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Category: Set Pieces

'True Blood' raises the design stakes in Season 5

"True Blood" has done it again. Last season, the fang-tastic HBO vampire series introduced swank new sets for lead character Bill Compton's royal residence as Vampire King of Louisiana. For Season 5, which introduces new characters and political turmoil within the world of the undead, production designer Suzuki Ingerslev and set decorator Ron V. Franco have created stunning stages for the subterranean New Orleans headquarters of the draconian Vampire Authority, led by Roman Zimojik (Christopher Meloni, in the navy suit and blood red tie above).

742539_TB503_1_31_JJ_0052The set also includes a wildly sumptuous Art Deco-meets-Grauman's Chinese Theatre boudoir for Salome (Valentina Cervi), the legendary biblical temptress who, in a stroke of "True Blood" genius, is revealed to be an ancient vampire and Chancellor of the Authority. Not surprisingly, Salome uses the room as a chamber for seduction, and the bedroom is to die for. 

Ingerslev and Franco detailed via an email exchange the inspirations and sources they used to create the Authority headquarters and a bedroom that is likely to become a new touchstone for goth glamour. 

Question: How did you come up with the look of the Authority HQ? 

Ingerslev: The structure acts as an office building and prison, as well as a residence for some of the more powerful vampire officials, and I thought it should be austere and ancient. The exterior is an existing power station in Glendale. For the main chamber interior, I based the brick walls on a cistern in Turkey and intended for them to have been directly excavated and brought over to New Orleans when Authority vampires were originally establishing their headquarters. The floor plan of the main chamber pays tribute to the layout of a cathedral, conveying a sense of power and history.

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'Girls' on HBO has a breakout star: Charlie's apartment

Girls Charlie studio mainSorry, “Girls.” When it comes to home design, the latest breakout star of the HBO series belongs to one of the guys: the apartment of Marnie's wet-noodle of a boyfriend, Charlie.

“It looks awesome in here,” Marnie says upon seeing the studio for the first time, even though they have been a couple since 2007. “It looks like a Target ad. It's perfect.”

“A Target ad?” an annoyed Charlie responds, showing a hint of an emerging backbone. “It's not quite a Target ad, but whatever.”

Whatever, indeed. Charlie's apartment turns out to be more complex than Marnie could imagine. Conceived by production designer Laura Ballinger Gardner, submitted to series creator Lena Dunham for her approval and then built from scratch — all in just four days — the fictional 12-by-12 studio set in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn is a character unto itself.

Girls Charlie rendering
“We knew from the script that he lived in an older, not good apartment, but he had taken a small studio and done something wonderful with it,” said Gardner, who also is production designer for “Veep.”

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'Dark Shadows': The story behind the grand, Gothic set design

"Dark Shadows" sets foyerFor anyone familiar with the original long-running television series “Dark Shadows,” one of the biggest surprises of Tim Burton's big-screen remake opening this week may lie with what's behind the massive front doors of Collinwood Manor.

"Dark Shadows" Collinwood ManorFreed from the budgetary constraints of a daily soap opera set and fertilized with the vision of Burton and production designer Rick Heinrichs, the interior of Collinwood was built on a soundstage as a full-fledged, exquisitely detailed character of its own. Fading Gothic grandeur is seamlessly combined with maritime motifs that reference the Collins family's ties to the sea.

The floor of the grand foyer is tiled in a blue-and-white pattern that evokes ocean waves, and upon closer examination, the immense chandelier overhead proves to have milky white octopus tentacles snaking among the strings of crystals.

“I designed the undulating floor tile based on a 12th century basket-weave design I'd found,” Heinrichs said. “It was made to our specifications out of extra hard plaster, since a movie production can be a lot of wear.” The production designer said the marine-themed chandelier had to be sketched out and then rendered in 3-D.

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'Magic City': One of TV's best-designed shows?

"Magic City"
Reviews for the new Starz series “Magic City” have been mixed, but the critics seem to agree on one thing: The show looks stunning. Set in 1959 Miami Beach in the luxury Miramar Playa Hotel, "Magic City" looks like it was shot entirely on location in a period-perfect resort, but in fact its living rooms, bars and suites were built on a stage over nearly four months. The look is a mix of gold, glitz and glamour that betray the deals that go down after dark.

Production designer Carlos Barbosa and set decorator Scott Jacobson said they worked hard to stay true to the period in all aspects: the Midcentury Modern furniture, the television consoles that would have been appropriate for a new luxury hotel, even the typography on the matchbooks and signs.

"Magic City"“It was such a fascinating time both socially and politically, especially in Miami,” Barbosa said. “There was the Jewish Mafia. Sinatra. Castro took over that year. Later the Kennedys would visit.” And there was one architect in particular who captured the glamour at that time: Morris Lapidus.

The production designer said he took inspiration from the Miami Modernist architecture -- or MiMo -- of Lapidus, who designed several Miami Beach hotels including the Foutainebleau, Deauville and Eden Roc.

"Magic City"Like Lapidus, the production team mixed styles -- including Modernist, classical and baroque -- to create the Miramar Playa's distinctive interiors. To save money, the production made much of the furniture rather than tracked down period pieces. “In order to achieve that look today, in that scale, many things were not available,” Jacobson said. “And even if they were, it would be too cost prohibitive. It’s easier to design what you want and select the textiles that are right.”

Nothing was leased from a prop house. Jacobson, who is based in Miami, said he scoured Florida antique shops, EBay and the Brimfield antique market in Massachusetts. "Estate sales were a gold mine for me," he said. "There were several where I walked in in the morning, took a look and told them, 'I'll buy everything.' " Keep reading for a closer look at some of the residential environments, as well as the back story to the bar pictured at top ...

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Midcentury fans 'Mad' for Don Draper's new pad

"Mad Men" set, Don Draper home
Woe to the design team behind “Mad Men,” whose ravenous fans mercilessly scour the period decor in every episode. Is that a 1967 chair in a 1966 scene? Is that refrigerator color really right for the times? Design-savvy viewers have been all too happy to point out potential goofs as well as must-haves. The first obsession was Don Draper's new Manhattan home, an Upper East Side spread complete with serious bachelor pad trappings.

Fan sites and decorating blogs are filled with Season 5 analysis, to varying degrees of sophistication. Casa Sugar loaded 17 photos onto its site with scintillating, insightful commentary such as, “A glass-topped, metal-base coffee table holds a variety of party snacks,” and, “Don's sectional sofa is covered with a variety of pleated, multihued circular pillows.”

But on her Mirror Mirror blog, Seattle design junkie Paola Thomas astutely spotted classic Midcentury enamel bowls by Norwegian manufacturer Cathrineholm. On Apartment Therapy, one reader asking about Don's blue swag light elicited more than 20 comments from readers speculating where they too could buy the look. (Answer: EBay, $595 for a pair of similar lamps in white.)

If you missed the original post, check out David A. Keeps' L.A. at Home interview with set decorator Claudette Didul, who can give more enlightening details about how she shopped like a "Mad" man -- and pieced together Don's look with finds from EBay, Etsy and Craigslist, as well as stores in Long Beach, Pasadena and North Hollywood.


The baby's room on "Bones"

"Smash" homes steal the show

Real homes: California design profiles

-- Craig Nakano

Photo: Don Draper's new apartment. Credit: AMC

'Bones': Booth and Brennan's new home, including baby's room


It took six long years, but at the end of the most recent season of "Bones," Dr. Temperance Brennan (Emily Deschanel) and FBI Special Agent Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz) finally became a couple with a baby on the way. When the show returns Monday night, fans will get their first look at Brennan and Booth's new home -- "a rather grand place, a white elephant which Booth bought and turned into a place Brennan would enjoy," show runner Hart Hanson said.

Bones-diningDeschanel's take on the place: It looks like the love child of a history museum curator and a nostalgic kid-at-heart. "I want it!" the actress said.

At Fox Studios in Los Angeles, production designer Val Wilt and set decorator Megan Malley-Cannon produced a two-story, five-room home that integrates the retro Americana, sports-infused vibe of Booth’s old apartment with the Asian-inspired look of Brennan’s former loft. In other words, Buddha meets baseball.

"The house is what they share together," Wilt said. The result is a traditional home with fireplace, wooden moldings and coffered ceilings accented with a busy array of the couple’s collectibles.

For a tour of the house, including details on that nursery pictured here, keep reading ...

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'Mad Men': The story behind Don Draper's new digs

"Mad Men" Don Draper apartment"Mad Men" returned after its long hiatus Sunday, earning record ratings and a host of Midcentury Modern design fans newly obsessed with Don Draper's new Manhattan home. It's June 1966, and though Draper (played by Jon Hamm) might be a newlywed, he's traded in his dreary digs from last season for an Upper East Side spread complete with serious bachelor pad trappings.

Don Draper's apartmentApartment 17-B, right, set decorator Claudette Didul said, is "in a high-rise that feels like it was built in 1960 with a white-carpeted sunken living room and a fascinating fireplace and a Case Study-style kitchen with two pass through windows."

It also sports walnut cabinetry with a built-in television set and one of those new-fangled-for-the-time push-button phones. 

Didul said Draper's love of sleek modern lines and high-tech gadgetry and manly appointments (leather lounge chair, countertop cocktail bar with a drum-shaped ice bucket) is contrasted with his new wife Megan's youthful taste and love of color. 

"I imagine she might've dragged Don through Bloomingdale's to see the model rooms," Didul said. 

The set decorator also took inspiration from two books by 1960s bestselling interior design author Betty Pepis and "Decoration U.S.A.," a 1965 collaboration between Jose Wilson and Arthur Leaman. "The colors of the rooms and furnishings are so vibrant in those books they almost make your teeth rattle," Didul said. 

MM_MY_513_0112_0274The kitchen has rich blue and blazing coral cabinets exhibiting "happiness and hopefulness," Didul said. "The pastels of the 1950s are giving way to brighter and earthier tones." She spotted the brown 1964 Frigidaire in a vintage copy of the Los Angeles Times Home Magazine. "It's my favorite appliance in the whole show."

Keep reading to see Don's dining and living room and a list of Didul's shopping sources ...

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The homes of 'Smash': Interiors that steal the show

Drama may have spilled off the TV screen last week as the creator of "Smash," playwright Theresa Rebeck, stepped down as the lead producer on the NBC series. Design fans, however, will be pleased to know that the show's eclectic and luxurious interiors for its Broadway-based characters will be back for a second season.

Production designer Cabot McMullen and set decorator Andrew Baseman recently talked about the look of the homes on the show, which McMullen said the production had made a big commitment to make as realistic as possible. "The criteria from [executive producer] Steven Spielberg was to make it real," he said. "We were asked to demonstrate the lifestyle of Broadway people that was honest and true." 

McMullen credits Baseman for choosing furnishings that tell a story. "You can do more color and push the envelope with theater people," said Baseman, an interior designer who has clients in the theater world. "Some people in the business get very close to the characters they create and they want to live in that world."

Both men admitted that the loft of Derek (Jack Davenport) -- filmed in a vast Flatiron District apartment with a gorgeous view of the Empire State Building -- is a bit of a stretch for a theater director. But what about the luxurious Upper East Side brownstone of writer Julia (Debra Messing), pictured below? "She's successful. She has a Tony Award," Baseman said. "She has a show running on Broadway and is making $10,000 a week in residuals. So yes, she would have bought that townhouse."

"Smash": Julia's apartment
Decorators and designers pose many questions to themselves in creating characters' homes, McMullen said. "I want to know, how much money do they make? Where did they go to school? What are their interests? Do they cook? What do they like to do? The design criteria for the sets very often reveals things about the story that producers hadn't even come to terms with yet. I ask questions that drive the creative process."

When Episode 8 airs tonight, viewers will see sets that not only advance character but also illustrate how mixing pieces -- expensive and affordable, vintage and contemporary, CB2 and Lillian August -- can create warm, colorful, sophisticated interiors that are dramatic and personal. Keep reading to see more details of the "Smash" sets ... 

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Set decoration: the fashionable world of 'Jane by Design'

Andie MacDowell Jane by Design setsYouthful touches and colorful accents brighten the industrial interiors of the fictional Donovan Decker fashion house in the ABC Family series "Jane by Design," which airs it Season 1 finale Tuesday night.

Production designer Greg Grande created sets that look like a sewing machine factory-turned hip fashion office. The interiors are an eyeful: orange mohair-topped footstools, Moroccan lamps, bright lacquered armoires, zebra print chairs and elegant wall treatments.

The show's emphasis is on high school student Jane (Erica Dasher), an Anna Wintour-like fashion exec named Gray (Andie MacDowell, pictured here) and their amazing clothes (and shoes!). But set decorator Richard C. Walker said "Jane by Design" creator April Blair was intent on equally young and fresh interiors. "She was always saying ‘Domino’ to me," Blair said, referencing the defunct magazine geared for young do-it-yourself decorators.

Jane by Design setsGrande, who worked on "Friends" and "Cougar Town," mixed color and texture within the industrial architecture. Among his moves: covering office walls with contemporary wallpaper made by Graham & Brown. "Greg paired stripes and floral wallpapers to create visual interest for the camera," Walker said. "We didn't want the audience to be bored with the same thing." 

Grande began by building Donavan Decker on a sound stage in Santa Clarita. The crew then divided the office space with iron girders and window panes.

Working on a tight budget, Walker shopped for pieces that looked like expensive classics but were in fact knockoffs. Some pieces came from the Warner Bros. prop house, but most were bought or rented in or near Santa Clarita: The Graham & Brown wall coverings from Astek Wallcovering, accessories from Urban Home, a starburst mirror and lamps from HomeGoods, and a closet system from IKEA.

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'Watch What Happens Live': The story behind that set

Andy Cohen with guests Sandra Bernhard and Mary J. Blige
Mary J. Blige admits to being a mile-high club member. Ralph Fiennes walks out in PJs and giant slippers. A "Real Housewife” talks about her fling with Gerard Butler. Why do so many celebrities on the Bravo talk show “Watch What Happens Live” say and do things they wouldn’t on Leno or Letterman? The answer might have something to do with the on-set bar (and most guests do partake). Or maybe host Andy Cohen is just so amiable and self-deprecating that guests instantly want to become his new BFF.

But another reason for the on-air craziness just might be the show’s intimate set. Shot in a nondescript Tribeca building in New York, “Watch What Happens Live” unfolds in a dark, cozy room full of tchotchkes. It looks more like someone’s basement den from the 1970s than a talk show. And that's exactly what the host had in mind.

Andy Cohen's bedazzled Snoopy Pez dispenserWhen the show was picked up, Cohen said, he had an art director come to his apartment for inspiration. “The reason the set looks the way it does is because I wanted it to feel like me," he said. The show is so much a result of my mind and sensibility, that it just seemed like it would be more comfortable if it sort of looked like me too.”

The most important design element from Cohen’s compact Manhattan apartment that art director Kenny Cahall re-created is a shelving system that holds a mind-boggling array of knickknacks.

“He lives in a real New York apartment. It’s not very big and it’s designed around storage,” said Cahall, who took items from Cohen’s digs, including three blue glass sculptures shaped like human heads, Snoopy figurines including a large bedazzled Pez dispenser (“Andy loves Snoopy and has a lot of them,” associate producer Chase Dillon said), an Edward Fields rug (since returned to the host’s apartment and replaced with a new one, pictured above) and a set of books with candy-colored spines.

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