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AMERICAN HORROR STORY: HOTEL

  • Set Decorator
    Ellen Brill SDSA

    Production Designer
    Mark Worthington

    FX


    Hotel Cortez, lobby…

    The 2-story lobby with mezzanine bar and a working elevator was actually built on stage!

    Photo ©2015 FX Networks.
    All rights reserved.

  • Set Decorator
    Ellen Brill SDSA

    Production Designer
    Mark Worthington

    FX


    Hotel Cortez, lobby…

    The rugs and carpets were custom made, as was the mohair-covered furniture. “We wanted it to have an aging gilded vibe,” Set Decorator Ellen Brill SDSA reveals.
    Thus the gold, brass and deep jewel-toned palette…

    Photo ©2015 FX Networks.
    All rights reserved.

  • Set Decorator
    Ellen Brill SDSA

    Production Designer
    Mark Worthington

    FX


    Hotel Cortez, lobby…

    Heroin junkie bad-girl Sally [Sarah Paulson] looking for her prey…

    Photo by Prashant Gupta ©2015 FX Networks. All rights reserved.

  • Set Decorator
    Ellen Brill SDSA

    Production Designer
    Mark Worthington

    FX


    Hotel Cortez, lobby…

    After Brill and Production Designer Mark Worthington determined the design elements they wanted incorporated, she had
    Warner Bros. design shop fabricate the three 9-foot tall chandeliers…

    Photo ©2015 FX Networks.
    All rights reserved.

  • Set Decorator
    Ellen Brill SDSA

    Production Designer
    Mark Worthington

    FX


    Hotel Cortez, lobby…

    Worthington designed the Cortez portrait grillwork for the elevator facade between the dual staircases…

    Photo ©2015 FX Networks.
    All rights reserved.

  • Set Decorator
    Ellen Brill SDSA

    Production Designer
    Mark Worthington

    FX


    Hotel Cortez…

    View of the bar on the mezzanine level…
    Worthington notes, “Tonally, I thought Art Deco would make sense for the horror genre because it can be dark and spiky and odd, and the composition is strange. It's beautiful, but it isn't necessarily inviting…”

    Photo ©2015 FX Networks.
    All rights reserved.

  • Set Decorator
    Ellen Brill SDSA

    Production Designer
    Mark Worthington

    FX


    Hotel Cortez, bar…

    Chairs, bar stools and custom booths are upholstered in the same vintage velvet. Booths were made to fit into alcoves.
    Brill says, “The 8 chairs are from Warner Bros, but we redesigned them with channel backs, stained the wood legs darker and reupholstered them in the same fabric as the booths…”

    Photo ©2015 FX Networks.
    All rights reserved.

  • Set Decorator
    Ellen Brill SDSA

    Production Designer
    Mark Worthington

    FX


    Hotel Cortez, bar…

    Hotel manager Iris
    [Kathy Bates] and Liz Taylor
    [Denis O’Hare], the bartender…

    Photo by Prashant Gupta ©2015 FX Networks. All rights reserved.

  • Set Decorator
    Ellen Brill SDSA

    Production Designer
    Mark Worthington

    FX


    Hotel Cortez, bar…

    “The bar stools were stained dark and reupholstered thanks to Omega Cinema Props,” says Brill.
    Note the carving and grillwork, plus the color palette—all nods to the Spanish world of Cortez.

    Photo ©2015 FX Networks.
    All rights reserved.

  • Set Decorator
    Ellen Brill SDSA

    Production Designer
    Mark Worthington

    FX


    Hotel Cortez, bar…

    The lonely, crazed Sally [Sarah Paulson]
    ever on the lookout…
    Note the carved hotel crest…

    Photo by Prashant Gupta ©2015 FX Networks. All rights reserved.

  • Set Decorator
    Ellen Brill SDSA

    Production Designer
    Mark Worthington

    FX


    Hotel Cortez, reception…

    Iris [Kathy Bates]…
    The hotel manager is also the desk clerk and receptionist…

    Photo by Prashant Gupta ©2015 FX Networks. All rights reserved.

  • Set Decorator
    Ellen Brill SDSA

    Production Designer
    Mark Worthington

    FX


    Hotel Cortez…

    The Countess [Lady Gaga]…

    Photo by Prashant Gupta ©2015 FX Networks. All rights reserved.

  • Set Decorator
    Ellen Brill SDSA

    Production Designer
    Mark Worthington

    FX


    Hotel Cortez,
    Countess’s penthouse…


    Entry into The Countess’s penthouse, this is one of four elevators on the set…

    Photo ©2015 FX Networks.
    All rights reserved.

  • Set Decorator
    Ellen Brill SDSA

    Production Designer
    Mark Worthington

    FX

    Hotel Cortez,
    Countess’s penthouse…


    Vintage sofa and chairs, all reupholstered in platinum velvet and satin. Custom ceiling fixture and vintage Italian sconces throughout…

    Photo ©2015 FX Networks.
    All rights reserved.


  • Set Decorator
    Ellen Brill SDSA

    Production Designer
    Mark Worthington

    FX

    Hotel Cortez,
    Countess’s penthouse…


    Brill has incorporated custom neons and Arik Levy artwork.
    She reveals, “The Countess’s living quarters, the nursery and former pool…all part of her realm…are the only areas in the hotel that are a different color palette from the rest of the hotel’s dark jewel tones.”

    Photo ©2015 FX Networks.
    All rights reserved.


  • Set Decorator
    Ellen Brill SDSA

    Production Designer
    Mark Worthington

    FX

    Hotel Cortez,
    Countess’s penthouse…


    The Countess [Lady Gaga], with one of “her” children,
    Det. John Lowe’s son Holden who has been missing for several years…

    Photo by Prashant Gupta ©2015 FX Networks. All rights reserved.

  • Set Decorator
    Ellen Brill SDSA

    Production Designer
    Mark Worthington

    FX

    Hotel Cortez,
    Countess’s penthouse…


    “Once we knew that
    Lady Gaga was going to be The Countess, I immediately thought of the old glamorous movie stars, the platinum blondes, in a silvery white space,” says Brill…

    Photo ©2015 FX Networks.
    All rights reserved.


  • Set Decorator
    Ellen Brill SDSA

    Production Designer
    Mark Worthington

    FX

    Hotel Cortez,
    Countess’s penthouse…


    Custom 8ft bed lacquered with numerous coats of automobile paint!
    Silk satin sheets and vintage Italian lighting, custom chandelier…

    Photo ©2015 FX Networks.
    All rights reserved.


  • Set Decorator
    Ellen Brill SDSA

    Production Designer
    Mark Worthington

    FX

    Hotel Cortez,
    Countess’s penthouse…


    View from behind the bed, through the living room and beyond to the elevator entry…

    Photo ©2015 FX Networks.
    All rights reserved.


  • Set Decorator
    Ellen Brill SDSA

    Production Designer
    Mark Worthington

    FX

    Hotel Cortez,
    Countess’s penthouse…


    Hollywood glamour lives on…

    Photo ©2015 FX Networks.
    All rights reserved.


  • Set Decorator
    Ellen Brill SDSA

    Production Designer
    Mark Worthington

    FX

    Hotel Cortez,
    Countess’s penthouse…


    The Countess [Lady Gaga] makes an arrangement…
    Note the liquid metal
    Arik Levy sculpture behind her and in the next photo…

    Photo ©2015 FX Networks.
    All rights reserved.



  • Set Decorator
    Ellen Brill SDSA

    Production Designer
    Mark Worthington

    FX

    Hotel Cortez,
    Countess’s penthouse…


    Intimate dinner…
    The Countess [Lady Gaga] seduces new owner Will Drake [Cheyenne Jackson]…

    Photo by Prashant Gupta ©2015 FX Networks. All rights reserved.

  • Set Decorator
    Ellen Brill SDSA

    Production Designer
    Mark Worthington

    FX

    Hotel Cortez,
    Will Drake’s penthouse…


    The opposite side of the elevator hallway...
    Brill tells of a convenient happenstance, “The seating here is from Omega and it is the same Art Deco designer that I found on eBay for The Countess’s, which I had upholstered and rebuilt due to the condition it was in.
    His area is in the jewel tones of the rest of the hotel, here the deep purples…”

    Photo ©2015 FX Networks.
    All rights reserved.


  • Set Decorator
    Ellen Brill SDSA

    Production Designer
    Mark Worthington

    FX

    Hotel Cortez, Room 33…

    The Countess [Lady Gaga] in Bartholomew’s room…

    Photo by Prashant Gupta ©2015 FX Networks. All rights reserved.

  • Set Decorator
    Ellen Brill SDSA

    Production Designer
    Mark Worthington

    FX

    Hotel Cortez, Nursery…

    For the tow-headed children of The Countess [Lady Gaga]…
    Custom-made candy dispensers fill the back alcove…

    Photo ©2015 FX Networks.
    All rights reserved.


  • Set Decorator
    Ellen Brill SDSA

    Production Designer
    Mark Worthington

    FX

    Hotel Cortez, Nursery…

    In game room mode…an homage from the production designer and set decorator to Ryan Murphy, and the show’s producer/creator’s inspiration, the visionary
    Stanley Kubrick…

    Photo ©2015 FX Networks.
    All rights reserved.


  • Set Decorator
    Ellen Brill SDSA

    Production Designer
    Mark Worthington

    FX

    Hotel Cortez, Room 78…

    James Patrick March [Evan Peters] , the evil founder of the hotel, and deceased but undead former husband of The Countess

    Photo by Prashant Gupta ©2015 FX Networks. All rights reserved.

  • Set Decorator
    Ellen Brill SDSA

    Production Designer
    Mark Worthington

    FX

    Hotel Cortez,
    March’s suite…


    This room is appropriately dark, even with light filtering in….

    Photo ©2015 FX Networks.
    All rights reserved.


  • Set Decorator
    Ellen Brill SDSA

    Production Designer
    Mark Worthington

    FX

    Hotel Cortez,
    March’s suite…


    Brill notes, “Another vintage set that we reupholstered. The artwork is a Dutch still life to reflect the motif of the upcoming dinner party centerpiece…”

    Photo ©2015 FX Networks.
    All rights reserved.


  • Set Decorator
    Ellen Brill SDSA

    Production Designer
    Mark Worthington

    FX

    Hotel Cortez,
    March’s suite…


    James March [Evan Peters] offers Detective John Lowe [Wes Bentley] photographic evidence…

    Photo ©2015 FX Networks.
    All rights reserved.



  • Set Decorator
    Ellen Brill SDSA

    Production Designer
    Mark Worthington

    FX

    Hotel Cortez,
    March’s suite…


    Devil’s Night dinner…appropriately dark for the serial killer guests…

    Photo ©2015 FX Networks. All rights reserved.

  • Set Decorator
    Ellen Brill SDSA

    Production Designer
    Mark Worthington

    FX

    Hotel Cortez,
    March’s suite…


    Devil’s Night dinner tablescape reflects the Dutch painting…

    Photo ©2015 FX Networks.
    All rights reserved.

  • Set Decorator
    Ellen Brill SDSA

    Production Designer
    Mark Worthington

    FX

    Hotel Cortez, Room 64…

    John Lowe’s room, formerly used by James March, it's also the lair of the
    Ten Commandments Killer

    Photo ©2015 FX Networks.
    All rights reserved.


  • Set Decorator
    Ellen Brill SDSA

    Production Designer
    Mark Worthington

    FX

    Hotel Cortez, Room 64…

    Custom-made Paul Frankl style seating, green mohair with leather welting…

    Photo ©2015 FX Networks.
    All rights reserved.


  • Set Decorator
    Ellen Brill SDSA

    Production Designer
    Mark Worthington

    FX

    Hotel Cortez, corridor…

    “Hallways throughout the hotel look the same to confuse the viewer about geography,” Brill discloses. “Weirdly, it was very confusing to be on the set because there were 4 halls that formed a big square with rooms off of them and everyone would get disoriented…”

    Photo ©2015 FX Networks.
    All rights reserved.


  • Set Decorator
    Ellen Brill SDSA

    Production Designer
    Mark Worthington

    FX

    Hotel Cortez, corridor…

    Typical hallway with custom hotel logo…rugs were printed by Astek…

    Photo ©2015 FX Networks.
    All rights reserved.


  • Set Decorator
    Ellen Brill SDSA

    Production Designer
    Mark Worthington

    FX

    Hotel Cortez, room…

    “This is a typical room in the hotel,” says Brill. “They all have similar furniture and the only artwork in them is bird paintings and prints,
    mainly parrots. A little nod to Hitchcock and PSYCHO on my part,” she smiles…

    Photo ©2015 FX Networks.
    All rights reserved.


  • Set Decorator
    Ellen Brill SDSA

    Production Designer
    Mark Worthington

    FX

    Hotel Cortez…

    Iris [Kathy Bates] and
    Liz [Denis O’Hare] prepare to take over the hotel!

    Photo by Prashant Gupta ©2015 FX Networks. All rights reserved.

The mysterious Art Deco-styled Hotel Cortez in downtown Los Angeles has become a permanent home for its owners and many of the guests, whether dead or alive. The never-aging, glamorous Elizabeth Johnson, a.k.a The Countess [Lady Gaga], who has owned the hotel since it was built in the 1920s, maintains her beauty through drinking the blood of humans, but her late husband/now grisly ghost James Patrick March [Evan Peters] is the truly evil one, pulling Detective John Lowe [Wes Bentley] into his vast web of serial killers. At least The Countess tries to protect her children…between murders and lovers!
 
There are the strange mix of peculiar characters we’ve come to expect of AHS, this time including ghouls, demons, vampires and numerous dismembered or mutilated corpses. All seem to reside somehow, somewhere in the always distinctive, stylized sets of AHS, this season translated in the odd faded elegance, hidden passages, labyrinthine corridors and secret rooms of the Hotel Cortez.

Set Decorator Ellen Brill SDSA, who has decorated the series since its inception, with a momentary step away to help bring about another series, reveals some of the behind-the-scenes details everyone wants to know…
 
SET DECOR: Please tell us about your collaboration with Creator Ryan Murphy and Production Designer Mark Worthington…each a long-time, very successful collaboration…
 
Set Decorator Ellen Brill SDSA: My first decorating job working with Ryan Murphy started when I was hired to decorate his television series NIP/TUCK.  It was by far the most interesting, “pushing boundaries” type of television show I’d been exposed to at the time.  Ryan’s sensibility about décor and style informed the show and I learned so much from that experience. 
 
I had the opportunity to do the pilot of AHS with Beth Rubino as the production designer, and when the series was ordered Mark Worthington was hired to production design.  Since I was familiar with Ryan Murphy’s world, I boldly told Mark he’d be foolish not to hire me!  Since then, we’ve had a wonderful collaborative relationship. 
 
Mark has many skills in his toolbox and he does the most brilliant illustrations, which give so much information about the tone of the story and space we are working within.  We discuss the feeling of what he’s designed and I start my process of fleshing out the elements to decorate the space with color and materials, furniture and lighting elements, and all of the details that create that particular environment.  We do work very closely—I like to show my ideas during the process so there are no misunderstandings with the finished product, and the process has worked well for us.
 
SET DECOR: The Hotel Cortez – an Art-Deco hotel with a nod towards Spain…
Please tell us about actually incorporating Cortez into the design!
 
Brill: When Mark heard that Season 5 was centered on a hotel, he suggested Art Deco rather than a California-inspired Spanish architecture, and Ryan liked the idea. The skylight element incorporates an image of Cortez in the grillwork that begins above the elevator in the lobby. There are other subtle nods to the influence of Spain, including the detailed carvings in the walls.
 
The palettes…
 
As far as choosing the palette for the hotel, we knew we wanted it to have an aging gilded vibe, so the gold and brass were obvious.  Ryan had said he wanted jewel tones and so I pulled all of the many tones of mohair in deep blood reds, maroons, burgundies, rusts and greens that I could find. We had the rugs/carpets in the lobby and hallways custom-made, as well as drapery in the rooms, staying within our deep color palette.
 
The chandeliers!
 
When we started looking for 3 matching chandeliers for the lobby, I couldn’t find any that we could afford. I did find a few singles in the right scale but they were $25,000-$45,000 each, which was simply not doable. So, after weeks of searching, we decided to manufacture them.  Mark and I looked over the research and determined the design and details for the set designer to then draw up the plans.
Warner Bros. design shop fabricated the chandeliers and did an amazing job in a very short amount of time.  They are 9’ tall! 
 
The best part is that Cicada restaurant in the Oviatt Bldg, which was used as the exterior entrance for our set, purchased the chandeliers for the restaurant, so they are still in existence. I hated the idea of seeing them go into a dumpster.
 
SET DECOR: The hotel’s history: Owner James March built it with hidden corridors and chutes to covertly dispose of his victims’ bodies.
Please do tell us about this being integrated into the design, along with a working elevator…
 
Brill: Mark designed and we created a 2-story set, complete with a working elevator, to represent the 6-story hotel. Since the hallways and lobby took up so much stage floor, we redesigned certain rooms and corridors to change over into some of those scary rooms. They also were built onto some of the existing rooms where there was space. The magic of movie making!
 
SET DECOR: Is it true that inspiration came from old hotel horror films and actual hotels situated in downtown Los Angeles with a reputation for sinister events, including The Cecil?
 
Brill: I do think the hotel horror stories were inspiration for the writers, and the recent finding of the girl’s body in the water tank gave the writing room ideas.
 
SET DECOR: The Countess and the penthouse – we’re fascinated by the décor!
 
Brill: Once we knew that Lady Gaga was going to be The Countess, I immediately thought of the old glamorous movie stars, the platinum blondes, in a silvery white space. So that was our jumping-off place for her interior. We used platinum, silver and creamy white velvets and satins for her upholstery and furniture. Also, what better color for blood to show up on than cream satin sheets! The 8’ round bed was custom-made and lacquered with numerous coats of automotive paint. The bedroom’s chandelier, echoing the lines and glamour essence of the bed, was also custom-made.
 
SET DECOR: We’re used to rooms giving us clues to a character…but these have stories to tell! Please tell us about some of the specific rooms, including #64…
 
Brill: One of the main mysteries in AHS: Hotel is what happens in Room 64
So, when we were conceptualizing it, we knew it would need to transform to different times. That is one of the most challenging aspects of AHS—whether a room will change over time, or not. And when one first reads the script, one never really knows where it will end up in Episode 12.
 
Part of the allure of that room is the depth of color and the heaviness of the furnishings, which are all original deco. I did have the sofa and chairs made since we couldn’t find a perfect set. They are in a Paul Frankl design, deep green mohair with forest green leather welting, made by the fabulous Omega Cinema Props upholstery department.
 
SET DECOR: There were others sets outside of the hotel, but the hotel is so rich and dense that everything pales...though there is the interesting twist of having a motel in the storyline as well.
 
We would be remiss to not mention the serial killers’ Devil’s Night dinner held by James March
 
Brill: One of the references for that dinner was having the centerpiece and the artwork reflect the still life paintings that the Dutch artists did, with dead fowl and many different types of fruits, vegetables and weird looking elements.  We wanted it to feel “over the top” dark and ominous.
 
SET DECOR: Speaking of art, the art of AHS could be an entire article in and of itself, particularly the unique minimalism. The work of Arik Levy was utilized in this season and actually referenced in the script, the Countess mentions the artist and one of the pieces in “her” collection.
 
Brill: Originally, in the script, there were a few famous artists mentioned which we couldn’t get clearance on. However, one of the producers knew Arik Levy’s work and showed it to Ryan and he loved it, so we approached him and the gallery representing him in LA. We have pieces from several of his series, which are described as “trying to reach the technical limit of the material.” That worked for us!
 
We don’t use very much art in most of AHS, so it is very important when we do. We designed and manufactured the neons in the Countess’s penthouse.
 
One of the ongoing stylistic features of AHS, and NIP/TUCK for that matter, is the feeling of less is more. Rather than have too much information behind and surrounding the actors, which can be distracting, it is a choice to have minimal distractions surrounding the action.  
 
Also, sometimes there is too much information transported to the audience. In horror, I feel it can be more shocking if there is a type of void. 
 
Ryan has told me that when he is in the editing room, if he sees too much “stuff” in the frame, he’s distracted from the action and intention of the scene. Thus, the game room, which was inspired by some of Stanley Kubrick’s movies. Ryan tends to often refer to Stanley Kubrick as a visionary, so we try to include those types of sets in his world…and they are becoming a part of ours…
 


television decor archives

THE CROWN 2017-06-09
ONE DAY AT A TIME 2017-05-25
THE MINDY PROJECT 2017-04-28
HELL'S KITCHEN, MASTERCHEF & MASTERCHEF JUNIOR 2017-04-19
GOLIATH 2016-12-07
OUTLANDER 2016-09-30
GREASE: LIVE 2016-08-11
TRANSPARENT 2016-06-26
VEEP 2016-06-19
ROOTS 2016-05-30
GOTHAM 2015-11-17
HOUSE OF CARDS 2015-10-01
THE KNICK 2015-06-18
DANCING WITH THE STARS 2015-04-06
CHANDELIER 2015-02-12
THE STRAIN 2014-12-14
DA VINCI'S DEMONS 2014-10-02
MASTERS OF SEX 2014-07-31
PRETTY LITTLE LIARS 2014-03-08
CASTLE 2013-11-04
VIKINGS 2013-07-13
SMASH 2013-06-19
2 BROKE GIRLS 2013-06-03
BEHIND THE CANDELABRA 2013-05-29
SHAKE IT UP 2013-03-26
HEMINGWAY & GELLHORN 2012-06-21
GCB 2012-04-09
JUSTIFIED 2011-09-23
MODERN FAMILY 2011-06-14
GLEE 2010-12-14
BONES 2010-08-22
UNITED STATES OF TARA 2010-04-20
THE GOOD WIFE 2009-12-03
TRUE BLOOD 2009-08-21