“What is going on in this house!:” – The Palmer House (and Other Spaces) as Clear Proof That Not All Is Well (But Some Things Are).

By Pamela Tarajcak

We’ve all watched those shows which tell one how to build or to create the best interior living space possible. The inside of the home is important. Some wise sage of the past (or it may have been my grandmother, which is not mutually exclusive to the previous point) said, “A Messy house reflects a messy brain.” Other wise sages have spouted the proverb “A place for everything and everything in its place.” The home interior specialist Nate Berkus always is quoted as saying, “Your house must rise to greet you every day when you come home.”  Houses and their interiors are vitally important to reflect the interior (mental) life of the occupant.  Thus, in Twin Peaks, the interiors of various characters throughout the seasons are equally important to showing the nature of the people living within those houses.  Focusing on the Palmer house through its various incarnations then expanding to the other characters and spaces will demonstrate this.

The ever changing door. First, it looked like a closet, or another room. Then it transformed into the front door. Different mirrors in the foyer too.

The Palmer house has had an interesting life on the show.  Not only did Fire Walk With Me and Season 3 use a totally different exterior Washington house than the Original Series, but the interiors change in the house also.  In Fire Walk with Me, the house is set up with an emphasis on formality; there seems to be no space for informal casualness in the most public portions of the house.  Actually, you can say that the whole house feels overly formal, like the dirty secrets held within that house were concealed within a very formal interior.  Moreover, according to Christian Hartleben on the Twin Peaks: Between Two Worlds Facebook group, there is an overabundance of floral decoration in the Fire Walk With Me version of the Palmer house.  Floral art hangs on the walls.  Corners and tables are littered with floral arrangements.  The furniture and carpeting have floral accents to them. Hartleben made an excellent point that the whole interior seemed bent on covering up the stench of horror and abuse in that house with a multitude of flowers. However, there are two more added dimensions to the use of flowers.  Where else can one find an overabundance of flowers except at funeral homes or hospital rooms?  The house is a house that is sick.  The house also is a house of death, even before death is visited on it on February 23, 1989.  With every act of evil that occurs in that house, a little death occurs. 

The three mirrors above the couch are gone. Replaced by pictures.

Then Laura dies, and, of course, the original series begins.  Largely, because Lynch will use the Everett house in both the pilot and later in the film, there seems to be a slight continuity with the setup of the house.  The odd multi-leveled staircase is still there.  The up-stairs level is continuous with both media.  However, one major difference must be noted, the living room flips locations.  If one enters the house, it is on one’s right hand not one’s left as in the film.  The changes don’t end there.  Throughout the original two seasons, the Palmer house seems hell bent on not staying continuous. Doors constantly appear where they weren’t before.  In Season 1, episode 6, Maddie goes down a set of stairs that do look quite similar to the pilot version of the house.  But when Aunt Sarah struggles down them in Season 2 Episode 8 (that episode), the stairs now are on the other side of the hall.  There is a space between the stairs and the living room. The dining room, the place of horrors before in Fire Walk With Me (again if we take everything chronologically) disappears completely (it should be across from the living room.)   Not only does the layout constantly shift, but mirrors, objects and plants change location and sometimes type entirely.  Note how the mirrors in the hall change.  One is obviously not like the other.  

In the film, the house was a cover for the nefarious and crooked deeds done within.  To steal from another Lynch title, it was a premonition following lots of evil deeds.  By the time chronologically, we reach the original series, the evil deeds have already been done, but the house reflects the further brokenness of the characters within. The evil deeds that occured on Laura’s person over her adolescence are being revealed to the world at large and showing the house and the occupants within to be broken, shifty, and not altogether stable. 

The disappearing dining room.
Different stairs and different pictures.

After Leland’s demise, we don’t see the Palmer house again until the Season 3 return.  The theme of not getting stuck or mired in the mud is a constant theme of Season 3.   We could tie this into life events and positive steps towards growth or negative regressions backwards for many of the characters inside and outside of Twin Peaks.  However, we can really tell that Sarah Palmer is mired in that one time, the year 1989, and the biggest signifier is not her hermit nature, or her alcoholism, or her dependence on prescriptions, it’s the interior of her house.  

Overly floral and overly decorated formality.
Nothing’s shifted in this house. Everything’s exactly where it was before, except it’s worn down, dirty, half-broken.

That living room remains unchanged, except for the big screen TV, since that fateful year.  The pictures are unmoved.  The furniture and house plants are the same.  Everything is familiar.  Moreover, everything seems worn, dirty, not pristine at all.  It is obvious that Sarah no longer has to keep up pretenses because nobody visits her.  The house is being destroyed by her while she’s being destroyed mentally.  The house is her most negative space and they’re feeding negatively off each other in the worst way.

Moving on vs. staying in the mud: other examples.

The Palmer house in Season 3, isn’t the only interior space that reflects the fixedness of some characters versus the changedness in others.  The Briggs house, the unseen Brennan residence,Nadine’s drape shop and Ed’s Gas Station are prime examples.  

Both the Brennans and Betty Briggs, as opposed to Sarah Palmer, seem ready to move on with life in a positive way during Season 3.  Betty Briggs, though, still in obvious mourning for her sainted husband, has either moved house or done considerable renovations to her house.  There is obviously new kitchen appliances and cabinetry.  The living room and dining room are updated.  Not only that, but she’s playing on a sleek and modern new computer.  

Red cabinets and very 80s furnishings in the Briggs house.
New cabinetry and furnishings.

The Brennans wish to change their house and stop being stuck in the wonderful past when little Wally was a wee child by converting his bedroom into a study.  Once Wally grants permission, it’s full steam ahead with the renovations, even showing us their spat over a chair color.  They have begun to move forward.  

A new chair for a new room.

Another character, obviously growing leaps and bounds since we last saw her in the original series is Nadine Hurley.  Her interior space is the office of her “Run Silent, Run Drapes” store.  Nadine has the latest in computer technology with the best screen (to watch her Dr. Amp) and an updated space.  This shows how ready Nadine is to shovel herself out of the shit. 

Modern and sleek and new – “Run Silent, Run Drapes” office.

On the contrast of this, Ed’s gas farm shows how stuck in the past he is.  The front desk area of Big Ed’s Gas Farm doesn’t have any indication that it’s moved itself into the 21st century.  No credit card machines, nor does he accept credit cards, or updated gas tanks with the ability to use said cards.  He doesn’t have a modern cash register or computer at his desk to keep track of repair schedules.  In short, he lacks the most basic of 21st century technology.  (Even practically dead inside Sarah Palmer has a flat screen!)

The sign says ‘strictly cash’ because there are no card readers anywhere.
The office seems not to have modernized. Ed still runs his business as if it was the 1980s.

Other reflections: 

Other households and spaces reflect the interiors of the occupants or workers within.  Two examples cited within the fandom are obvious.  The Johnson residence reflects Leo’s abuse of Shelly and how he doesn’t even care that he’s forcing her to reside in an unfinished house exposed to the elements.  The Deer Meadow Sheriff Station is close and claustrophobic not allowing anyone from the outside to feel at all comfortable there (in direct contrast to the open, airy, welcome Twin Peaks Station).

Unwelcoming and barren to say the least.
Same with this diner.

But chief among those, are the diners. Diners are important to Twin Peaks mythos. We not only have the Double RR but we also have Hap’s (featured in Fire Walk With Me) and Judy’s (Part 18). But each diner is very different. Both Hap’s and Judy’s seem very similar. Both are barren of customers and barren of the homey feelings one typically associates with diners. Hap’s has unfriendly service and Judy’s has unfriendly customers. Is it any wonder that Hap’s diner and Judy’s diner have similar drab colors for their waitress uniforms and a lack of color and a broken-down feel in their interiors? Then there’s the warm and friendly Double RR. This place feels like home. The Double RR waitress uniforms and interiors are bright and cheery. It’s a tribute to Norma for making everyone feel welcome there. Even when the place is practically barren of customers, the Double RR feels full. And why is that? It’s because it’s filled with love and Norma’s care.

The Palmer house reflects the changes of the mental state of the people living within it.  So do the other houses and businesses.  We see the floral formality of the Fire Walk with Me house and know there’s something desperately wrong there.  The incohesive impermanence of the original series Palmer house shows how the residents within are breaking and fracturing.  The sloven sordidness of the Season 3 house shows a dead inside Sarah Palmer giving up on life. Other interiors also have displayed the interior states of moving on (Brennans, Briggs, and Nadine) versus not (Ed) or welcoming (The Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Station, The Double RR) versus unwelcoming (Deer Meadow Sheriff’s Station, Hap’s and Judy’s).  Thus just observing the interiors immediately should tell the viewer what kind of person lives or works within.

Warm and welcoming all the time.

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