Famous mystery novelist Richard Castle [Nathan Fillion], a wealthy man-about-town who is also a devoted single father raising a gifted and precocious teenage daughter, killed off his main character and then suffered writer’s block, until…!
When the NYPD questioned him in connection with a series of murders staged to imitate crime scenes from his books, Castle found inspiration in Detective Kate Beckett [Stana Katic], a bright, aggressive homicide cop with a fascination for odd cases, stemming from the years-old unsolved murder of her own mother. Although they instantly clashed, sparks of another sort began to fly, leading both to danger and a hint of romance, as Castle stepped in to help find the copycat killer.
Once that initial case was solved, Castle and Beckett continued to investigate strange homicides in New York, combining Castle's writerly innovative approach and Beckett's impressive detective skills. After several seasons of Will they? or Won’t they?, Castle and Beckett finally gave into their feelings for each other. The fun and conflict continue to escalate as the crime-solving dynamic duo navigate a whole new chapter in their relationship… [ABC/TNT]
Richard [Rick] Castle, the famed mystery raconteur, shares his luxurious NY penthouse loft with his daughter Alexis [Molly Quinn] and his mother, theater diva Martha Rodgers [Susan Sullivan], who joined them after a lover absconded with her funds.
Other significant sets include Beckett’s loft apartment and Alexis’s new apartment: After her place was bombed, Kate Beckett took over a classic brick loft and created a sanctuary for herself. And in one of the most recent episodes, Alexis and her bohemian boyfriend Pi [Myko Olivier] have moved into their own apartment, much to her father’s dismay but our delight. The apartment is fun boho-chic!
These fabulous personal spaces offer so much depth of character, particularly as we visit them throughout the series and note details of the personalities depicted. But also, every week, every episode, there is a murder victim and the people involved in that situation, new characters that need to be revealed in an instant by their surroundings!
That’s where super-team Set Decorator Claire Kaufman SDSA and Production Designer Alfred Sole excel. They both embrace the opportunity for expression of personality or place, defining a character and space, whether for a moment’s glance or a long-term view.
When asked about their process, Kaufman explains, “We have a great relationship and totally collaborate on the look of the set. After I read the script, I start searching for appropriate ideas, usually on the internet and through my library of books and magazines. I will put together a mood board in my office, pulling in fabrics, finishes and furniture selections, and then share it with Alfred. We talk about color and fabrics, and play off of each other’s ideas. He really makes me a part of the design process, but also leaves me to my own discretion. I think it is so important to have the look be a collaboration of design and decoration, and I feel very lucky to have that relationship and respect.”
“One of the many reasons I love working on the show is that we get to build a huge number of sets, often big, fully-involved sets! This season, in particular, we seem to be building a lot more, which is great. I would choose that over doing a location any day, especially with the elaborate sets we do. It’s very limiting to go into a location.” The incredible sets are one of the highlights of the ultra-popular series, which garners a huge fan base.
“Because of the scale of every set, I manufacture all of the drapery. Most of the furnishings for the episodic sets are rentals, but we purchase a lot of rugs, due to “blood” stains! Obviously, the items for the permanent sets are mostly purchases, except for some appliances or a few pieces from my flat deal with Warner Bros. We are constantly updating and tweaking the permanent sets, a full-time job in itself, including cleaning and re-setting! I have fresh flowers brought in each week for Castle’s loft, based on the idea that this was an annual birthday gift from him to his mother, flowers from the florist every week of the year. And I make a point to regularly change out the bed linens. Who has the same ones every day?”
The one-hour show shoots on an 8-day schedule. Kaufman reveals, “There are 8-15 sets per episode, and we usually only have one day to dress a set. I’m grateful to have had the experience of years of doing commercials, I learned to be fast! I lay out the entire set on a floor plan, so when it shows up on the stage, I know exactly where every piece is going to go. And I have the best crew to help make it happen! My lead, Tim Scheu, is my rock. We’ve been working together for about 7 years. Kate Fettis is my great fulltime buyer, and I bring in additional buyers on a need-to basis.”
Loyalty and strong relationships are key in the storyline of the series, and in the visual representation as well. Not only does she have a longstanding crew, but Kaufman has been using the same florist for years [Toby at My Secret Garden]. They have a similar aesthetic and have developed an ability to communicate the design concepts not only creatively, but quickly!
Similarly, says Kaufman, “I have the same sales person at every prophouse. There’s such a value there, it makes for a great working relationship with all the prophouses. I’m very respectful and appreciative of their jobs and we’ve created really great friendships over the years.”
She also has a favorite art gallery which offers unique pieces she is often able to incorporate.
Beckett’s loft apartment…
They particularly enhance Beckett’s eclectic new loft, along with an Alex Gross painting that highlights the living room. Kaufman points out, “Alfred introduced me to Alex Gross’s work, and I thought this was such a poignant piece, so fitting for the character. I worked off of it for the color palette and the tone of the room. The rug is an example…I loved the subtle graphic lines mixed with the deep, rich color. I felt it was the perfect anchor for the room, and it pulled in the great plum hue from the artwork.”
“I try to make sure all the sets look as believable as possible, and I work very hard to think of every detail, no matter how minute. I want anyone and everyone to believe they have walked into that character’s world.
So I wanted Beckett to have a nest-type place to come home to where she could decompress and relax. I like that she is surrounded by her books and her art. We see her as an avid reader. She is a many-faceted person, interested in many different subjects. Her music is important as well, so she has a turntable and records…I still have all my records and a turntable. I think it’s the best way to listen to music, and I’m certain Beckett would agree!”
“I love to mix different styles and textures together, as she would. I looked for strong pieces that would complement her character. I thought she would be discerning and creative…she would find things in the markets, in antique stores. For instance, the cooktop island in the kitchen was originally a table I found that Alfred and I loved, but we didn’t have a place for it. So we came up with the idea of turning it into an island, extending the legs to make it the right height. And who doesn’t love a farmhouse sink? This one worked perfectly in the space. We balanced the Kohler sink with Home Depot shelving…we just laid out the shelves at different levels to make them more interesting.”
“The sets are shot so tightly, I look for things that will have a strong graphic detail or background. I am a big fan of color, and love to put a splash in at any time, thus the red silk drapes in the dining room. And of course, I couldn’t pass up the revolver pillow for her office! That was a must.”
There are subtle insider references as well. The bed posts are reminiscent of chess pieces, some set dressing elements seem contained yet open, and there is an interplay of nature and form throughout.
Newest set: Alexis and Pi’s apartment…
This thread runs through the newest standing set, but on a different scale. Castle’s daughter Alexis and her naturalist boyfriend are in their first apartment.
Kaufman shares, “When I got this script, the only thing scripted was a dining room table made out of a door. So I ran with that. I wanted the look of the apartment to be that they had worked together on it. So I scoured the internet and found some great DIY projects, just as they might have. We made old crates into bookcases, hung curtains on tree branches, created the chicken wire photo display, did a ladder pot rack, and I had my flower person make up the ‘bulb’ vases.”
“I found paper placemats that looked like old-fashioned fabrics,” she continues. “I do all the table settings. Our propmaster Rob Kyker is great. What I’ll do is, if for instance Castle is having a dinner party, I’ll go to the set and lay out all the dishware for Rob, and then he’ll work with his food stylist and choose what will go on where, etc…the same with restaurant scenes, of which there are many!”
Castle’s loft update…
With Alexis moving out, the timing seems right that her father’s place undergoes a few changes…partially because of the storyline, partially because of a change in filming format and partially because Kaufman is always keeping the look fresh.
“We’ve just re-upholstered his sofa…it was leather, now mohair to make it more comfortable for him…and I’ve raised it up and changed the cushions,” she reveals. “I’ve also added some new large pieces I felt it needed.” Those changes will be seen in upcoming episodes. Regular viewers will note the colored bottles across the top of the cabinets in the kitchen have also been changed.
One of the precipitating factors for color changes is that for the first time, the show is being shot on HD. “We were one of the last shows to still shoot on film, so we’ve been making changes this season to fit the requirements of the HD format. White is the devil now! We had to change all the tile and backsplash in his kitchen. And for other sets, there will be no more fluorescents, because lighting has to gel each one individually. It’s been interesting!”
“I’ve learned over the years that we do a lot of ceilings on this show, so we’ve spent a lot of time doing pipe fittings, light fixtures, vents. To me, the most important thing ever, especially with built sets, is that they never, never look like a set, that the details down to the fire pulls, light switches, exit signs are there and correct. Because of that, we have a huge cache of that stuff. We shoot downtown frequently, Los Angeles standing in for New York, so we’re always making sure that street signs are swapped out, proper newsstands, lampposts, etc.”
The series has passed its 100th episode, and yet still seems fresh. Part of that is the writing/acting and part of it is the look.
Kaufman smiles, “It’s great. It’s like every week it’s a new show, because every week there’s a new dead person!” Each week total characters are presented in a moment, so the sets have to have impact, and often have immense depth. Being CASTLE, there are an extensive variety of high-end apartments and hotel rooms, which Kaufman refers to as “a dream come true.”
Line and form come into play, a graphic quality combined with unique color choices. Kaufman points out, “Alfred and I are a nice balance with that. He likes a more muted palette and I’m all about color…so it’s a good mix! It’s coming up with fresh color palettes, fresh art, interesting furniture…usually, we’ll find one great piece and everything revolves around that.”
There are also numerous offices and restaurants and unusual sets, each requiring individuality, style and function. “We seem to do a lot of big spaces, which comes back to me sitting down and drawing it out, creating areas and different places they can go within the space…different sight lines, different places for the eyes to rest, as well as for the actors to move.”
When queried about her eclectic, dynamic style, Kaufman says, “Whenever anyone asks me for design advice, I say, ‘Think in scale, try to be very respectful of scale and how things are going to fit into a room…and don’t buy a set of anything!”
CASTLE Set Decoration history:
Set Decorator Claire Kaufman SDSA - 2009-2013
Set Decorator Christopher Marstellar - 2009
Set Decorator Daryn-Reid Goodall SDSA stepped in for Kaufman for episodes in 2009/2010, while she set decorated the film JUST GO WITH IT.
Editor’s note: Check back often for photo updates!