These Set Decorators Hit The Mark With Period Accurate Design Details


Photo courtesy of Olli Upton/Hulu.

It’s not a surprise that some of the most-watched series and movies for 2020 were period dramas and series.

Period dramas are widely loved because often they are based on characters adapted from classics such as Jane Austen – in the case of Emma – or are about historical figures who people already know about – such as Queen Elizabeth in The Crown. These characters have already stood the test of time as being popular to an audience, which puts them at the top of the heap for production go-ahead deals.

The set decorators that we’ve featured here are very skilled at presenting a modern-day approach to design, while turning back the clock so the environments they create feel authentic. It is why this genre continues to not only delight but get big ratings.

The past was never that good but thanks to their talent, it certainly looks that way.

Here are the nominations for Best Period Design in aspire’s Best Dressed Rooms in TV and Film Awards:


Photo courtesy of Liam Daniel/Netflix.

Bridgerton

Based on the Julia Quinn books, this series follows the posh Bridgerton family as each child navigates British society while finding a suitable husband or wife.

Fans went wild over the lavish costumes and Regency-inspired furniture and decor seen in this Netflix original. In fact, production designer Will Hughes-Jones marveled at how it increased consumption of Regency furniture as a result of the show’s popularity.


Photo courtesy of Liam Daniel/Netflix.

Set decorator Gina Cromwell also found beautiful interiors in all shades of blue for the Bridgerton home while using yellows and greens for the Featherton home that were a touch garish, to illustrate their social strivings.

“Every room was meticulous with detail,” notes judge and interior designer Gail Davis. “And while the rooms were of the time, the room felt fresh by making the music contemporary.”


 


Photo courtesy of Netflix.

The Queen’s Gambit

The story of orphaned press prodigy Beth Harmon was based on a book of the same name by Walter Tevis. The coming-of-age story covered themes of adoption, feminism, chess as well as drug addiction and alcoholism. But thanks to the brilliance of set decorator Sabine Schaaf, and production designer Ali Hanisch, these themes were softened by intoxicating sets in Mexico, Russia, Las Vegas as well as time-capsule moments of mid-century decor in Ohio and Kentucky.

“From beginning to end the set design was sheer delight,” says Davis. “Each room pulled me in and made me want to live in the space. The wallpaper with each scene outdid the previous scene and let you know what decade you were in.”


Photo courtesy of Netflix.

“We get to see ‘60s America as we follow Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy) to her next tournament,” says film critic John Farr. “Meticulous, inspired set design never lets the story down.”

“This production made me wish I lived in the ’60s and played chess,” agrees judge and independent producer Gianna Palminteri. “Ultra-chic and super cool and everyone looks like they stepped out of a Dolce Vita ad.”


 


Photo Courtesy Des Willie/Netflix.

The Crown

Of course, Buckingham Palace couldn’t be used for the filming of this series that follows Queen Elizabeth II’s reign over many decades, but the producers found an alternative.

The Crown made a brilliant choice in using the Old Royal Naval College – a Baroque masterpiece – as a stand-in for Buckingham Palace,” notes judge and architect Peter Pennoyer. “The settings are simply regal.”


Photo Courtesy Des Willie/Netflix.

Judges often commented on how the formal settings enhance the majestic gravitas of the longest living monarch’s reign but the home scenes help humanize Queen Elizabeth, played in this season by Olivia Coleman.

“I loved how each set gives you clues as to the ritual that takes place in that particular space,” shares Davis. “The attention to detail with the richness of the fabrics. I love how the furniture looks worn and lived in. It tells the story of families that enjoyed using the pieces.”


Photo Courtesy Des Willie/Netflix.

“Amazing all the time, in every season,” adds judge and set decorator Lydia Marks. “The opportunity to see Buckingham Palace through Jackie Kennedy’s eyes, (from one episode) allows the audience to see the same sets in a whole new light. I found that really interesting as a set decorator.”


 


Photo courtesy of Netflix.

Mank

Filmed in black and white, Mank is about screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz and his development of the screenplay for Citizen Kane in 1941. Interestingly, while several judges – particularly the film critics – didn’t give this movie high marks for the overall plot, all saluted its style.

“I didn’t care for David Fincher’s Mank at all, but it’s hard to deny the artistry and craftsmanship on display here, and the period detail is gorgeous,” says judge and film critic Jeff Sneider. “Fincher is a meticulous filmmaker and he demands precision from his department heads, which is exactly what he got from production designer Donald Graham Burt and set decorator Jan Pascale.”


Photo courtesy of Netflix.

Film Critic Bill McCuddy appreciated how expansive the decor was in the film. “Living rooms seem to go on for acres in the mansions of the 1940’s wealthy that serve as the backdrop for this behind-the-scenes look at one of the greatest films ever made,” he says.

There was universal applause for set decorator Jan Pascale who clearly has a big fan club among our judges. “It really was the best period recreation for me,” says judge and set decorator Melinda Ritz. “Particularly the Hearst Castle set and the South of the border set. Perfectly designed, specific to black and white photography and correct in every way.”


 


Photo courtesy of Olli Upton/Hulu.

The Great

This Hulu comedy series was created by Tony McNamara, who also was responsible for The Favourite, and this too takes many liberties with history. Elle Fanning plays Catherine as a young empress of Russia before she plots a successful coup against her debauched husband, Emperor Peter III in 1762.

While Bridgerton is a light happy frolic through social history, this set is a bit darker since the Emperor is so fond of hunting animals and creating wall trophies from their heads. There are also a lot more gold motifs throughout the sets, which was the style in imperial Russia.


Photo courtesy of Olli Upton/Hulu.

“The endless gardens of the palaces, chinoiserie wallpaper, gilt furnishings, real antiques and use of period art throughout won my heart,” says set decorator Kathleen White. “The dialogue is just as clever as the sets.”

Judges admired the grandeur of the sets, though others thought there was a heaviness to the decor that was right for the period, but didn’t necessarily make for enviable living spaces.


 


Photos courtesy of Amazon Studios.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Production designer Bill Groom – along with set decorator Ellen Christiansen – were able to create so many varied locales depicting New York in the ’60s, as Midge Maisel (played by Rachel Brosnahan) traverses from Upper West Side luxury to Village bohemia as an aspiring comic.

Many admired the mid-century styled pre-war apartment of Midge’s parents, which had Chinoiserie mural folding screens, Dorothy Draper-inspired designs and happy cheerful colors. The tall lamps and the checkerboard marble foyer – which is still a popular design today – gave a visual cue of sophistication and style. Zarin and Kravet fabrics and wallpapers were sourced which had the same look from this era.


Photos courtesy of Amazon Studios.

The contrast when Midge’s parents Abe and Rose move into their ex-in-laws and we see the cluttered butter yellow kitchen felt authentic to many and showed how decor moved the plotline. Groom has said that most room designs don’t fluctuate as much as kitchen styles, since appliances and colors vary from era to era. After all, who doesn’t want a new Viking stove, Cambria counter, or Sub-Zero fridge?

Yet most still remember the beautifully designed kitchen from the Upper West Side apartment with its cherry trimmed cabinets, mint green phone, and floral patterned Pyrex. 


Photos courtesy of Amazon Studios.

This of course shows the seamless talent of a team that can make something retro feel relatable.

“Copied from a Doris Day movie, Mrs. Maisel’s candy apple red and soft mint kitchen with its gleaming white and silver appliances screams casseroles and elevated 50s kitchen style,” says judge and editor LouAnn Berglund Hauf.

Adds film critic John Farr, “How can one resist a series that brings back New York City in the late fifties so lovingly? A time machine I’ll happily pop into, as long as I can follow Rachel Brosnahan around.”

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