With prestige film season in full swing — both at the box office and in front of the TV — we’re making lists of the must-see media of the year. One of the most hotly anticipated is Being the Ricardos, written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, starring Javier Bardem as Desi Arnaz and Nicole Kidman as everyone’s favorite redheaded funnywoman. But since this is Chairish, we’re not simply here for the story: We’re a bit set-obsessed.
Happily, the feeling is mutual — every year, dozens of film and TV set decorators shop Chairish to create worlds from every era. For Being the Ricardos, Emmy-nominated set decorator Ellen Brill recreated the worlds of Lucy and Desi as well as the sets for their sitcom alter egos on I Love Lucy. We spoke with Brill about her preparations for the project, how she transformed vintage furniture in just a matter of weeks, and how she got her start in a fascinating field. And to hear more from her firsthand, listen to our podcast episode, “What Does a Set Decorator Do?“
How did you first get involved with Being The Ricardos?
I had worked with Jon Hutman, the production designer, on a number of other projects so I was brought in by him. We tend to collaborate easily on finishes, fabrics, and wallcoverings, so that’s part of the fun. I started early in the process of the locations being chosen and as the sets were starting to be conceptualized. There was quite a bit of research for this film.
Once you read the script, what got you excited from a set design and decoration standpoint?
Period films are my favorite and so this one is a goldmine. It also encouraged me to think about houses that I lived in when I was a child and how they looked.
What is your design mantra on-set?
Make sure everything is in its right place and try to keep the crew from sitting on the furniture!
Since the show is set in the 40s and 50s, the entire set requires attention to detail, research, and inspiration. Is Chairish a go-to source for your projects that require period pieces?
One of the first ways to start finding furniture is to go on Chairish and start looking for things that look like the research. Definitely!
What are some of your favorite pieces from Chairish that appeared in Being The Ricardos?
I found a gorgeous sofa and quite a few pairs of chairs, all of which were reupholstered to fit into various color schemes. But the shapes were perfect.
What do you find most compelling about Chairish?
There are so many incredible items and I always learn more about design details, scale, and proportion. Sometimes I’m not even sure what I’m looking for but I’ll put a word in the search bar and just start scrolling.
What inspired you to pursue set decorating?
I have always loved fabrics and color and was interested in fashion for many years, so I worked in that field. However, I had a few friends that were set decorators and after having just finished an interior design degree program, I felt working in film and television might be a better fit.
Was there a particular film that resonated with you?
I usually gravitate towards stylized films. Ones that I admired were Bugsy and Dick Tracy, both from 1991, the year I started set decoration.
Besides the films you’ve worked on, what movie have you seen the most in your life?
Probably a few of Nancy Meyers’s films. They always inspire me.
What kickstarted your interest in the field?
The variety and scope of different environments is interesting to me. I do love interior design, however set decoration jobs are rarely the same.
What is your artistic process like?
It seems my first feel of a project is what the color palette seems like it wants to be. To me, that is always a good place to begin. Then I make lists of what needs to be found for each set.
Tell us a little bit about the working and collaboration relationship between the production designer and set decorator.
It’s somewhat like an architect and interior designer. The spaces are figured out by the PD, and the set decorator is responsible for adding character to the space as well as all of the furnishings and elements to enhance the designer’s vision.
How soon before production begins does the set decorator and their team begin working? What are your initial tasks?
It really depends on the project. Fortunately, I have been getting more prep time than I used to, possibly because I have been working on films more than television lately. On Being the Ricardos, I think I had 10 weeks of prep. The first thing to do is break down the script and start to figure out what might be the hardest elements to find. Allowing for enough time if there needs to be reupholstery or refinishing is also an important part of learning how to schedule one’s time.
How is designing for TV or the movies different from designing at home?
There are many factors that come into play such as making room for the lights, camera, and crew. It can be challenging to understand the technical things that have to take place while making a film.
What is your approach to design in your own home?
My home is very eclectic. I like to surround myself with many different styles and periods of furniture.
What is your favorite decor piece in your home and why?
I have a sofa from Donghia that I’ve had since 1975. It’s a classic and I still love it.
What is your favorite decorating cheap thrill?
I’d have to say vases.
What is your favorite paint color?
Depends on the room. I do have a chartreuse green kitchen which I like.
What is a favorite design destination you think every decor lover should visit at least once?
There are so many to choose from. I think Morocco is amazing.
Who are your favorite design influences and icons?
I have been influenced by Art Deco for many years. I love Chareau and the early French Art Deco designers.
All photos: Glen Wilson. Courtesy of Amazon Content Services LLC