June 5th, 2019 by Karen Burg

Main Photo
Cleary house, Summer 1972... Enjoy the witty and charming notes from Set Decorator Claudette Didul SDSA International and Production Designer Michael Whetstone! “This shot is from the pilot. We searched all over for a small ranch house that had a dining room that was located between the kitchen and the living room. We wanted to put Peggy (the mother) literally and figuratively in the center of the house. This room was where she folded laundry, sewed the kids clothes, and prepared dinner.” Sawyer Barth, Santino Barnard, Caleb Foote, Christopher Richards, Jack Gore, Michael Cudlitz, Mary McCormack. Photo by Tony Rivetti ©2018 ABC Television Network

Set Decorator
Claudette Didul SDSA International
Production Designer
Michael Whetstone

Set in the 1970s, this ensemble comedy follows a traditional Irish-Catholic family, the Clearys, as they navigate big and small changes during one of America's most turbulent decades. In a working-class neighborhood outside Los Angeles, Mike and Peggy raise eight boisterous boys who live out their days with little supervision. The household is turned upside down when oldest son Lawrence returns home and announces he's quitting the seminary to go off and "save the world." Times are changing and this family will never be the same. There are 10 people, three bedrooms, one bathroom and everyone in it for themselves.           –ABC Studios

The series is inspired by the childhood of creator/executive producer Tim Doyle, who also narrates in voiceover and was touted for the comedic but realistic portrayal of family life in that era. Production Designer Michael Whetstone and Set Decorator Claudette Didul SDSA International embraced the challenge of ensuring the accuracy of the environment and home life. SDSA International Executive Director Gene Cane points to small period and culturally correct details, such as in this Catholic parish/neighborhood, each of the homes portrayed had some of the same religious artifacts. In particular, we see a framed embroidered cross and the praying hands framed print in the Cleary living room, also on a wall in a neighbor’s house and in an old folks home
A precise slice of life.
Didul shares some of those details and behind-the-scenes notes, and in the photo gallery above, Whetstone joins her in revealing aspects of their creative process for the series.
Karen Burg, Editor

Notes from Set Decorator Claudette Didul SDSA International...
“We had a terrific set decorating team for the pilot and the series with the amazing buyer help from John Bradley and Karen Riemenshneider for the pilot and for the series, Caryn Marcus and Melissa Licht. Everyone went beyond the call of duty to shop for period correct items including appliances, fabrics, bedding and lighting.” 
“When you do period shows, it’s like ‘archeological’ set decorating. We had a 5-day shoot each episode, and you hoped the scripted items would be easy to find...especially when you overlapped with Props and Wardrobe! We were lucky enough to have a great prop department: Andy Grant on the pilot,, Ian Sheibel for Episodes 1-6 and  Skip Torvinen, Episodes 7-23.  Our Costume Designer, Susan Michalek, was wonderful and always helpful. The collaboration throughout was inspiring and made for a joyful adventure.
All in the family...
“We used a few reference pictures from Tim’s family photo album that actually showed one of the 3 piano-sized organs that his mother had in their lifetime in the house...and a few of Michael’s family photos, predominantly of his family’s dining room, which had the classic-looking Ethan Allen maple furniture. I was even able to find a bar cart and hutch cabinet that looked similar to what Michael grew up with in his childhood home. That maple furniture was still very prominent in the 1972 Sears catalog, as well as the Harvest Gold side-by-side fridge. This was particularly significant because Tim was emphatic that unless the network requested specific holidays to be depicted, we were perpetually in the summer of 1972. Another challenge!”
“For research, we used several different years of Sears catalog and other period books from the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s, plus old magazines, like California Homes from that era. The Bill Owens books (SUBURBIA) were also a tremendous help.”  
Pilot – shooting on location...
“For the pilot, Michael found a location in Studio City, a ranch house built in the 1930s, that we had a short time to paint and wallpaper, and a day to dress! This included swapping out the refrigerator, the kitchen faucet, the light switches and all of the overhead lights and sconces, inside and outside.”
“The bunk-beds boys’ bedroom in the location house had a full-sized mural we couldn’t paint over so Michael built a false wall to cover that.” 
“The living room had a huge white bookcase wall with a TV wall unit that would be period incorrect, so Michael had construction cover it with wood paneling, including inside the shelves...and we were able to place the organ in front of that and shoot from behind the wall.”
“John Bradley found a working organ on Craig’s list. Sitting by the organ in the Cleary living room is a large collection of sheet music from the 1960s and earlier, that I discovered at an amazing estate sale our location manager, Chester Wong, found when scouting locations. We were fortunate enough to get approval/clearance from ABC Studios to use Ebay, Etsy, Craigslist and estate sales, in addition to our essential prop houses.” *
“One thing many set decorators know, it is very difficult to pull together character-related period items for a pilot where you usually only have 3 weeks to shop and bring it all together. You want to fulfill a director/creator’s vision quickly, and sometimes (or often) you do not have the set available or location quite yet determined, which adds to the challenge to figure out what furniture will work best!"

"Our director had a certain vision for the interior that, when translated, required the sofa in the living room to be a certain size to seat at least 3 people, but small enough to walk around from both sides of the room.”
A Million Drops

From location to stage...
“Once the show was picked up, Michael had to re-create the location house on stage, as well as a backyard and a functioning garage, a duplicate back porch AND eventually a duplicate kitchen with double stove, fridge, kitchen cabinets and all of the smalls that were in the stage kitchen. He also created 3 tree houses: for the stage, the back yard and a location tree house he built to take to an Encino yard to act as the neighbors’ yard.”
“Caryn Marcus dove in to help source and purchase the garage pieces. We traveled to City of Orange and to Whittier to try to find old workbenches and cabinetry, not to mention a lot of tools and smalls to place all over. We even found a working early-1960s compressor from Glass Horizons.”
“For throughout the whole house, both the pilot and the series, we shopped for period correct books and board games, particularly to fill the living room shelves. Lots of framed embroidery. All bedding, including sheets, was vintage...all of the photos are in period frames. Tim’s mother loved to collect cute religious figurines and she loved plastic flowers, so we were always on the search for those to dress into the shelves all over the house and on her beloved organ.”
“As we progressed through the season, the gags increased, so sometimes we would have to duplicate furniture to break, light fixtures to swing from, bedspreads to spill wine on.
The vintage pieces took quite a work out.
Boisterous is an accurate term!”
*Didul notes the essential resources SDSA International Business members provide.
For this series, particularly:
Omega|Cinema props (lighting, all drapery and furniture upholstery/manufacturing)
RC Vintage
Alley Cats
Lennie Marvin
Universal Property
Faux Library
U-Frame-It Gallery
Advanced Liquidators
Pinacoteca Picture Props
Air Design
Jackson Shrub
EC Props
History For Hire
Hollywood Studio Gallery
Hollywood Cinema Arts
Loveseat Vintage Furniture
Practical Props (purchase and rental)
Dazian Creative Fabric Environments
Alpha Companies Motion Picture Rentals


Photo 3
Cleary house... “Beautiful wallpaper from Aztec* combined with furniture resembling the furniture from Michael’s house when he was a kid! Ethan Allen was the economic level of this family.” Photo ©2018 ABC Television Network

Photo 4
Cleary house... “This is a nice shot of Peggy and Pat in the dining room: Unfolded laundry sits on a chair. Family photos in vintage frames. The wallpaper and moulding are heavily aged because 8 kids are running amok. The black rotary dial phone was the only phone in the house for 10 people to use!” Mary McCormack, Santino Barnard Photo by Richard Cartwright ©2018 ABC Television Network

Photo 5
Cleary house... “Grasscloth wallpaper gave the walls great texture and color. Claudette and Location Manager Chester Wong found the rug at an estate sale, discovered when scouting for a location. The Ethan Allen couch, very small by today’s standards, is upholstered in vintage-look fabric. And, every dad of that time period had a lounge chair or recliner.” Kennedy Lea Slocum, Caleb Foote, Mary McCormack, Santino Barnard, Michael Cudlitz Photo by Scott Everett White ©2018 ABC Television Network

Photo 6
Cleary house... Claudette... “I am a lamp addict. The lamps here serve different purposes: Dad's chair has his reading lamp and a lamp to see the books and games on the shelf. The organ has a sheet music lamp. There’s a lamp on the TV to light up the books and games in that corner. The other chair is Peggy's sewing area chair with her sewing lamp. The floor lamp by the sofa is for the kids to read their books or comic books. The little lamp by the picture frames is more of a little nightlight. Plus, that room had 4 sconces and 2 tiny lamps on the fireplace mantel AND a bell-shaped lamp on a small side table. The lamps gave the DP the opportunity to use practical lights if he wanted to in any part of that room. Most of the lamps came from Practical Props*...” Photo ©2018 ABC Television Network

Photo 7
Cleary house... “This photo really shows off our color palette: harvest golds, rust, brown and avocado green. We wanted the organ to be the focus of the living room, along with the console TV, where the family would always gather each night. The bookcase in the background slides open for camera access. Show Runner/Creator Tim Doyle based the story on his childhood. His family read a lot of books and that is reflected in the period-correct books filling the shelves.” Photo ©2018 ABC Television Network

Photo 8
Cleary house... “The magazine racks were always a big deal to have in any household back in the ‘50s-‘70s. LIFE magazine came out once a week then, plus the weekly TV Guide and the month’s Readers Digest. You never had enough spaces to store your magazines, nor enough time to read them. Plus people held onto them longer than we do today. Especially TV Guides. Reading about actors and their lives was always a fun thing to do! In Peggy's area, she has Good Housekeeping and sewing magazines.” Photo ©2018 ABC Television Network

Photo 9
Cleary house... “The dark wood walls were needed on the pilot to hide a modern bookshelf and a white fireplace, and then of course, carried over onstage. In this corner, you can see the extreme amount of detail that the set dressing team added. There are LIFE magazines, vintage board games, period books, and lots of religious figurines. All of it culled from Ebay, Etsy and City of Orange antique malls. We particularly loved the wood scalloped valances from this era. They were built by our fantastic construction crew.” Photo ©2018 ABC Television Network

Photo 10
Cleary house... “Our prop master Skip Toorvinen found a great old Electrolux vacuum cleaner. Peggy is always in constant motion, so she required lots of props and set dressing to work with...” Mary McCormack, Michael Cudlitz Photo by Richard Cartwright ©2018 ABC Television Network

Photo 11
Cleary house... “This is the location kitchen. All the cabinets were plugged with blue panels and the tile corners were covered with blue sticky back. The stove was extant.” Photo ©2018 ABC Television Network

Photo 12
Cleary house... “...And this is the kitchen on our stage set. The 1972 Amana microwave Claudette found on Craig’s List and then our prop team added to it to make it look as if Mike and his aerospace team had developed it at work.” Michael Cudlitz, Andy Walken Photo by Richard Cartwright ©2018 ABC Television Network

Photo 13
Cleary house... “Again this is the pilot location. We weren't able to age things down as much as we would have liked here, often a stricture with location shooting...” Photo ©2018 ABC Television Network

Photo 14
Cleary house... “...And, again, here is our stage kitchen. Claudette found a beautiful dossier for the corner. The copper tins were from Michael's mother’s kitchen!” Photo ©2018 ABC Television Network