Since the advent of the moving image, film and architecture have been entwined. Both media are examples of cultural expression that address the state of the human condition through spatial narrative and focus on people, space, and time. The architect’s job is to create realities out of fiction, just like the director. Dramas take many different forms in modern television. You have teen dramas like “Vampire Diaries” or “Gossip Girl.” there are also medical dramas like “Grey’s Anatomy” and “The Good Doctor,” of course. Additionally, there are political dramas like “Scandal,” “Homeland,” and, of course, “House of Cards.

An architectural review of House Cards - SHeet1
Frank Underwood sits at the chair of the Lincoln Memorial like a king on his throne_©Film Criticism

The expression “house of cards” describes a flimsy or unstable structure that easily topples or is in immediate danger of topples in English. The adage can describe concrete structures, such as buildings, and abstract ones, such as complex schemes or organizations. It alludes to the well-known pastime of building a structure out of layers of carefully stacked triangles made of playing cards. The entire structure—known as a “house of cards”—can be brought down by one careless action or by a breeze or vibration. Hence the analogy used in this phrase.

House of Cards, like all other television shows and motion pictures set in the White House, shoots its White House scenes on sets designed to look like the actual White House, though many of the rooms and hallways are more extensive to accommodate filming. The soundstage facility in Joffa, Maryland, is where all of the House of Cards sets, including the office of Russian President Petrov, are constructed and shot. Filming for outdoor locations is done primarily in the Baltimore region, with sporadic trips to Washington, DC.

The focus of house of cards, the television show popularized by binge-watching, is on the power couple Francis and Claire Underwood (Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright). They are constantly plotting to gain more influence and possibly excessive retribution. The award-winning show bears an uncanny resemblance to today’s political realities in Washington. In terms of who or what is represented and how within its spheres of visibility and influence, the architecture expresses.

Frank and Claire’s personalities | House of Cards

An architectural review of House Cards - SHeet2
In the Oval Office _©Nikolai Loveikis

Claire and Francis exhibit excellent order and control in their lives reflected in their interiors. Nothing is cluttered; everything has a purpose. For instance, In Francis’s townhouse and his office, some things had sharpness and edge to represent him as an infamous character. As such, he needed stuff around him to have metaphorical teeth in very subtle ways. An example is table legs which were very pointy and sharp.

Frank and Claire’s main living space

West Sitting Hall _©Nathaniel E. bell
West Sitting Hall _©Nathaniel E. bell

This show uses the west Sitting Hall as the main character’s living space in homage to Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama. The West Sitting Hall was used as the living space of these three presidents. The main design challenge was the draperies, as there were hundreds of yards of fabric in the ample swagging covering of the fanlike window. 

Doug Stamper’s apartment

An architectural review of House Cards - SHeet4
Doug Stamper’s apartment _©Nathaniel E. bell

Another heavily used set in season three of the show was Doug Stamper’s apartment. It was based on an apartment Steve Arnold (the show’s production designer) saw in Washington, D.C. The building was chosen for its traditional interiors. Then mixed it up to make it a conventional Washington apartment that had been rehabbed. The kitchen was made much more modern, and the bathroom was redone with modern fixtures and tiles. An audiophile was also created to give a great sound system with beautiful speakers and a curved-screen Samsung TV.

Claire’s bedroom | House of Cards

Claire’s room _©Steve Arnold
Claire’s room _©Steve Arnold

Because the production team didn’t need a dining room, the actual White House dining room became Claire’s room. This was also done because the writer wanted to separate Frank and Claire into their own spaces.

Residence’s Bathroom and Kitchen

The show’s residence’s bathroom _©Nathaniel E. bell
The show’s residence’s bathroom _©Nathaniel E. bell

The show’s bathroom and kitchen are far more significant than the actual residence’s. The complete kitchen is half the show’s and is located in the exact location of the existing dwelling. All this was done after the design team took an artistic license for the show.

The show’s residence’s Kitchen _©Nathaniel E. bell
The show’s residence’s Kitchen _©Nathaniel E. bell

President Underwood’s visit to Moscow

Interior of the Kremlin _©Steve Arnold
Interior of the Kremlin _©Steve Arnold

Season three’s interior of the Kremlin was filmed at Baltimore’s Engineers Club for President Underwood’s trip to Moscow. The space was chosen because it was part of a beautifully restored Victorian mansion in Mount Vernon. That particular room used was a theatre—a shared space in the homes of the wealthy in the 19th century. 

The Jordan Valley 

An architectural review of House Cards - SHeet9
The Jordan valley _©Steve Arnold

The Jordan valley was tricky as the crew couldn’t go very far and had to come up with an arid look. A sand pit was built on the outskirts of Baltimore in a valley created amidst a sand pit.

Use of Color | House of Cards

A pale-grey palette in the private white house kitchen_© Nikolai Loveikis

The show uses colour to create depth with spaces that are often long and narrow, like the corridors and also to communicate much more of the character’s deeper personalities; for example, Francis’s room has lots of blacks while Claire’s is in shades of grey. This is used to strike a sad note. A pale-grey palette is used in the private White House Kitchen to reflect the couple’s icy demeanour. 


Home & Design: “Inside House of cards” [online] Available at: [Accessed date: 12 November 2022].

The Things: 15 Things Most People Don’t Know About House Of Cards [online] Available at: [Accessed date: 11 November 2022].

Film Criticism: House of Cards as Shakespearean Tragedy [online] Available at:–house-of-cards-as-shakespearean-tragedy?rgn=main;view=fulltext [Accessed date: 09 November 2022].

Architectural Digest: Tour the High-Drama Sets of House of Cards [online] Available at: [Accessed date: 08 November 2022].

Set Décor: House of cards. [online] Available at:  [Accessed date: 08 November 2022].


Chan Simon is a fresh architecture school graduate from the University of Juba with a passion for evening the playing field. He is currently a design studio teaching assistant in the architecture department at the School of Architecture, Land Management, Urban and Regional Planning (University of Juba).