How the Banks’ House in ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ Gets a Magical Makeover

updated May 3, 2019
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(Image credit: Courtesy of Disney)

Fifty-four years since her big-screen debut, Mary Poppins is still practically perfect in every way. The magical nanny reappears in Disney’s highly-anticipated sequel, “Mary Poppins Returns,” starring Emily Blunt in the charming titular role (as Julie Andrews did before her in the 1964 musical movie).

Set in 1934, instead of 1910 like the original, director Rob Marshall’s follow-up finds Blunt’s Mary Poppins returning to the Banks’ residence on 17 Cherry Tree Lane during the Great Slump. The chaotic household now sees a grown-up Michael Banks (played by Ben Whishaw) raising his three young children, with help from his sister Jane (Emily Mortimer). While the Banks’ family home maintains the same address, the famous London property isn’t a replica of its predecessor. Instead Oscar-winning production designer John Myhre focused on making the 2018 version less posh and more kid-friendly.

(Image credit: Jay Maidment/Disney)

“The house was the most different of locations we revisited, because in the first movie, the house wasn’t really a nice home for the children—it was really the parent’s house and the children were really only allowed in their nursery. There wasn’t even a sofa in the front room. Our movie is completely different,” Myhre, Marshall’s longtime collaborator, tells Apartment Therapy. “When you see it, the kids are really running the house. The kids’ fingerprints are everywhere in the house. It’s much more colorful.” And yes, there is a sofa in the new film.

The furnishings in the home were scoured from antique markets all over London. “Virtually everything is reupholstered into the colors and patterns that we wanted for their family house,” adds Myhre.

(Image credit: Jay Maidment/Disney)

One piece of furniture is particularly special: The entryway table, which holds the landline telephone and sits below a wall mirror, is originally from the first film. “It was being used at Disneyland’s private club, Club 33,” explains Myhre, who asked to borrow the table for Marshall’s movie. “I think it’s really fun that you could be standing on our set and touching a piece from the first. The club kept it in very good shape.”

(Image credit: Jay Maidment)

With access to the Walt Disney Archives, Myhre and his team also looked to the original film’s props for inspiration, including the St. Paul Cathedral snow globe. “It was a dusty, neglected piece. It was almost poetic that it was kind of sad. We went, ‘Oh my goodness, this is something we need to use,'” says Myhre. The snow globe was reproduced for an emotional scene during Michael’s moving rendition of “A Conversation” as he rummaged through his dusty attic. Another prop that was recreated? The green kite, which becomes “a vehicle for storytelling in our movie,” hints Myhre.

(Image credit: Jay Maidment/Disney)

For the children’s room—an area that was kept tight since “Rob wanted to make it really small, so that the beds almost touched one another”—Myhre created a fireplace for a special porcelain Royal Doulton bowl to sit on the mantel. Myhre and his team looked at hundreds of photos of real Royal Doulton bowls before coming across a Charles Dickens-themed one on eBay that would inspire the antique version featured in the flick. “What we loved so much about it was that the outside of the bowl was the outside of these houses and when you look inside the bowl it was the inside of those houses,” recalls Myhre. The film’s hand-painted bowl shared a similar style, except it featured the inner and outer parts of a park that would eventually take Mary Poppins, Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), and the kids into an animated, colorful sequence filled with singing and dancing animals (penguins included, of course).

(Image credit: Jay Maidment/Disney)

The children’s bathroom has its magical moment, too. Myhre wanted to make the space covered in more neutral shades to contrast with Mary Poppins’ bright world. “We ended up making it more creams and off-whites and a little band of gray. We found beautiful old tiles that we reproduced. We kept it very clean and monochromatic so that when they slide into the bathtub—that blue of the ocean, the yellow of the rubber duck—the colors just explode,” says Myhre.

As for sliding into that tub? Myhre made that possible. “We built that set on a platform so we actually had a slide in the bathtub that’s hidden by the foam bubble,” he reveals. “We built the whole set about eight foot off the ground, so we could do that and Mary could pull these bigger-than-life items out of her bag and the sink.”

(Image credit: Jay Maidment/Disney)

Adds Myhre: “We tried to do anything that was possible to do for real, for real. A lot of that was for the kids and the kids’ reactions. It’s one thing to react to somebody telling you what you’re seeing and it’s another thing for these young actors to actually be reacting to their little brother sliding down into the bathtub.” In the wise words of Mary Poppins, can you imagine that?