IMPEACHMENT: AMERICAN CRIME STORY
June 23rd, 2022 by Kimberly Wannop SDSA
Emmy-winning Set Decorator Kimberly Wannop SDSA knows a thing or two about depicting the White House, after all that Emmy was for her work on VEEP! But she also has quite rightly won kudos for her work on THE GOOD PLACE and PARKS & RECREATION and BONES. She’s the first to say it’s the team and the collaboration. For IMPEACHMENT: AMERICAN CRIME STORY, she partnered with Production Designer Jamie McCall and Kim’s longstanding Lead and team to give an accurate impression of the White House during the Clinton Administration.
We caught up with her momentarily, on her way to yet another set on an undisclosed upcoming produc
SET DECOR: After years of doing a fictional White House...with Oval Office changes per “President”, you now are depicting a piece of history. However, this is a fictional account of the story, so how specific were you to the actual Oval Office/White House at that time?
Set Decorator Kimberly Wannop SDSA:
Yes, after decorating for a fictional White House on VEEP, to now dive into so much research to decorate for the Clinton era and the ‘90s was a huge task. The series is based on Jeffrey Toobin's book A VAST CONSPIRACY and has a ton of detailed accounts of actual events that led up to the impeachment of Bill Clinton. We strive to match everything in every detail, especially the writers, who used Tobin's book as their guide for the scripts. We also had Monica Lewinsky as an advisor who would help us with any details. She was great in giving details about the President's personal West Wing office off of the Oval.
BTS: White House, Oval Office, Clinton administration. Our palette for the whole show was very muted, so the colors don't match history exactly, but still give the impression of Clinton's Oval office. Obviously this is BTS, there are no florals yet and the "Keep off the Grass" signs are still on the sofas. Upholstery by Warner Bros. Curtains by Omega Cinema Props. Photo by Tina Thorpe © 2021 FX Networks. All rights reserved.
SD: What did you learn from doing versions of the WHITE HOUSE in the past that really helped you do this one?
KW: What I have learned about decorating the White House in studying it for the past six years is that so much of the furniture is repurposed for each administration. And the most interesting thing about the White House design is the personality that each president gives to the same rooms over and over again. There is such a reflection of the period, their personal style, and also a reflection of the administration's attitude.
White House, Clinton Sitting Room, Private Residence. The sitting room is always so different, reflecting the tastes and interest of each president and family. This room definitely represented the decade. There were many family photos and tchotchkes around. Drapery by Omega Cinema Prop. Photo by Tina Thorpe © 2021 FX Networks. All rights reserved.
There were so many pieces that I acquired on VEEP that could have come in handy in this one, since furniture in the actual White House is reused, so it was very frustrating to have to find pieces I knew that I had found in the past that were very close matches and try to find them again! Especially with the town so busy. Luckily, I had such a strong team of buyers including Ethan Goodwin, Jane Madden, Ashley Rice, Haley Constestabile, and Jennifer Ho. We all are just mini detectives trying to find just the right details of this particular administration's decor. We also had to re-create so many iconic rooms that were. Thankfully, documented so well in the ‘90s.
White House, center hall of the Presidential Private Residence of the Clinton administration. Since there are many looks during a presidential term, we tried to mesh them together. It was also scripted that portraits of former presidents be in the room, which is not accurate, but it did lend to Clinton always being watched by his predecessors. Baby grand piano rented from Hollywood Piano. Image courtesy of FX.
SD: What was the biggest challenge on this one?
KW: The biggest challenge on AMERICAN CRIME SCENE: IMPEACHMENT has to have been that the color palette for the show was muted and not the true colors of that period. Production Designer Jamie McCall is very specific in her color palettes for each set. It is very helpful as a decorator to know the palette exactly for each character and then run with it, especially since you never seem to have enough time. Everything that we tried to match so perfectly still had to be altered to match the palette. A great example of this are the two sofas that are in the Oval Office, finding the right pattern that matched Clintons sofas, but then finding it in a muted color and not the proper bright red that it actually was.
Linda Tripp's living room, with glimpse of dining room. Linda Tripp's style was very cohesive throughout her home of the colonial, federal style. While her bedroom was almost colorless, these rooms reflect toned-down reds and blues, with cream substituting for white. Sofa upholstered by Warner Bros. Image courtesy of FX.
SD: The collaboration between you and PD Jamie Walker McCall?
KW: I absolutely love working with Jamie because she is very direct and specific in a collaborative way. I think because she has a graphic design background, she's able to communicate in a palette and in her research exactly what we're looking for in the decorating. She's also very open to looking at fabric and decorating research to make these decisions. She's also just a delight and a super nice person.
Monica Lewinsky's apartment was designed to replicate the Watergate apartment building. Again, keeping the palette very muted, but giving her very feminine furnishings and more of a contemporary shabby chic look. Image courtesy of FX.
SD: Your team.
KW: I can't express enough how important having a great Leadman is, and I've been lucky enough to work with Patrik Alvin for 12 years, it's been a very good long ride. He has a wonderful attitude about everything and can handle the toughest scheduling situation. I have no idea how he does it. He's also been able to elevate over the years, since the Leadman position has become so demanding, and so paperwork heavy. I really can't thank him enough and I would not be able to have gotten through a show like IMPEACHMENT without him, it was such a blur of work!
Pentagon. This is where Linda Tripp and Monica Lewinsky worked and met. Everything is very government issued and needed to look very drab. Office cubicles from Advanced Liquidators. Image courtesy of FX.
Grand Jury courtroom. The grand jury testimony of Linda Tripp and Monica Lewinsky. Rentals from Advanced Liquidators. Image courtesy of FX.
SD: Conveying a character or a situation or atmosphere in just 1 set.
KW: There were so many great character sets that we had the opportunity to do, from Ann Coulter to Monica Lewinsky's mom, Ken Starr's mother-in-law, Paula Jones's many apartments, but I think one of the best ones we pulled off was the Matt Drudge apartment.
Matt Drudge was played by Billy Eichner, who in himself is such a character. We had a small apartment location in LA to dress and to give a somewhat vintage look for Drudge, he was kind of an oddball and a had very old ‘40s style look. We busted our tails to decorate this set, and 12 hours before it was going to shoot, we found out that Billy Eichner had Covid. So we took it all down, had a good laugh about pushing so hard, and then re-decorated it a month or so later.
Matt Drudge’s apartment. Photo by Tina Thorpe © 2021 FX Networks. All rights reserved.
Matt Drudge’s apartment. We gave the room a lot of vintage fabric textures in the drapery and his bedding, and used an Art Deco old-Hollywood feel for his furnishings. Photo by Tina Thorpe © 2021 FX Networks. All rights reserved.
Matt Drudge’s apartment. Photo by Tina Thorpe © 2021 FX Networks. All rights reserved.
There is also a great little kitchen unit we rented from Modernica that we needed to make practical for him to be able to make some tea. It was so perfectly vintage and he said it worked great in the set. From the Research pictures we had of the actual Matt Drudge, there was one specifically of him at his desk where he had books on top of typewriters, two old CRV computers, and even a satellite dish in the background for some reason. That combined with his style of a fedora hat and his trying to become this Hollywood sleuth with his website, The Drudge Report, in the ‘90s, it all came together in the dressing for his character. And it still looks great in my opinion.
Editor's note: For additional White House set photos click on SHOW MORE PHOTOS right here!