Both film-making and interior design are rooted in storytelling. It’s a shared interest that turned friends Errol Morris and Heidi Pribell into collaborators. Morris—the 68-year-old Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker behind The Fog of War and The Thin Blue Line, as well as an upcoming series on Netflix—houses his production company in a sun-soaked, steam-punk-styled studio in Cambridge sporting walls of books, creaky wooden floors, eccentric taxidermy (a monkey head!), fiery red sofas, aluminum doors, and vintage holophane lighting.
It’s cozy, intellectual— the kind of place you wouldn’t mind pulling an all-nighter. Much of that atmosphere Morris credits to Pribell, the Harvard-educated, Cambridge-based interior designer (and one-time boutique owner and art curator) who produces a stylistic variety of residential projects at her eponymous design firm. Boston Common joined the friends for tea in Morris’s home to discuss their common ground.
The décor of director Errol Morris’s Cambridge home revolves around objects, from pieces of art to cellos to taxidermy animals, a motley and marvelous mixture seen here in his music room.
This space seems full of stories. Heidi Pribell: That is the whole thing! Objects have stories and a narrative! Errol Morris: Yes. I always used to distinguish between symbols and fetish objects. Symbols always struck me as much weaker because they had to represent something, whereas an object has its own power. HP: Right. Objects are really so layered like that. [With] interior design, I feel like I help clients put together their own narrative.
Your careers have much in common—imagination, intuition. You both create worlds. EM: Yes. It’s investigating, too. HP: It totally is! It’s the chase. EM: And wanting to know the history of things. I sometimes view the world as a crime scene, and your job is to figure out how it got that way. HP: Well, I like to celebrate beauty. You like to celebrate content.
An array of taxidermy New England songbirds.
Looking around this room, there’s a lot of taxidermy. EM: My wife and I like that. It’s not square with [many ideas] of beauty. Stephen Hawking came to dinner once. We put him in a chair and he was at a strange angle looking up at the albatross. When we got him hooked to his speaking machine, the first thing he said was, “They’re very faithful.”
How do objects inspire your work? EM: Often in my movies some of my best images are connected to objects. The milkshake in The Thin Blue Line [a key detail in the murder investigation tracked by the film] comes to mind. My office is my lair. I don’t know what I’d do without it. My wife kindly describes it as a daycare center for myself. HP: You love beautiful objects. You love art. It’s very fulfilling to create a workspace that you are attached to.