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Set Decorator Keri Lederman SDSA reveals set details, but not the plot! “The Red and Mauve walls help to create the warmth we wanted for the Fraser family. Artworks by Brian Lynch based out of Saugerities, NY and Sermin Karderstuncer of NYC.” Hugh Grant, Nicole Kidman. Photo by Warrick Page ©2019 HBO.

THE UNDOING

December 4th, 2020


Set Decorator Keri Lederman SDSA

Production Designer Lester Cohen

HBO

 
Set Decorator Keri Lederman SDSA talks with SET DECOR about the worlds portrayed in this high-style psychological thriller set in upper echelon NY, starring Nicole Kidman, Hugh Grant and Donald Sutherland, which automatically set high expectations...and delivers! The sets kept audiences coming back each week as much as the twists and turns of the mystery!
Enjoy!
Karen Burg, Editor


 
Please tell us about your collaboration with Production Designer Lester Cohen...
I have worked with Lester Cohen for many years on several projects. I think at this point I can understand his vision without many words! He doesn't get stuck on one thing and always open to suggestions. If his first choice of something is not available, he'll say "Okay, show me what you can get..." and we take it from there!
 
Your collaboration with Director Susanne Bier...
Susanne expressed to Lester and me very early on that the use of color would be significant in conveying her story. Susanne felt that color was almost an extension of the characters’ personalities.

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Fraser townhouse: “A lived-in, cozy space, not flaunting their wealth. Arhaus sofa reupholstered in orange mohair from George Smith. Light emanating from the TV gives a different perspective and offers a glimpse of the kitchen/dining with brick wall and warm woods.” Hugh Grant. Photo by David Giesbrecht ©2019 HBO.

 
The key sets...
Fraser townhouse – Grace, Jonathan & Henry...
The Fraser apartment was filmed in an empty, multi-level townhouse on the Upper Eastside. It was important to introduce the Frasers as a loving, warm and secure family. In order to achieve this, we chose oranges, reds and mauves to create a cozy environment in all the family areas, and then a serene palette for the master bedroom. 
What is also interesting to note about this location was that the kitchen you see is not the actual kitchen. In the actual location, the kitchen is very small, located behind a door that you might catch a glimpse of next to the refrigerator (perhaps with aprons hanging on it). We made what was the dining room into the kitchen. Lester designed wooden beams for the ceiling and added faux redbrick to the walls. From there, I added high-end appliances working with Mimi Clarke at Front Row Media. 

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Fraser townhouse: “The dining room as kitchen. Faux brick wall and built counter with appliances from Front Row Media.” Noah Jupe. Photo by David Giesbrecht ©2019 HBO.

 
My favorite piece is undeniably the bed from Mark De La Vega at DLV Designs in Red Hook, Brooklyn, reflecting Grace’s elegance and taste. It is beautiful on its own, with a sleek and unique shape. We used a mix of art in order to create an eclectic collection that appears to be put together over time and gives a sense of history. 

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Fraser townhouse, master bedroom: “Custom bed by DLV designs, a favorite piece...” Noah Jupe, Nicole Kidman. Photo by Warrick Page ©2019 HBO.

 
Reinhardt penthouse – Grace’s father, Franklin...
This set was a massive undertaking that could not have been achieved without the hard work of multiple departments. We filmed Franklin’s in a combination of locations. The great room, foyer, elevator, Grace's childhood bedroom, guest room/Henry's room, hallways were built on the stage at Kaufman Astoria Studios. His informal living room, dining room, bedroom and balcony were filmed on location at a private residence on 5th Avenue. Some of the ancillary hallways were at the 5th Avenue apartment and then replicated on stage. His lobby was filmed at a third location on 5th Avenue as well. 

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Grace’s father’s residence: “Mile high window treatments!” Newel furniture. Newel tapestry. Sofas by EJ Victor...” Photo by David Giesbrecht ©2019 HBO.

 
Influences for Franklin’s came through images and research based on VOGUE’S BOOK OF HOUSES, GARDEN’S AND PEOPLE photographed by Horst P. Horst, and NEW YORK SPLENDOR by Wendy Moonan. For Franklin, we chose blues and greens for a cooler, almost unsettling feeling. Not only does it represent Franklin himself, but also this is where Grace runs to as she her life is unraveling and her sense of reality has been shaken.

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Franklin’s residence: The elegant piano prompted a change in script. Originally, Grace and Franklin were not expected to sit and play. Set decoration does influence story at times! Photo by David Giesbrecht ©2019 HBO.


I worked closely with Christine Murray at Newel for a lot of the furniture in the great room, as well as the large tapestry that adorns the wall by the piano. There is also an Asian influence at Franklin’s that was achieved through the use of furniture from FEA Home. 

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Franklin’s residence: “Mirror from Newel. After countless attempts to find a large enough fireplace mantel, we settled on buying one that our scenic department enhanced. The coffee table is one of my favorite pieces in the room, sourced from Greenwich Living in Stanford, CT.” Photo by David Giesbrecht ©2019 HBO.

 
The art in Franklin’s was also very important to Susanne and to Donald Sutherland, who plays Franklin. Fanny Pereire served as our fine art consultant and was able to secure permissions to use reproductions of artworks by Richter, de Kooning, Kentridge, Morandi, Rivera, Turner and many others.
 
Beach house, Long Island...
To avoid media attention, Grace & Henry flee to this lonely sanctuary...
The beach house was serendipitous location in that it was furnished in a way that would reflect the warmth and history of Fraser family, but also it has a tinge of the ominous green/blue palette, reminding us that although it is the Fraser beach house, Franklin owns it. At this set, I added in a layer of art, furnishings and textiles that carried over from the Fraser's main residence. 

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Beach house, Long Island: “This location was a serendipitous find. So atmospheric, and we could incorporate some of the existing furnishings. I switched out the art and added in area rugs and counter-top dressing.” Nicole Kidman. Photo by Niko Tavernise ©2019.

 
[Editor’s note: for more photos, see galleries above and below!]
 
Grace’s office...
Grace's office was filmed in an empty office space on the Upper Eastside. I bought her chair on Chairish.com and had it reupholstered in a distinctive green fabric that I thought would work well with her flaming red hair. 
In the reception area, we used Arenson Props and Bridge Props for all the furnishings. 
 
Elena’s studio...
The studio location was uptown in a vacant store. For the exterior, we added two neons sourced from Heaven or Las Vegas. It was important to make this set really feel like a place where an artist creates and also give it a sense that it belongs to Elena. We used bright fabric from Mood to create curtains and divide the space. Our scenic department, headed by Lauren Doner, created a bunch of the pieces that are displayed throughout the space. [See gallery.]
 
Sandy Morrison’s luxury apartment...
This location is an existing townhouse on the Upper Eastside that belongs to a serious art collector. It was filled with very formal antiquities and art. In order to create the feel that an actual family lives there, we added some less formal furnishings, family photos, plants etc. [See gallery]
 
Alvarez apartment...
This apartment was a gigantic empty unit in a building in Mid-town. Lester had the apartment cut down to two three rooms by adding in walls and closets where none had existed. Bright neon colors were reserved for Elena and her environment to express her creativity and youth. We really had fun with this set. In creating the sleeping alcove, Heather Prendergast, who assisted me, had her children make some art that we added in, the carpets were from Carpet Time.
 
Reardon School...
This location was on Upper Eastside. We filmed there multiple times and had to constantly keep track of the season and weather. The very important bench across the street was an ongoing rental from propnspoon. 
 
Courtroom...
We built this on a stage at Kaufman Astoria Studios. It was used as both courtrooms that we see...the first one and then expanded for the trial court. Lester designed the hanging lights and I had them custom made by a designer named Paul Mantell. Henriette Vittadini, the assistant set decorator, found the jury box chairs and we purchased all 12 of them. 
Other furnishings from Arenson's. 
 
How much was filmed on location? 
Majority of the sets were filmed on location, something productions will now find difficulty in doing during the pandemic. 
 
Which locations were most challenging for set dec? 
The most challenging location was the Fraser townhouse. It was located on a very tony street of the Upper Eastside and residents were not entirely thrilled about having a movie crew monopolize their street...therefore we needed to limit trucks, noise and work hours. 
 
The positives of having the set built... 
That you are not confined to someone else walls. The designer is able to create a space very specific to a character and to the needs of the script. You have the freedom to use wallpaper, carpet, etc...and at will. 
 
Did any of the actors give input for their character’s set? 
Yes. Donald Sutherland had strong feelings about specific artists and artworks.
 
What was the reaction upon seeing their character’s set?
It was brought to my attention that upon seeing his bedroom, Noah Jupe, who plays Henry, exclaimed with sheer delight, 'I can't believe this is my room!'
 
This was filmed in February 2019. Have you been working since the pandemic? 
After THE UNDOING, I decorated the upcoming Jennifer Lopez movie MARRY ME, and then the NY portion of WILD MOUNTAIN THYME...I was two weeks into starting a new series for Netflix when the shutdown occurred.
 
Love that you went from depicting one iconic city—San Francisco for TALES OF THE CITY—to another, the classic, upper class NYC for this...and that your work includes television and film. Tell us about the variety and your approach to each project, and what you look forward to doing.
 
While it's true that every project is somewhat the same—you know you're gonna be getting carpets, furniture, hardware and lighting—it is also true that each one comes with its own very unique set of challenges. With TALES OF THE CITY, we were somewhat locked into an already existing storyline of characters that have gone back...decades! So, we needed to be consistent with who they were while also updating their life and look. 
 
It was a lot of fun to work with the great Jane Musky on MARRY ME, creating the diva world of Kat Valdez, from the hanging chandeliers for her concerts to her high-end apartment in the sky. 
 
What I truly enjoy about Set Decorating and what makes it different from interior design is creating characters through an environment. I don't spend the day trying to find things that I like, but things I believe this character would have. What do they like? How were they raised? Where are they from? And what role all that plays in what they surround themselves with. Often the goal is trying to decorate/create a room with such personality that without even having the character in the room, you know exactly the type of person who lives there. Aspects defined, like rich/poor, ethnicity, gender, profession, hobbies, whether they are a nurturing person, have OCD, etc can all be exemplified through their environment and thus help the director tell their story. And that’s our job, visual storytelling.
 

 
 



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Grace’s office: “Grace is a successful psychologist. We reupholstered this chair to work with Nicole’s hair and eyes as well as her character’s wardrobes, and then picked up the tones throughout the space.” Nicole Kidman. Photo by Niko Tavernise ©2019.

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“Sally Morrison’s Townhouse: We added family photos, flowers, plants and some informal touches to make the classical location feel more like a family lives there.” Lily Rabe as Sylvia Steinetz. Photo by Niko Tavernise ©2019.

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“The lobby for Grace’s father Franklin’s pre-war apartment was shot on location in an elegant apartment building on 5th Avenue.” Nicole Kidman. Photo by David Giesbrecht ©2019 HBO.

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Franklin’s residence: “These chairs were one of the first things I had on hold at Newel!” Photo by David Giesbrecht ©2019 HBO.

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Franklin’s residence: “The chessboard was very important to Donald. We offered him a few choices.” Nicole Kidman, Donald Sutherland. Photo by David Giesbrecht ©2019 HBO.



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