The Supreme Court Justice with a taste for mid-century Scandinavian furniture

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At 85 years old, the U-S Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is an unlikely cultural icon.

DnA talks to Nelson Coates, the production designer who was responsible for recreating the surroundings of her young life.

Along the way he found out, Bader Ginsburg is a fan of Scandinavian design.

The diminutive, opera-loving, conservatively-dressed but liberally-voting Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the inspiration for SNL skits.

She was profiled in RBG, a documentary that plays up her hip-hop credentials.

And now her early life is the subject of a movie that opens on Christmas Day.

“On the Basis of Sex” dramatizes an early part of her career -- when she fought groundbreaking legal cases around gender discrimination.

Making the movie involved delving into the legal mind of the young Bader Ginsburg... but also her surroundings. And that job fell to Nelson Coates, the film’s production designer.

A still of Felicity Jones and Armie Hammer in “On the Basis of Sex”

Coates has had an exciting year. After all, he designed the look for the blockbuster “Crazy Rich Asians,” just nominated for two Golden Globes.

He also designed the second and third films in the “50 Shades of Grey” trilogy. And, he’s president of the Art Directors Guild.

But, he says, meeting the legendary justice was a highlight of his life.

“I've been such a fan of her championing the underserved and underrepresented and never dreamed I’d get to actually meet her. But I kept saying, now I really need to learn some details about her life and see if there's anything from her apartments and things that she had in her early career. And her staff was like, well, we think there's a coffee table. . . in her Watergate apartment home.”

A still of Felicity Jones and Armie Hammer in “On the Basis of Sex”

So Coates meets Bader Ginsburg -- like “being with royalty” -- and learns that she plays the piano, keeps hundreds of cookbooks, and her early trips to Nordic countries to learn about “the legal systems there” birthed a taste for Scandinavian modern design.



  • Nelson Coates - Production designer and art director, production designer for “On the Basis of Sex”