“The best thing about Texas people...is they get the joke and they know they’re larger than life.”
—GBC Creator/Producer Robert Harling
Recently widowed and financially ruined, former mean girl Amanda Vaughn brings her children to live with her mother, the fabulously wealthy Gigi Stopper, which throws her back into the center of Dallas high society. Some of her high school victims, now the GCB, have long memories and limited forgiveness! Scores are to be settled, including a reversal of the queen-bitch role. No one here struggles with money, but often with morals…it’s Texas sass: funny, dramatic and sometimes even heartwarming, with fantastic sets that convey each of the outrageous characters.
Set Decorator Bryan John Venegas SDSA and Production Designer Denny Dugally beautifully portrayed a wealthy California family in the long-running hit BROTHERS & SISTERS, and now get to go over-the-top with Texas style. Let’s meet some of the main characters through the sets Dugally and Venegas designed and decorated for them…
Carlene Cockburn [Kristin Chenoweth]
The Cockburn house is as bold as its owner, as perfectly “designed” as her multiple plastic surgeries.
The living room is striking in citron, black and red with notes of malachite, highlighted with brass and gilt trim throughout. The signature fabric, a black oriental print of Chinese peacocks and nightingales, references both Carlene’s preening and gifted singing voice. Venegas has the birds parading down the central sofa in individual pillows aligned as if they were a covey of peahens…reminiscent of Carlene and her GCB friends.
Every corner is a complete room within a room. There’s an art-filled conversation corner, with settee and jade-upholstered chair. An antique oriental sideboard serves as a cordials bar, with a striking abstract painting flanked by gold bamboo leaf mirrors as the back bar. A black baby grand piano is set off by a distinctive geometric screen, which is repeated on a smaller scale behind a black desk and gold bamboo chair. Each vignette is layered with an array of upscale accessories, nothing fussy or allowed to be out of place.
Venegas says, “Our idea behind Carlene’s was that she had hired a New York Interior Designer to do her entire house. We used bold colors, reflective materials (mirrors, black lacquer, glass), and gold and brass elements to add a warm richness, one aspect of her personality. But we wanted to also highlight some of her character flaws with these materials, such as her vanity and her need to slap people in the face with her wealth. She is a woman who cares about outward appearance to the extreme. The mirrors throughout are a way to check her beauty, but never used to reflect on who she is. The golden touches signify money and power, but all things that shimmer aren’t always gold. When you take a closer look, the surroundings reveal only what she wants her community to think she is.”
“I purposely chose art that didn’t say much about the Cockburns, to show an obvious disconnect, a purchased aesthetic in contrast to who these people actually are…Bold abstract black and whites, nudes, Asian architectural drawings…all things that showed an obvious interior designer’s influence. The Asian sideboard, kilim fabric chairs, bright colors and bold fabrics seem slightly out of place,” notes Venegas. “Especially when the very large and masculine Ripp Cockburn is in the room, the proverbial bull in the china shop. The glowing alabaster lamps, much like Carlene’s skin, were a great find and such a statement in the center of this immense room…now only if Carlene could shine as brightly from within… The writing desk in the corner has probably never been used by Carlene except as a stepstool to spy on her neighbors.”
“The only thing in the living room that does not seem out of place is the baby grand piano, at the ready for a song from Carlene,” Venegas points out. “I see her as a bird…beautiful, fragile, trapped in her self-made cage…always wanting to soar but held back by her insecurities.”
The palette is replayed in the bedroom, softened yet even more dramatic. The citron becomes a lemony-gold in the draperies and carpets while adding a punch to the stools at the foot of an imposing platform four-poster bed, which is set against a gold damask wall and covered in the same signature fabric as in the living room. Huge black Foo dogs guard the bed and watch over the sitting area, with its gilded black writing desk and Chinese console, Empire settee and chairs in ebony silk, massive fireplace and hand-painted screen. Dark walls, black suede chair, jade pieces and stoneware urns hint at her oilman husband Ripp’s earthy presence and add to the exotic romance of the room. Venegas agrees, “We continued the theme into her master suite. Denny created a magnificent large room built for a king and his tiny queen. We went big to play on Carlene’s diminutive size. The large bed, slightly too high for Carlene to maneuver, provides for some comedic moments. The pair of Blackamoor torchieres that guard her entrance, the large bronze foo dogs at the foot of her bed, along with her X-large Texas husband, hint at Carlene’s need to be protected. The grand sitting area highlights the colossal fireplace, while the four-panel screen continues the bird motif. We manufactured sheer draperies to enclose the bed, creating the feeling of a cage for our songbird Carlene.”
Cricket Caruth-Reilly [Miriam Shor]
Cricket is as icy as Carlene is hot. Born into one of Dallas' richest families, the tough-as-nails Caruth Industries CEO is married to the sweetly charming, devastatingly handsome and secretly gay Blake [Mark Deklin].
Their excellent taste and unusual marriage is reflected in their master suite. An enormous bed, designed by Venegas/Dugally in faux pony hide and leather allows them to cohabitate in harmony. Mid-century furnishings are presented in hides and leather, with a highly sophisticated Western touch, which includes a chromed chunk of petrified wood as a sculptural hall table. The palette is of ice and stone. In the sitting area, a glacial photograph hangs above the granite slab mantel on a fireplace wall of horizontal-cut natural stone. The contemporary window wall with “planted” bare branches adds an urban country chic.
Venegas explains, ‘We wanted to mix the two character aesthetics. Cold grays and leathers, along with crystal, glass, petrified woods and chromes, to express Cricket’s personality. Warm woods, woven rugs, hide prints to reflect Blake’s masculine yet tender personality. We manufactured a double king bed for a laugh, the center point of the room, to highlight the void in the couples sex life due to their arrangement. We went modern to punctuate the modern marriage the pair has. Although Blake is gay and Cricket sees other men, the couple is deeply in love and we wanted to convey a sense of security. The cool colors and contemporary art mixed with the cowboy touches create an environment of luxurious ease.”
Sharon Peacham [Jennifer Aspen]
A former beauty queen who has more of a caring than mean streak, Sharon Peacham deals with her philandering husband and other lost dreams with food…making and devouring confections, “down home” meals and other treats.
“The consummate southern wife and mother, Sharon is the sweetest of the mean girls,” observes Venegas. “Denny built an incredible kitchen for her.” He describes, “We wanted a clean and bright space, with a French country flair. This kitchen is ground zero for all things fried, baked and sautéed! We decided to go big, just like Texas. Six ovens, a large 6-burner Wolf stove with top grill, built-in single-basket deep fryer…and a large prep island for her fixings. Our remarkable construction and paint departments included many great touches, like the glass fronted cabinets so we can see all the color and light from within, that amazing white subway tile backsplash which includes a camera port over the stove for convenience, the subtle blue wash over every decorative element to highlight the architectural details and decorative kitchen smalls, and the marble veining on the island in the center of it all. Denny also created a walk-in pantry and refrigerator big enough to fit a small car. Lighting was a very big part of this kitchen…in every cabinet, under every cabinet, can lights surrounding the perimeter, overhead island lighting…and the Moldavian star light over the double sink to bring a little of the outdoor Texas sky in. Bright and airy just like our former beauty pageant winner Sharon.
Gigi Stopper [Annie Potts]
"God often speaks to me through Christian Dior," declares Hillside society maven Gigi Stopper, and she proves it consistently throughout the series, including in her tasteful and elegant home. Venegas confers, “Gigi’s house reflects her values, with southern charm and old money. She is the epitome of elegance, grace and southern dignity, and carries an NRA card to boot. Mrs. Gigi Stopper is the quintessential southern matriarch… elegant, with a tough as nails, straight from the hip attitude. Poised and god-fearing, equally tough and feminine, she knows that her standing in the community is her greatest asset. Her impressive surroundings fit a woman of her stature. The staircase in the grand foyer says it all. We used reds and greens to complement her fiery personality and as a nod to her wealth. Gold accents abound, from the wall sconces to the marquetry and gilding. Dark warm woods, used to convey a sense of hospitality and warmth, are evident in the furniture throughout her large foyer and dining room.”
“We wanted a home built for grand entertaining,” he adds. “Denny designed the beautiful staircase, which is the center point of the foyer. She added elegant touches like the marble and wood parquet floors to add dimension, the custom Asian wallpaper surrounding the main room and very high walls to create a grand scale. For the decor, I felt less was more, as to not compete or clutter the openness she created. The furnishings were chosen for their beauty and to allow ample seating for parties and functions. The enormous crystal chandelier placed in the center allows for dramatic shots of Gigi’s grand entrances, framed by her equally commanding self-portrait.”
The imposing gunroom is where she has her young grandson stay, when her daughter and children come to live with her, a bold move, made with finesse, typical of Gigi. Venegas says, “The gunroom hints at her past and the kind of man her deceased husband must have been. The collection of guns were taken from reference of homes from a trip to Texas before we started shooting. Game heads are also a big theme there, so we combined the two and created a show room. We wanted it to be masculine and a little bit intimidating.”
Hillside Park Memorial Church
The center point of the Hillside social set is Hillside Park Memorial Church, where every Sunday the GCB attempt to shoot down Gigi’s daughter, former bad girl Amanda, but often find their attempts ricocheted. This significant set takes up half a stage on the Disney Studios Lot.
“We spend a lot of time in this set,” Venegas explains, “So Denny had to create a large and detailed church, tall and deep enough for wide angles. I had all the furniture made to order in the same oak and finish for the entire church, from pews and nave to reception rooms. All the lighting I found from a church salvage company…it is the real deal and quite heavy. The stained glass pieces surrounding this beautiful set were created by Denny and the art department. They are the focal point of the room, along with the huge organ pipes that flank the altar.”
Amanda Vaughn [Leslie Bibb]
Gigi’s prodigal daughter and her children have moved from California to now live with Gigi, so there is no specific set to define the reformed mean girl. We get glimpses from her old bedroom at her mother’s house and her new place of employment, the bar Boobylicious...a place and position she would have never deigned to consider in the past.
“Boobylicious was only supposed to be in a few episodes, but as you will see, it has become one of our most used permanent sets,” reveals Venegas. “My crew and I had a great time with all the western details. The walls are covered with all things cowboy and country, and the wagon wheel lighting overhead adds a real down home feeling. The piece de resistance is the brass fireman’s pole in the center of the room that the waitresses use to enter the set.”
When asked how decorating this series differs from BROTHERS & SISTERS, other than longhorns and hides, Venegas responds, “Denny and I went at this very differently. Set in California, the Walker homes were an easier bridge to cross. In Pasadena, we had a city we were very familiar with, one that was similar to our own aesthetic that we then cranked up a notch.”
“We had a lot less money to work with on GCB since it was a mid-season replacement, so we really had to think outside the box. Getting that sense of Dallas sophistication took some work.”
“Denny, Director of Photography Michael Mayers and a few of the producers traveled to Dallas and took a million photos of the grand mansions of Highland Park, our Hillside Park, where the show takes place. They came back with a treasure trove of information and research.”
“Everything really is bigger in Texas! I love the sense of pride they have in their state. Even little girl’s rooms had game heads, except they had feather boas and tiaras on them! In order to get the look, I had to rework a lot of furniture that I had found to make it look more expensive. Upholstery, paint, refinishing and adding hardware details really helped to express a sense of opulence. My amazing buyer Lauren Lustig searched high and low for many of the incredible finds we have on the sets today. The condition of these pieces weren’t always the greatest, but we figured things out quickly and made them beautiful again with some help from our paint department.”
The actors were thrilled with their characters’ sets. Venegas smiles, “The actors freaked out—they really got what we were trying to do with their characters and had fun with it. Especially Kristin Chenoweth—she is the most physical actor and loves to play with what we give her, jumping, falling, hanging…all of it is playtime at the most professional level with her. I love when that happens!”
“That sort of collaborative and creative spirit abounds throughout our show. Denny and I have been working together now for six years, we really get each other at this point and it makes the process very smooth. I have the upmost respect for her and her talent, and she makes me feel like I can fully express myself. Her vision is clear, and what she wants to do always makes sense, so for me that is half the battle. We work well and collaborate nicely, almost finish each other sentences, and that makes for a great and efficient workday.”
“Denny gives me so much to work with…we bounce ideas off each other all the time, many times leading to even better ideas…and her construction and paint departments are the best in the business. She does preliminary drawings, gives them to Set Designer Mark Lucero. He comes up with great ways to improve the set and makes them work for the shooting crew. The plans then go to Construction Coordinator Duke Tomasick, who works tirelessly over most weekends to build the sets with his first class crew. Next, the most brilliant paint foreman in the business, Frank Oliveri, and his amazing crew hammer it out with speed and grace. My crew and I then step in and give the sets some life and, hopefully, a lot of personality!”
Venegas is adamant, “I am so fortunate to have the team I have today. Many of them have been working with me since the beginning of the BROTHERS & SISTERS series, and they really know how I like things done. I have it all in my head. So I do floor plans for my crew, we place everything, and my team makes it better. Sometimes my dressers come up with great ideas to enhance the sets. I am very particular with certain things, my crew will surely agree, but I am completely open to ideas, whether I use them or not.”
He adds, “As I mentioned earlier, Buyer Lauren Lustig is so good at what she does! She has a great eye and always has a smile on her face, even when times get tough and she is racing across town to find a needle in the haystack. I am so thankful to Set Decorator extraordinaire, Halina Siwolop SDSA, for the introduction. Lauren has been such an asset and has never let me down.”
“The most important link in the chain is my lead person,” he continues. “For Season 1 Phil Tubach carried the weight and currently it’s Ray Garcia, our former gang boss. They really keep things moving along.”
“With the many permanent sets and numerous swings sets, it takes an army of skilled set dressers to get it done… and they do get it done!!! I really feel blessed to have these members of my crew,” declares Venegas. “I can’t express enough how valuable they are to me. Every day, I am impressed by their hard work and positive attitudes. Each and every one adds to the overall look with their special talents.”
“Disney Studios is like home for us all. We are in the same stages and offices as BROTHERS & SISTERS, so we feel comfortable with the lot and know every inch of that place. The whole crew is like family…we work really well together, supporting each other and making each department shine… We create the sets, genius Cinematographer Michael Mayers takes them to another level with amazing lighting and gorgeous shots, and we work with the best directors in the business. It’s great to work with such an amazing and talented group of people. Our executive producer, Sarah Caplan, has built this team and kept them together for three shows now. It’s a well-oiled machine at this point and everyone is at the top of their game in every respect.”