Set Decorator Lisa Clark SDSA reveals, “Much of the initial research for the Richardson House was pulled from Architectural Digest and Better Homes & Garden magazines from the 1990s. There was one research photo for the kitchen that Reese particularly liked, that had checked curtains.
Buyer Robyn Holmes scoured the fabric stores to find the fabric you see, which was very close to the look and feel of the original photo and had hints of the blue and yellow color palette I chose for the adjoining Sunroom.”
Kerry Washington as Mia, Reese Witherspoon as Elena. Photo by Erin Simkin, courtesy of Hulu.
“Production Designer Jess Kender and I decided on a tightly controlled color palette for the Richardson House. Reese wanted her character to be dressed mostly in red, white/cream and blue, and we wanted to reflect that formality in the Living Room. Much of furniture was purchased from Ethan Allen, which was quite popular with wealthy people in the 1990s. The pair of sofas were actually shipped from an Antique Consignment dealer on the East Coast. The throw pillows and drapery were custom-made by Universal Studios Drapery. I used the same fabric on the drapes and some of the throw pillows, just reversing the pattern...a detail we found quite common in our research of the period.”
“The office was designed to be ‘His and Hers’, with Elena's orderly desk on the left [foreground] and Bill's cluttered one on the right.
Note the bookshelf dressing reflects each of their professions and personalities. We had fun tracking down the correct Cleveland Indians pennant and ticket stubs, as well as glassware and coffee mugs for Bill.”
“I was so happy with Jess's color choice for this room, as those darker jeweled tones were so popular in the ‘90s, and I wanted to play that up with the contrasting oxblood red tones.
The runner, drapes (not pictured) and chairs were all made from the same toile fabric. The chandelier was purchased from an antiques dealer in Santa Barbara, as were many of the other smalls. Since this was at one time her mother's house, I wanted it to feel like there was inherited wealth in many of the smaller details.”
Dining table, dining chairs and china cabinet all Ethan Allen.
“Buyer Eva Firshein had the difficult job of tracking down the right appliances, the most challenging of which was this cooktop.
Elena's calendar became a character in the show in its own right, and was quite a collaboration between myself, the Props Department and the Art Department. Initially, we all brainstormed together what would be written on the calendar, and each set of color-coded tabs was assigned to a different character. It turned out that Set Designer Rhea Rebbe's handwriting closely resembled Reese's own handwriting, so she ended up being in charge of writing the post-its for each episode.”
“We knew the Sunroom was the place where the teenagers were going to spend a lot of time, so it was important for it to reflect Elena's controlling nature yet be more inviting than other areas of the house.”
Reese Witherspoon, Kerry Washington. Photo by Erin Simkin, courtesy of Hulu.
“I was set on this yellow and blue color palette because it's so evocative of the 1990s and isn't really a color combination we see today. The sofas were custom made to get that relaxed oversized shape of the era, and I worked closely with the Costume Designer to select the blue upholstery so that the jean wash from that era wouldn't disappear into the sofa. The fabric is actually a subtle tone-on-tone stripe. The pillows, valances, and Roman shades were made by Universal Drapery. Please note the attention to detail on their part to get the flowered urn pattern to land exactly centered in each scallop.”
A close-up of Elena's daughter Lexie and Mia's daughter Pearl reveals not only their mood [Scorch!]...but also, some of Lisa’s details, with the palette strictly adhered to in white, yellows and blues...
Jade Pettyjohn, Lexi Underwood Photo by Erin Simkin, courtesy of Hulu.
“I decided that all of the floral arrangements throughout the Richardson House would be predominantly white, with subtle seasonal changes, to reflect Elena's tightly controlled nature. All of the floral arrangements were done by florist Laura Armstrong.”
“This hallway became iconic in the advertising for the show. All the artwork in the house came from Hollywood Studio Gallery and Art Pic, and Hollywood Studio Gallery did custom printing and framing for us.
The hallway is supposed to look like the boys and girls live opposite each other. In reality, the stage space was tight and there were only rooms on one side, so we ended up having to flip the bedrooms to dress and redress as the four bedrooms. Izzy’s and Lexie’s were featured in the show. Moody’s and Tripp’s bedrooms unfortunately didn't make it in the cut!”
“Lexie's room is the iconic girly teenager's room from the ‘90s, with floral-on-floral and white wicker. The bedding and drapes were custom-made. We had several cultural references scattered throughout her room, like paraphernalia from 90120, Beanie Babies and SHAPE magazine. She is clearly Elena's daughter.”
We also knew Lexie's room was one of the rooms that was going to burn. Luckily, Jess and I had worked on STATION 19, so we had experience with controlled burns. In certain cases, we had stand-in furniture built and also made duplicates of certain items, like the bedding and drapery.”
“The Master bedroom is the more sophisticated version of what we see in Lexie's room. It's a symphony in muted beige tones and florals. The bedding was custom made, reversible and matched the custom drapes. Many of these pieces were second-hand or consignment store finds.
Notice the Asian figurine lamps. I interjected elements of Asian-inspired decor throughout the smalls in the house to hint at the issue of cultural appropriation which comes up in the storyline.”
“I managed to talk Jess into this goldfish wallpaper, and I'm so glad I did! Ironically months later, one of my set dressers saw it in a house from the 1990s that he toured while shopping for a new home.”
Elena and her daughter Izzy... Knowing how Izzy feels about her mother’s sense of control and need for perfection, we think she secretly pushed the mirror off-center and is waiting for her mother to notice!
Reese Witherspoon, Megan Scott. Photo by Erin Simkin, courtesy of Hulu.
“To me, Izzy's room was one of the most important sets to get right. Jess and I wanted the audience to feel the tension between Elena and Izzy in the character of the room. We decided that Elena had decorated the room when Izzy was younger, hence the lavender floral patterns, and teenage Izzy was now trying to obliterate that earlier identity. I wanted a daybed so I could back her into a corner, and we could feel her attempt to hole up and protect herself in her own home. I hired a graphic designer to generate a lot of the artwork, and some of the hand drawn artwork came from my Buyer Joanna Venesky's daughter. I had the plaid blanket custom-made to clash with the bedding, so it would feel like she stole it from her brother's room.”
“This was a transitional time in music technology, so all the kids have CDs and tapes. We made great efforts with all the CDs, tapes and records to reflect bands of the era. I felt Izzy was the only one cool enough to have records.
With a lot of the smaller details in the room, we wanted the audience to feel Izzy’s transition between sweet kid and complete rebellious teenager, so there are still masks on the walls, for example, but there is clutter around them. The stickers and toys which may have been cute at one time have now become surrounded by clutter.”
Mia Warren’s Windsor Avenue apartment, Pearl’s bedroom...
“Jess and I felt it was important to Mia that her daughter Pearl have a space that felt like a home. We wanted Pearl’s room to feel inviting and sweet, despite being a mishmash of found objects. Mia’s love for Pearl is reflected in this room.
I chose a white iron canopy bed for its femininity and because I thought it would photograph well in pieces in the grass, when they first got it. The paint color charts were written into the script in response to some of Jess’s original research and became a focal point in the room.”
“It was important to the show creators and Kerry Washington that Mia's apartment reflect her transitory nature. As an artist, I felt Mia would only pick items that had a soul to bring into her space, even if they were picked up at thrift shops or on the side of the road. Jess and I spoke at length about our own spaces when we were starting out. In the ‘90s, thrift shops were full of ‘60s/‘70s cast offs that weren't yet hip, so I wanted that reflected in Mia's space as well.”
“I had several in depth conversations with Kerry about the level of spareness in the space. She was a wonderful collaborator. Although you didn't see a lot of it in the final cut, this room actually evolved over the course of the show as Mia collects more items and slowly commits to staying in Shaker Heights for a longer period of time. Here it is pictured at its most complete stage.”
“The Art Studio/Sunroom is the heart of the home for Mia. I liked the chaise (from Warner Bros. Property) because it looked like a cast-off from one of the wealthier homes. An assortment of surfaces and supplies cover the space, many of the supplies are found objects. This set evolved over the run of the show, from materials being stored in suitcases to this level of detail, and we had a detailed book to track all the changes.”
“This is from earlier, when Mia [Kerry Washington] arrives at the Windsor Avenue apartment owned by the Richardsons. All of her equipment and most of the soft goods arrive in the suitcases you later see in the apartment. The suitcases, and their contents, were in fact dressed into the car for her arrival to make sure that the quantity of stuff she brought with her to her new home was believable.”
“For Mia, her home is the studio, not the bedroom. Kerry really wanted the bedroom to be spare and for the bed to be on the floor. I feel artists are always collectors, and they turn those collections into art. So, I added the collection of mirrors, and the cast-away strips from the developing process as homage to a Japanese scroll above the bed. Kerry felt Mia was influenced by wabi-sabi in addition to collage photography, hence the homage to the scroll and the imperfection of found objects. Suitcases are always in evidence in her space, as they are used for storage and travel.”
“I thought the bathroom as darkroom was quite successful and realistic. We had a photographer consultant to make sure the equipment was correct. Most of the bathroom fixtures were rented from Studio Plumbing.”
“The Ryans live in an Upper West side apartment in 1980s NYC. Young Mia meets with the Ryans and discusses carrying a child for them. I wanted this set to be reminiscent of the wealth and formality we later see in the Richardson’s, which informs her discomfort in that house. David Smith and I collaborated on this set. We sought to heighten the red, which reflects the period and what we later see in the Richardson's.”
Nicole Beharie as Madeline Ryan, Jesse Williams as Joe Ryan Tiffany Boone as young Mia. Photo by Erin Simkin, courtesy of Hulu.
“Mia’s parents’ house in Pittsburgh, circa 1979. Her parents were working class immigrants. This part of the home was warm and inviting, whereas the living room we see when Elena visits years later is a formal space that is rarely used. This was a full dress of a location.”
“Bill and Elena are living in the apartment in the early 1980s. Jess chose to completely remodel the kitchen cabinets to reflect that ‘80s style. Copper molds and colored glass bottle collection complete the period look. An Antinori Italian white wine green fish bottle was added because of David Smith’s memory of Cleveland, circa late 1970s.”
Editor’s note: Lisa brought in Set Decorator David Smith SDSA to particularly assist on these flashback sets
“Bill and Elena’s bedroom, early ‘80s... We can see a younger version here of who Elena will become. David knew of the perfect matching curtains and bedding, as well as the brass bed, at Omega Cinema Props. Buyer Yumi Arai also added a lot to this set with the art and smalls...”
“I wanted Elena’s furniture to be tasteful but reflect that in her 20s, she still has some flexibility. Not everything matches. Toys are allowed to be out of place. She is not wealthy yet. A family lives here.
And it stands in contrast to how the space looks when Mia lives here later.”
“We had a flashback episode which spans the early ‘80s. Jess and I needed to take the house back to what it looked like when Elena's mother owned it. We figured her last remodel would have been in the ‘70s. This redress had to happen over a weekend, so Jess had wallpaper put up on a Friday and the scenic department wood-grained the cabinets and added orange contact paper to the counters in addition to building an entirely new island. Luckily, we had a little warning on this script because, at the time, there were several shows shooting in this period and I could not find a complete matching kitchen appliance set. Except for the fridge, the appliances were purchased and rush shipped...from Ohio, ironically.”
“David Smith and I collaborated on this episode. The main furniture set came from Omega Cinema Props, and we had it all reupholstered in period-appropriate fabric. The shades were custom-made by American Screen and Window Coverings.
At this point in the story, Elena is at her wits’ end and the detritus of little children is everywhere in the room. Buyer Yumi Arai was in charge of all the period toys and baby paraphernalia, and tracked the bulk of them down one by one, mostly online.”
SHAKER TIMES newspaper... “SHAKER TIMES was a heavy dress. Rhonda Elliot was the key Buyer on this set and spent a lot of time tracking down the correct equipment, like working microfilm machines, as well as mountains of files, reference materials and microfilm boxes. I wanted the office to be shades of beige since that was a popular office color at the time, and I wanted the furniture to not be cutting-edge since it was a smaller newspaper. Mark Goldman at Advanced Liquidators was indispensable. Steve Irwin at Playback Technologies helped with the working computers. This was also completely redressed for flashback to the early 1980s for Elena’s early career. I took it back to the grey, black and navy palette more prominent in the 1970s, figuring the furniture was not upgraded to beige until the late ‘80s. We also replaced all the computers with typewriters.” Photo LC, courtesy of Hulu.
“Lucky Palace was a fun challenge—build and dress a Chinese restaurant that feels hyper-real. I purposely mis-matched a few chairs as if their supplier had run out of the red ones, hung the art slightly crooked and at varying heights, left cords exposed etc. The best compliment I got was when an extra who was actually a chef in a Chinese restaurant said it reminded him of his uncle's place.”
Check out the video below for the restaurant’s kitchen and backroom!
“The interior of the ice cream truck was a set that was to be a secret hideaway that Moody and Tripp built in their younger years that Moody shows to Pearl.
I had the idea of wallpapering part of the set interior with stickers. The Director liked it so much that they added a beat where the actors were adding the stickers, which created a last-minute fire drill for the Props department and me!”
“Pauline was a mentor and first lover for Mia in the 1980s in NYC. As an African American artist and professor, I wanted her space to reflect her having a finger on the pulse of the avant-garde art scene and emerging hip-hop street culture. Her space is industrial but also inviting and reflects taste. She has an eclectic grouping of chairs in the central space that are treated almost as individual sculptures in a collection. Her artwork reflects the influence of graffiti in the ‘80s and artists like Basquiat.”
“Mies Van Der Rohe style black and chrome chairs seemed perfect for the character and period. The table and many of the smalls came from Modernica Props.”
It was important to me to feature African American artists throughout her space. Several pieces came from Art Pic's collection, while others were from artists we reached out to, such as Brianna McCarthy, which were specially cleared for this artist’s loft, with elaborate custom matting and framing from Hollywood Studio Gallery. Unfortunately, many of them did not appear on camera.”
“David found this incredible bedding at Omega, which played so nicely with the period artwork. After most of the set was shopped, Jess decided to add red accent walls, which forced us to pivot with some of the original choices. We decided to play up the black and brown as a result, since those were often seen together, especially in the African American community in the early ‘80s in NYC.”
“This is an altar to the African Goddess Oya. She is a warrior who represents wind, change, death and rebirth. I felt these themes were appropriate for Pauline's character as well as speaking to the African immigrant cultural influence found in NYC.
Kerry Washington thanked me for going the extra mile to research and include this character detail.”
Lisa Clark sitting in Pauline’s Loft. Read the article below for Lisa’s fascinating background...no wonder she looks at home in such a fabulous artist's space!
Photo LC, courtesy of Hulu.
July 29th, 2020
LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE, starring Reese Witherspoon as Elena Richardson and Kerry Washington as Mia Warren, explores the picture-perfect world of the Richardson family as it is upset by and contends with interactions from the newly arrived Warren family. The story examines the weight of secrets, expectations, identity, race, the creative drive to be an artist, and how we define motherhood.
An adaptation of the best-selling novel by Celeste Ng set in Shaker Heights, Ohio during the 1990s...with an occasional 1980s flashback...the mini-series is an ABC TV/ Hulu Production streaming on Hulu. Witherspoon and Washington are also Executive Producers of the series, which has received an Emmy nomination for Best Limited Series, as has Kerry Washington for Lead Actress, and a much-deserved Emmy nomination recognition as Best Director for the wonderful, late Lynn Shelton.
Inside the Set With SET DECOR...
The beautifully designed and set decorated sets are by Production Designer Jessica Kender and Set Decorator Lisa Clark SDSA, who, together, undertook the task of visually relaying the dynamics of mother-daughter relationships – the nurturing and rejection, the push and pull for children between the desire to emulate or to rebel. The show was filmed on three sound stages at The Lot in Hollywood.
SET DECOR, spoke with Lisa in detail about the series, her responsibilities, their approach as a team, and how research, work experience, life experience, and serendipity all helped to bring this wonderfully presented show to life.
After graduating from Stanford, Lisa wore many hats, first working as a Set Designer for theatre productions in the Bay Area, then as a Set Decorator in independent films, and as a project manager for museum exhibitions. She spent 4 years as an Associate Producer at Lucasfilm.
Lisa came to set decorating as a second career. She points out that she had the good fortune to work as a Set Decoration Buyer with Set Decorator David Smith SDSA on the pilot of PARENTHOOD in the Bay Area in 2009 before coming to Los Angeles in 2011.
[Editor’s note: Watch the fascinating INSIDE THE SET video interview with Lisa & David above!]
Relocating to Los Angeles, Lisa first became a member of the Art Directors Guild, after working with Production Designer Jeannine Oppewall for a few years, before getting into IATSE Local 44 as a Set Decorator and finding the career she wanted all along.
Having read the novel of LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE twice before she began the 9-week prep, Lisa dove deeply into researching the 1990s and 1980s periods, finding the ‘90s set dressing slightly more elusive. Past editions of ARCHITECTURAL DIGEST and HOUSE & GARDEN provided a treasure trove of ideas for many of the main sets, while her own experience as a young artist in the 1990s helped informed Mia’s environment.
Capturing the 1990s was a particularly interesting challenge to Lisa because it is a decade that most people remember, but it has not yet solidified in the general consciousness stylistically like other eras have, such as the 1970s or 1950s which have visual touchstones. Depicting the period was one of the great joys and challenges of the piece, which her whole team embraced.
With her team of Set Decoration Buyers Robyn Holmes [SDSA Associate], Eva Firshein, Joanna Venezky, Rhonda Elliott, and later Yumi Arai and Jill Deibler, they scoured the internet, secondhand stores and thrift stores for ‘90s cast-offs. Ebay, Craigslist, Calico Corners, Ralph Lauren Fabrics and Ethan Allen Furniture provided wonderful treasures, along with the incredible inventory of the Los Angeles area prop houses.*
The custom-made drapery, bedspreads, duvets, valances, Roman shades, throw pillows and bed shams were primarily made at Universal Studios Drapery under the watchful eye and care of Alex Coronado, with drapery installation by Trevor Callebs. The workload in the drapery department was so heavy that Lisa had a 5-page spreadsheet listing fabric details, set location, pickup and deadline dates. In fact, there were days when all but two of the drapery tables in Universal Studios Drapery department were covered in projects for LITTLE FIRES.
Walking the finished sets with novelist Celeste Ng and producers of the show, Lisa and Jess were paid a wonderful compliment when the author said, “I feel as if you crawled inside my head”...
Lisa would like to thank her incredible Set Dressing crew led by Nelson Bush.
Editor’s note: Our thanks to David Smith SDSA for the video interview and the article...and his invaluable perspective. Almost full circle...a decade after first working for him, Lisa brought David on as an Assistant Set Decorator for this series! Check out the video and the gallery above for on-point sets that convey the atmosphere of the story and its characters, define the time and place, and tap your recent memories! Enjoy! Karen Burg, Editor
*Los Angeles area prop houses used in LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE include:
Advanced Liquidators Office Furniture
Alpha Companies Motion Picture Rentals
EC Prop Rentals
Faux Library Studio Props
Hollywood Cinema Arts
Hollywood Studio Gallery
Lennie Marvin’s Prop Heaven
the now departed Modern Props
Prop Services West
Universal Studios Property
Warner Bros. Studios Property