Big Design Comes In Small Packages In These TV Shows And Films

With Nomadland sweeping the British Academy of Film and Television Awards this past week, what better time to highlight the set decorators who have managed to pack big impactful design choices into small spaces.

Here are the nominees for “Best Use of Small Space” in aspire’s Best-Dressed Rooms in TV and Films Awards:

Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures.


The film is about Fran, a woman in her sixties played by Frances McDormand, who loses everything in the “Great Recession.” A widow and former Amazon employee, she sells her belongings after her husband dies, and embarks on a journey through the American West in her van becoming a “modern-day nomad.”

While the outdoors define this trek, production designer Joshua James Richards and set decorator Elizabeth Godar were able to include relatable mementos in Fran’s converted 2001 Ford Econoline van. One memorable scene shows how she has kept her dishes and a few other priceless items – many of which, McDormand shared, come from her own personal life.

Gif via Buzzfeed/Searchlight Pictures.

“Living out of her van, the ingenuity of her ‘Swiss Army-like vehicle’ shows how little someone needs to survive,” notes film critic Bill McCuddy. “In fact, when she’s offered larger lodgings at one key point in the film, she sneaks back out to her van.”

A wonderful message that shows a small space doesn’t have to be impersonal.


snowpiercer train car
Photo courtesy of Justina Mintz/TNT.


Creating a world inside the small space of a train is certainly not easy. Which is why TNT’s Snowpiercer caught the eye of many of our judges, including Cornelia Guest. Based on the iconic film by Bong Joon Ho, the series follows surviving humanity living on a perpetually moving train dubbed Snowpiercer, that travels around the globe 14 years after the devastation of the planet.

snowpiercer wealthy train car
Photo courtesy of Justina Mintz/TNT.

A clear caste system exists in these spaces, allowing production designer Barry Robison, who also created One Night in Miami, and set decorator Beata Brendtnerovà to utilize details such as glass terrariums and lush pinks and greens to distinguish the wealthier train cars. The contrast with the poorer population in cramped cars was expertly crafted with darker colors and a claustrophobic oversized decor.

snowpiercer train car - artist car
Photo courtesy of Jesse Giddings/TNT.

The artistic car looked like an artist’s studio and the way they used rounded edges for an engineer’s room showed Robinson and Brendtnerova’s skill in creating a variety of small rooms.


one night in miami hotel room
Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios.

One Night in Miami

Production designer Barry Robison and set decorator Janessa Hitsman managed to create soothing green colors mixed with classic motel furniture to be the backdrop of a fictional account of a night in 1964 where Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke meet at the Hampton House. This Amazon Studios film was directed by Regina King and was very popular with our judges.

As film critic Roger Friedman noted, the room is both authentic but also a perfect backdrop for this meeting of such influential Black leaders at that moment in time.


the queen's gambit basement
Photo courtesy of Uli Hanisch/Netflix.

The Queen’s Gambit

Judges liked two scenes that earned respect for the use of small space. First, the scene where chess prodigy Beth Harmon learns to play chess in a dark basement at her orphanage from the janitor. The second scene cited by judges was Beth’s bedroom, where chess pieces dance on the ceiling. This scene is also a nominee for Best Detail for Plot Enhancement.


the boys in the band cast in Michael's apartment
Photo courtesy of Scott Everett White/Netflix.

The Boys in the Band

The Boys In The Band takes its viewer on a trip in history to the summer of 1968,” says judge and set decorator Beth Kushnick. “Attention to the recreation of classic architecture allows the set to become another character. The craft is on display in a stellar way.”

From the zebra throw rug to the rust-orange chairs in the living room, set decorator Gene Serdena and production designer Judy Becker created a fun bachelor pad for this Netflix film, based on the play of the same name. The designers had a palate of teals, oranges and reds – popular for this era – and also said that they were influenced by Victorian revivalism and Oriental revivalism.

the boys in the band apartment
Photo courtesy of Netflix.

The space had to evoke warmth and safety as well as style, since for Michael – the lead character played by Jim Parsons – it was his refuge from the homophobia addressed throughout the story.

Vote on your favorite below, and click here to vote in the other categories before the winners are announced on April 22nd.

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