May 25th, 2017 by Karen Burg with Ron Olsen SDSA

Main Photo
Alvarez apartment, Echo Park, Los Angeles… Working single-mother Penelope [Justina Machado] is raising her two children, tween Alex [Marcel Ruiz] and teenager Elena [Isabella Gomez], with help from her Cuban-born mother Lydia [Rita Moreno] and landlord/friend Schneider [Todd Grinnell]... Photo by Michael Yarish ©2017 Netflix.

Set Decorator
Ron Olsen SDSA

Production Designer
Bernie Vyzga


    A reimagining of the Norman Lear classic, this time centering on a Cuban-American family...
Penelope Alvarez [Justina Machado], a newly-single mom/military veteran, has returned stateside and is now navigating a new life, working as a nurse and journeying through the triumphs and tribulations that come with raising two strong-willed, mega-millennial children—radical teen daughter Elena [Isabella Gomez] and socially adept tween son Alex [Marcel Ruiz]—with the “help” of her old-school Cuban-born mom, Lydia [Rita Moreno], and the landlord/building manager, Schneider [Todd Grinnell], who becomes an invaluable confidante...   The multi-camera current-day comedy bowed to rapturous reviews and has already been picked up for a second season. TV veterans Production Designer Bernard Vyzga and Set Decorator Ron Olsen SDSA, Emmy® winner for FRASIER, set the tone of the series, establishing the look and visual details of this contemporary family with a deep ethnic background and strong, colorful personalities who are dealing with real-life challenges. The sets are as definitive and fresh as the storylines!
SET DECOR asked Olsen to tell us about his work on yet another lauded series that he has helped bring to life. He generously agreed...
...from Set Decorator Ron Olsen SDSA...
   When I started as a Set Decorator in the late ‘80s, Norman Lear and his dynasty of multi-camera comedies like ALL IN THE FAMILY and MAUDE were just about wrapping up. I was sorry I never got to work on one of his shows back then. I was therefore surprised and delighted to be asked to be the Set Decorator on Lear’s new reboot of the ‘70s classic ONE DAY AT A TIME. Lear, now 94-years-old, was back to executive produce the new series for Netflix, this time featuring a Cuban American family living in Echo Park. Lear wanted to be true to his roots and keep the show both multi-camera and shot in front of a live audience. Even at 94, he insisted on going up into the audience for a short warm up before each show.
Helping to keep the show authentically Cuban American was Executive Producer Gloria Calderón Kellet, who insisted on stocking the kitchen with authentic Cuban food products and cooking devices like those that were ever-present in her Cuban American parents’ house, including rice, black beans, guava paste, a pressure cooker and a stovetop espresso maker. Fortunately, the El Mambi Cuban Market in Glendale was one-stop shopping for all these Cuban food related items! In several episodes, Grandma Lydia, played by the legendary actress Rita Moreno, is seen cooking Cuban food and making espresso while dancing to soulful Cuban music.
Also, in keeping with the Cuban theme, the abeula Lydia has filled the house with crosses, pictures and statues of Jesus and the saints, including a niche in the living room dedicated to the Caridad del Cobre Virgin, patron saint of Cubans
. She also has a fondness for the popes and has a large portrait of John Paul 2 in her sleeping alcove. 
Production Designer Bernie Vyzga designed a charming but worn Spanish-style, Echo Park apartment. Being that it is shared by four people...Lydia, her daughter Penelope and her grandchildren, Elena and Alex...Lydia sleeps in a small, upstage alcove that is curtained off from the living room. Lear and the other creators wanted Lydia to be able to make big, dramatic entrances by flinging the drapes open, which she often does. Lydia’s alcove is also stocked with old photos of their Cuban family members, many of which were provided by producer Calderón Callet of her own Cuban family. Some of these photos also appear in the opening credits accompanied by a new Cuban version of the familiar theme song, sung by Gloria Estefan. I also got several photos from fellow set decorators and SDSA members KC Fox and Ron Franco, who both recently worked in the now open Cuba.
      [Editor's note: Franco was with the first US television production to film in the newly opened country and has returned for more!]
In one episode, Lydia tells the story of the time she met her husband in a nightclub in Havana in 1957. It was fun doing a period Cuban club. Inspired by the tropical exterior feel of the classic Tropicana nightclub, Bernie defined the architecture of our club with sensual curves and built-in lighting, and had our greensmen fill the exterior with lush tropical plants and flowers. I found some great gold, light-up palm trees from Town and Country and I worked with my flower designer, Cathy Ball, to make sure the flowers felt hot and sexy and drippy. I got chills when the background actors in their ‘50s Cuban clothes walked onto the set. It really felt like we had stepped back into 1950s Havana.
Another challenge of the show was creating a look for Schneider’s apartment. In the classic original, Schneider was a redneck, t-shirt-wearing handyman. In this new version, Schneider is a handsome, younger metro-sexual, and the landlord. Bernie and I thought it would be fun if he built a lot of his own furniture. In the upstage area of his set, we placed a band saw and other woodworking tools to suggest his work area. We had his couch built out of stacked 4 x 4’s, for which I had cushions made. On the upstage wall, to hold Schneider's vinyl collection, Bernie designed shelving consisting of reclaimed wood supported by galvanized pipes. My on-set dresser, Palmer Schallon, makes a lot of cool furniture at his loft downtown in his spare time and I had been waiting for a cool set in which to use his stuff. This was it. Both side chairs were designed and built by Schallon. One is constructed out of a welded frame of box tubing with loose upholstered cushions covered in vintage East Indian tapestries. The other has a unique wood seat supported by giant springs. A large chandelier he made out of bent, laminated yardsticks hangs in the upstage area.
The 13-episode arc crescendoed into the season finale that featured Elena’s Quinceñera. It was a fun challenge to create in that Elena is not a typically girly girl, but rather a strong, rebellious, women’s-rights-spouting teenager who earlier in the season comes out as a lesbian. Most Quinceñeras are full of pink or purple decorations, but the producers wanted us to stay away from anything too feminine. We still wanted it to be colorful and happy, though, so I filled the room with bright green and teal handmade paper decorations and white flowers. Each of the tables was designated by a picture of a famous woman in history like Hillary Clinton and Maya Angelou.
As a nod to the history of the classic seventies predecessor, Producer Patricia Fass Palmer, who was also a producer on the original series, asked us to include several objects that belonged to the original stars of the show. She had a director’s binder used by Bonnie Franklin, the original mom on the show, and got a pair of cufflinks from the family of Pat Harrington, the original Schneider on the show. These mementos are locked in a cabinet on the set and, while not seen when viewing the show, are tokens of the great comedy spirits looking over us. Producer Palmer also gave us a figurine that resembled Bonnie Franklin, which we placed on the set. In several scenes, it can be seen looking out on the action from the top of an armoire, nestled in with other treasured family objects. I would hope that the real Bonnie Franklin, were she still alive, would be happy to see what Lear, his fellow creators and the rest of us have done to reincarnate this classic show.
Set Decorator resources...
Set Decorator Ron Olsen SDSA would like to acknowledge these SDSA Business Members,
whom he particularly worked with to bring about the sets for ONE DAY AT A TIME...

  • Advanced Liquidators
  • The Alpha Company
  • Art Pic
  • Dazian Creative Fabric Environments
  • Dina Art
  • Faux Library
  • Green Set
  • Hollywood Studio Gallery
  • Hollywood Vines
  • Jackson Shrub
  • Lennie Marvin’s Prop Heaven
  • Modern Props
  • RC Vintage
  • Town and Country Event Rentals
  • 20th Century Fox Drapery Dept
  • Sony Pictures Property

Photo 3
Alvarez apartment… Grandma Lydia [Rita Moreno] lecturing her grandchildren and Schneider [Todd Grinnell]... Behind her is her sleeping alcove with pullout couch-bed. Bright-green wood chairs in foreground give a Cuban pop of color, like vintage cars on the streets of Havana... Marcel Ruiz Isabella Gomez Photo by Michael Yarish ©2017 Netflix

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Alvarez apartment… “I used lots of warm, soft Caribbean colors with hot pops of color spiced in for this Cuban-American family,” describes Set Decorator Ron Olsen SDSA, sitcom veteran, including a decade-long run and Emmy® for FRASIER... Photo ©2017 Netflix.

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Alvarez apartment… Everyone has a different reaction to a family photo album! The patron saint of Cuba has her own niche in the wall next to Lydia’s alcove... Rita Moreno Marcel Ruiz Todd Grinnell Justina Machado Isabella Gomez. Photo/Michael Yarish ©2017 Netflix

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Alvarez apartment alcove… Grandma Lydia [Rita Moreno] making one of her dramatic entrances from her sleeping alcove. “The drapes were made by Twentieth Century Fox Drapery, rigged to open and close quickly. They were lined with red fabric, so they flash a burst of red when she makes her fiery entrances,” Olsen smiles... Photo by Michael Yarish ©2017 Netflix.

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Lydia’s alcove… Olsen notes, “The couch is a pullout bed. Many of the Cuban family photos are of Producer Gloria Calderón Kellet's actual family. In a later episode, we added a large portrait of Pope John Paul 2 under the cross in the alcove to the left...” Photo ©2017 Netflix.

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Alvarez apartment, Lydia’s alcove… The bed made up on the pullout couch in the alcove upstage fills the small space... We’re not revealing the rest of this storyline, but it’s not what it seems – it seldom is! Photo by Michael Yarish ©2017 Netflix.

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Alvarez apartment, entry… Penelope [Justina Machado] arrives home from work to discover a delivery of expensive shoes her son Alex [Marcel Ruiz] has secretly ordered with her credit card! Photo by Michael Yarish ©2017 Netflix.

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Alvarez apartment, reverse… This POV into the dining and kitchen area shows just how cramped but cozy the apartment is... Photo ©2017 Netflix.

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Alvarez apartment, kitchen… The well-stocked kitchen is filled with genuine items from a local Cuban-American grocery store... Photo ©2017 Netflix.

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Alvarez apartment, kitchen… Penelope thanks Lydia for preparing her morning ritual, Cafe Cubano... Rita Moreno Justina Machado Photo by Michael Yarish ©2017 Netflix.

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Alvarez apartment, kitchen… Check out the stools! And myriad other details that give notes of Cuban culture, then look through the window and notice the folding deck chairs on the balcony...a fully-realized set... Justina Machado Photo by Michael Yarish ©2017 Netflix.

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Alvarez apartment, Penelope’s bedroom… Lydia surprises her daughter... Rita Moreno Justina Machado Photo by Michael Yarish ©2017 Netflix.