as well.
One side of the house is bordered by a road, and the other side features a body of water. No wonder it was chosen to be the land where the house would be built. The roofline of the Practical Magic house also happens to be a guest cottage in the movie. It was built with the roof sloping downward in the center in order to make it look old.
The tower in Practical Magic was also supposed to be a lighthouse.
The Interior Scenes Were Filmed in Los Angeles
One probably wonders by now where the interior scenes of the Practical Magic house were done. All the interior scenes were filmed at a studio in Los Angeles and modeled after a house on San Juan Valley Road in Washington State.
At some point during the filming of Practical Magic, the conservatory was taken apart in LA. It was brought to Washington to be rebuilt and added to the house for filming the exterior scenes.
Practical Magic production designer Robin Standerfer is responsible for creating all the interiors based on the descriptions he found in the book. According to the October 1998 issue of Victoria Magazine that featured the house, Standerfer analyzed Hoffman’s descriptions of the house.
“I analyzed the descriptions of the stairway and the tangle of vines growing up over the back door and decided it had to be Victorian. But it couldn’t look haunted. It had to be clean and white, not fading and cobwebbed,” said Standerfer.
Regarding the wall decoration, Standerfer chose the wallpaper with designs of birds and tangled vines out of the love of nature that Owens’ aunts, Aunt Jet and Aunt Frances, had. The glass scale inspired by a 15th-century Italian design found in the conservatory was made by artist Allison Berger just for the movie.
The Kitchen and Rooms
One of the most memorable places inside the Practical Magic house is the kitchen. The kitchen in Practical Magic is often used as inspiration by many for their own kitchens. There’s a farmhouse sink, a very charming plate rack, storage for the numerous glassware and dishes to display, and the contrasting dark hardwood floors to the white cabinets. It’s incredibly timeless for a movie that came out in 1998.
“The Aga is almost like a shrine,” Standefer said about the range in the kitchen. “This is the place where they do their work. It’s where they place the cauldron.”
Standerfer insisted that the glass displayed in the kitchen cabinets be wavy, similar to how hand-blown glass would look a century or so ago. The props department even had the task of filling hundreds of bottles to put in the shelves of the potion room.
If you ever spotted a bell jar in the kitchen, there are actually a lot of these bell jars around the house. The bell jars could be found in almost every room, even in the conservatory and the garden. Bell jars were mostly used to protect delicate plants from frost damage, insects, or even other animals.
There’s a stairway that goes beyond the attic room and possibly to the lighthouse tower above. According to the book, Gillian and Sally “sat in the cool parlor late in the day, or sprawled out on the second-floor landing where there were thin bands of lemony sunlight, playing Parcheesi and endless rounds of gin rummy.”
The Town Scenes
Filming for the town scenes in Practical Magic was done in downtown Coupeville in Washington. Apparently, the town’s residents allowed the buildings to be painted white for the film. Once the film was completed, the buildings were repainted to their original colors.
The Differences Between the Movie and the Book
Unsurprisingly, there are elements in Practical Magic that are different from the book. An example was that Gillian and Sally did not live with their aunts in the book compared to the movie.
Hoffman even praised the house’s interiors when she visited the set in Los Angeles.
“I realized that the set designers have created a complete physical world out of their imagination, just as I had. It was as if we were both novelists,” said Hoffman.