Forget Beth Harmon — interior design was the true star of Netflix’s ‘The Queen’s Gambit’

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  • Warning: Spoilers ahead for Netflix's "The Queen's Gambit."
  • The hit limited series released on Netflix follows the story of chess prodigy Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy).
  • Beth travels around the world playing in tournaments and competitions.
  • Throughout the series, mesmerizing backdrops surround Beth's captivating chess matches. 
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

"The Queen's Gambit" is much more than a story about a prodigy chess player — it's about breaking gender norms, iconic fashion trends, and stunning cinematography.

But another binge-worthy element is the series' backdrops.

From a flower-filled bathroom in Mexico to a Soviet-inspired hall in Russia, the show's production designer, Uli Hanisch, and set decorator, Sabine Schaaf, use design to capture the culture and style of the 1960s. 

"For each city, we thought about what the biggest cliché would be to let you know where you are," Hanisch told Architectural Digest. 

As Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy) enthralls viewers with her striking chess abilities, the audience is also enraptured by the stunning set design. Here, we look at some of the best interior design moments from the show.

After Beth Harmon leaves her bleak orphanage, she enters a mid-century maximalist oasis.

Early in the series, Beth Harmon moves from the Methuen Home orphanage to a new home in Lexington, Kentucky, owned by her adoptive parents, Alma and Allston Wheatley.

When Beth steps inside, she's met with quite the interior design spectacle.

The Wheatleys' home is filled with mid-century modern pieces, ruffled curtains, and floral wallpaper that today could be considered "grand millennial." A relatively new term, the style is what's "considered by mainstream culture to be 'stuffy' or 'outdated,'" per House Beautiful. 

Patterns are layered on patterns in the Wheatleys' home — in the living room alone there are at least seven different patterns — and kitschy knick-knacks fill each space. From a mid-century modern starburst clock to a cat ceramic, this clash is what helps production designer Uli Hanisch highlight Alma's imperfect life. 

"Mrs. Wheatley is caught up in a strange marriage to a strange man, and she's trying to build up a façade of a happy home," Hanisch told Curbed. "She's using catalogues to create something perfect, but really it's ugly and questionable in terms of style."

Beth's new bedroom is also an explosion of different patterns.

The Wheatleys' eccentric design choices continue into Beth's new bedroom, which is filled with tassels, floral patterns, lace, and plaid.

It's clear that Alma had envisioned a girly-girl for her future daughter, far different than the serious chess-obsessed Beth.  

The bedroom also creates a visual barrier between Beth and her new adoptive mother. It's an indicator that they're different, hence why it takes so much time and bonding for them to understand each other. 

In an iconic design scene, Beth rips down the curtains and updates the home with modern wallpaper, patterns, and colors.

After Alma's untimely death, Beth decides to give the home a modern upgrade. 

She packs away much of the home Alma has created. Picture frames and kitschy decor get stored in cardboard boxes.

Then Beth tears down the curtains that connect the foyer to the living room and heads to Modern Living where she picks out items to give her home an upgrade.

Just like her home, Beth also undergoes a style transformation. Moments after packing up boxes, she's testing out a new hairstyle and going clothes shopping. 

The updated home features a velvet couch and geometric wallpaper.

The home makeover is a chance for viewers to see Beth's style outside of her fashion on the show.

She chooses furniture with tapered legs and walnut finishes, both of which were popular mid-century modern styles at the time.

Not all of Alma's style is gone, however. Beth uses dark teal to tie the room together just like Alma did, though instead of frilly curtains, the color is now found on a lampshade, rug, and velvet couch. 

She also adds a blush pink geometric wallpaper to the walls. This could be another nod to Alma, who favored pastels. 

Beth's competition sites are also packed with intriguing set design choices — just take this high school gymnasium as an example.

Beth starts her chess career playing at high schools and colleges across the country. While a high school might not sound like it could be visually mesmerizing, the designer and cinematographer's use of symmetry and color transform it into a gorgeous set.

The green geometric lines on the basketball court are echoed in the green of the walls and window frames. The tables are also evenly spaced around the room and perfectly framed in the shot.

As Beth starts playing in larger tournaments, she travels to hotels around the world. This gave set designers a chance to vary decor, color schemes, and style.

Beth gets to travel around the world in "The Queen's Gambit," and throughout her journey, she immerses herself in the different styles of the 1960s.

In an interview with Curbed, Hanisch reveals that each hotel has completely different color schemes in order to differentiate between destinations.

Las Vegas was turquoise and gold, Paris was pale blue, Mexico was red, and Moscow, Russia, was fittingly filled with blacks and whites — likely a nod to Beth's final and most important chess match. 

In Las Vegas, Beth competes in the US Open against a glitzy backdrop.

According to Curbed, Hanisch had to source 40 golden-beige armchairs, 20 turquoise chairs, and 20 mauve sofas from a manufacturer in order to transform the Palais am Funkturm building in Berlin, Germany, into a glam Las Vegas hotel from the '60s.

Enormous, gold dice were hung from the ceiling to capture the gaudy essence one might expect in Sin City. 

Beth and her adoptive mother also travel to Mexico City, where Beth competes in an Art Deco-inspired hotel.

Beth plays in a tournament at the fictional Aztec Palace Hotel.

The hotel is influenced by Art Deco design and architecture, which was popular in the '20s and '30s.

The style is characterized by sleek geometric patterns, as seen in the stained glass windows as well as the carpet that runs throughout the hotel's tournament spaces. 

Beth's hotel room draws from a similar inspiration.

Here we see the same geometric windows and even the tiles behind the tub are staggered to mirror the windows' design.

The main difference between Beth's room and the hotel's tournament space is the use of flowers.

Birds-of-paradise fill a vase behind the bathtub, and earlier in the scene, viewers can see deep red floral patterns throughout Beth and Alma's room.

Beth's Parisian hotel is "pompous," according to the show's production designer.

As Insider's Sophie-Claire Hoeller reports, the Paris scene doesn't take place in a Parisian hotel. Instead, set designers used the palatial Haus Cumberland in Berlin, which was built in 1912.

The hotel features Art Nouveau design, which was popular across Paris in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Hanisch told Curbed he wanted Beth's Paris room to feel as "pompous as possible." He designed the set with luxury linens, wallpaper, china, and luxe furniture. 

When Beth heads to Moscow, Russia, for her final tournament in the series, she stays and plays in a Soviet-inspired hotel.

As Hoeller reports, the tournament takes place in Berlin's Old City Hall, in the Baerensaal, or Bear Chamber. The hall is made of floor-to-ceiling marble and 62-foot ceilings. 

Hanisch aimed to transform the scene into "a temple to chess," per Curbed.

This is the only tournament throughout the series where onlookers are watching Beth from an elevated point-of-view. That, combined with the black-and-white color pallet, makes viewers feel as though they themselves are watching a chess match inside a chess match.

Just like the room around her, however, Beth also wears blacks and whites to reflect the pieces in the game and her control over them. In the end, she wears an all-white outfit, which the show's costume designer Gabriele Binder said was intentional.

"The idea, of course, is to convey that she is now the queen on the chessboard and the chessboard itself is the world," Bindel said in an interview with Vogue.

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