Since my feature series called Designer Dad : On Location has received such great response since I launched it several weeks ago - I am excited to share yet another behind-the-scenes tour of a great example of a family-focused home as seen on television weekly.
My goal with doing these behind-the-scenes on location pieces remains the same - talking with the show's Set Designer or Production Designer of popular television shows that have a focus in on family...By sharing their insights into how they create home environments on these sets - I thought we could tap into another way of being inspired in our own home spaces...
Given the overwhelming response from you based on my recent Designer Dad : On Location pieces for the shows "Parenthood" and "The Good Wife" - I'm excited to bring you a glimpse into the home set seen on the CBS hit show "Blue Bloods."
I recently talked with the show's Set Designer, Anne Stuhler about her creative work on designing the main home sets for the show - which focuses in on the busy lives of one multi-generational family in and around New York City.
DD: When the series began, what was the starting point for the central house interior for you? Did the producers say “this is what we are looking for here” or did you sit with the actors and discuss their characters? As a designer myself, I’m always interested in how other designers begin their creative process.
Anne: It was a fun, intense collaboration with the director, producers and writers. We wanted the house to feel warm and as if it had been in the family for years. Picking the New York neighborhood was also essential to our back story of the Reagans. Bay Ridge Brooklyn seemed to be the right place. Lived in by cops, fireman and in the fancier neighborhoods, polititians, it was a place Frank’s father, Henry would have bought the family home when he became commissioner years before. It’s a beautiful waterfront area that even New Yorkers don’t know well., and it’s fun to introduce the audience to new areas of the city.
DD: Are there sketches you began working with? Did you do a mood board or what I call – a Look Book for the main house? You are creating a home for fictitious characters but you are creating home – so is the design approach like any other real home would be?Anne: Yes, we started with mood boards and a look for the house. Many meetings later, we picked the exterior, a stately brick colonial circa 1920. For the pilot, we found an appropriate interior with lots of rich wood paneling. When it came time to build the set on stage that location was our jumping off point. We paneled most of the first floor using lots of rich color in the wallpaper and furnishings and adding arches and French doors for light and movement.
DD: You are capturing the lifestyle of a modern family (multi-generational family) - how do you keep the settings on the pulse and relevant to today’s family home?
Anne: Even though Frank and Henry Reagan are the only ones currently living in the house, it’s a gathering place for Sunday dinners and other activities where this close knit family shares their lives on an almost daily basis. Danny’s and Erins kids are as comfortable there as the grown ups are. In our back story. we decided Frank’s late wife would have redecorated the house and renovated the kitchen maybe 5 years before. Also his bedroom, hence the hint of a feminine touch. We assumed the Reagans would have entertained distinguished guests over the years and the arches and French doors from room to room keep it light and good for large gathereings. The house is a contemporary take on a tradition style and I hope the result is a vibrant yet timeless look. The best part of the process is always deciding what pieces the family would have kept and what they would have replaced during their renovation. The end result is a realistic, eclectic mix like (most of our houses out in the real world. )As in any interior design job, the dressing a house tells a story. The house is something of an oasis from the gritty New York World we portray in the crimes each episode.
DD: What is your favorite area or “moment” as a designer on each of the main house location for the show?
Anne: I love the dining room and sunroom in the Reagan house.
DD: Do any of the actors have personal favorite areas on their set or others?
Anne: The offices are very important to our character development because, aside for the main house, relatively little screen time is spent in the other family member’s homes. Danny’s desk are at the precinct (where he certainly spends most of his time) has family pictures, tickets to games, and other personal memorabilia under the glass on his desk.Tom helped us pick much of the memorabilia for his office , each piece was picked with care. There is an area devoted to his deceased son Joe, a flag and plaques and to 9/11. A portrait of Teddy Roosevelt is one of his favorites and he especially likes an area of his office where he looks out over his city. I’ve included pictures of that because it’s a second home for him and very personalized.
DD: Are all of the home interiors of the show actually sets or are they real locations?
Anne: the Reagan home main floor is a stage set with a small yard off of the back of the house. Danny Reagan’s house is a location we’ve redressed to fit his character. But his bedroom is on stage. We’ve only seen Erin’s and Nicky’s bedrooms so far and they are on stage.
DD: How would you describe the mood or style of this main home set?
Anne: I think it’s vibrant and welcoming. An oasis from the gritty New York world portrayed in the crimes each week. And I’m not afraid to say, just a little old fashioned, like Frank Rreagan.
DD: Are there any tricks that you use to make the homes more “home-like” or inviting for the actors when in production? Do you do anything?
Anne: We are always cooking in the house and that of course gives it a lived in comfortable feel. We try to change small details like shopping bags and sport equip by the door on occasion to indicate normal usage of the house. We do this in the offices as well to make them feel lived in.
DD: Where do you turn to for resources when designing these homes? Do you shop retailers to make them very authentic to today’s family and also accessible for real people to find a product they like from the show?
Anne: We shop all the familiar places as well as wholesalers. Also combing auctions and antique and second hand stores. for those family heirlooms.
DD: What sort of feedback do you get from the show’s fans about the sets? What was the best comment you received or suggestion?
Anne: That our sets are very real. That to me is the greatest compliment.
DD: I’m a firm believer in lighting making design come to life – how important is lighting in the home interiors you create? Does the set change for you when it is lit properly for shooting?Anne: I agree that lighting makes the set come alive and sets the mood. It also affects the color choices. We work closely with the lighting department and always provide a lot of practicals.
DD: Any favorite colors you like working with now?
Anne: Sage green and rusts, wedgewood blue. The Reagan house is green and red the police sets are many different blues and gold.
DD: Are there any visual changes with the homes this new season? Any new sets you are excited about?
Anne: Frank’s office got a new reception and elevator area adding to the elegance and formality (and security) of his office.
We have also done a new mayor’s office set fashioned after New York’s City hall. It is an 1810 building with mountains of beautiful moulding. As in Frank’s office, we were determined to get as much personal detail into the set with a nod to all the mayors who have gone before. We will probably be expanding it in the future and we’re planning new ways to personalize it. We were happy with the results and it was very different from any sets we’d done before. Very different from Frank’s office.
DD: What is your favorite part of the job that you do as a creative person?
Anne: I love doing research on a subject that’s new to me whether it’s cultural, historical, or architectural. When we start prepping a new episode, we make up research boards to jumpstart the process. We also have consultants to help get the technical aspects right. I find that process fascinating.
DD: How does the home setting on the show compare to your own home style?
Anne: The Reagan house is more traditional but I have an eclectic mix in my home, as well. I’ve redone 2 old houses in the past few years and my main concern was opening the spaces up - with arches, windows and keeping it warm at the same time.
DD: Is the last thing you want to do when you go home is redesign your space or make it look stylish?
Anne: I don’t get much time for it theses days but when I do have the time I love thinking about changing things.
DD: At home myself, there are certain things I do for styling or to make my spaces more visually appealing – what do find yourself doing in your own home when you have time?
Anne: I always start with color. The rooms with less light get more color and more concentration on practical lighting. I try to rotate the objects and art I like so I don’t have it all out at once. It’s too easy, especially in an apartment, to feel cluttered. Keeping the space light and airy is important.
DD: What TV show homes inspired you earlier in your creative life? Either from growing up years or just general homes you saw on television that you loved.
Anne: My favorite shows were the ones where the house almost became it’s own character like "All in the Family." I also liked the shows where the action almost always took place in the kitchen. We all do this when we visit friends or family. “Family Ties" and “Roseanne" are good examples of that. I also grew up on the gritty 70’s and 80’s shows, "Columbo" and "Streets of San Fransisco," and of course "NYPD Blue." Although we are doing sweeping romantic shots of New York as much as we can, there is the gritty side of New York portrayed each week in the crime that starts the episode. The Reagan’s inhabit both worlds.
DD: What about in films? Any homes in films that you personally took notice of and why?
Anne: Most of Woody Allen’s films, especially “Hannah and her Sisters” There’s that beautiful paneled dining room where most of the drama takes place. Most of the sets in his movies are rich in personal detail and show a romantic but real side of New York. Another film, "Rachel Getting Married" has a great dining room set as well.
DD: Was there any one thing that inspired you to become a set designer or production designer?
Anne: Character development and thinking about the way people live. When I was a kid, I’d drive by houses in unfamiliar neighborhoods and wonder what they were like inside. I’m also a painter and like thinking about how color effects the emotional terrain of the set.
DD: What did you design before you did this series?Anne: The TV show “Fringe" and the films “Boiler Room" and “Made” among others.
DD: When you get to the set in the morning – what is the first thing you will do?
Anne: Come into the art department and go over the day’s work. Our art department is a great team and every morning we have a meeting on the day’s work. Then we walk the sets to see them lit. That’s always a pleasure to see the sets come alive.
DD: For the fans out there that are all about making their homes better and more inviting – what are the three things you have learned that truly make a home a home?
Anne: Start with the things you have and what you like most. Let yourself imagine the house exactly the way you would like it to be. Color, furniture and layout. Do a realistic budget. Think of the things that appeal to you when you go intp other people’s homes or look in design magazines. But don’t copy them., this is your house. Get a few new pieces. No need to rush, All good things take time!
My special thanks to Anne and the talented design team behind-the-scenes at "Blue Bloods."
To learn more about the show and its cast click here: Blue Bloods
More to come....