Emmys: How 'American Horror Story' Production Designers Created a Hotel Lobby Fit for Lady Gaga

9:30 AM 6/9/2016

by Carolyn Giardina

Creatives on the FX series, along with those working on 'Game of Thrones,' 'Downton Abbey,' 'Vinyl' and 'Underground' reveal secrets behind key sets.

Courtesy of HBO

  • Downton Abbey


    Nick Briggs

    In the series finale, Lady Edith Crawley (Laura Carmichael) marries Bertie Pelham (Harry Hadden-Paton), who becomes the owner of Brancaster Castle. The filming location was Alnwick Castle in the north of England (where Hogwarts exteriors in the Harry Potter franchise were shot), which is the residence of the Duke of Northumberland. "Edith was going to have a happy ending, so we picked probably the greatest castle in England," says production designer Donal Woods. "The owners had never let anyone inside for filming, but they loved Downton Abbey and decided to let us in. They kindly offered us their china and glassware, but we didn't want to break anything, so we brought our own. Edith had five years of unhappiness, and in the end she gets the greatest castle in the world."

  • American Horror Story: Hotel


    Courtesy of FX Networks

    Key to this season of AHS was the Cortez Hotel lobby set. "We picked art deco because it was the right tone. It's horror, so we needed something that feels odd and creepy," says production designer Mark Worthington, who adds that his color choices were gold and brown to "make it feel old and rich, warm but dark, and shadowy … but still retain a kind of glamour, especially with the presence of Lady Gaga." Many aspects of the lobby were custom designed, including three 9-foot chandeliers. The geometric look of the carpet is a nod to The Shining. Additional set elements were a skylight, a dramatic staircase and a working elevator. Worthington looked at many references, from the Chrysler Building to L.A.'s Cicada Restaurant, which was used for the exterior of the hotel.

  • Vinyl


    Macall B. Polay/HBO

    The music industry drama, set in 1970s New York, included a scene in a sculptor's studio that was filmed at the Chelsea Hotel, a New York landmark that opened in 1884. "They have a couple of rooms that worked well for us with some of the original architecture," says production designer Bill Groom. "We added more detail to return it to the '70s. That hotel is an important spot to rock 'n' roll and the arts in New York. It's undergoing a renovation. It was great to be able to shoot in the original spaces. [The look] also had to have a romantic quality; [the scene] is about [Devon, played by Olivia Wilde] returning to her roots in the art world. We get a feel for what she has lost by leaving the city, and this is the first time we see her back in that environment."

  • Game of Thrones


    Courtesy of HBO

    The exterior of the Temple of the Dosh Khaleen was built full scale in Almeria, Spain, while interior scenes were filmed on a set in Belfast. "The overall shape of the building is driven by primitive hut design," says production designer Deborah Riley. "We were very lucky and found photo references of a village in Benin in West Africa, which has the most wonderful roof lines and hand-sculpted exteriors. Also, having recently visited the Simon Fraser University campus in British Columbia, I looked to [architect] Arthur Erickson for the design of the exterior to give the building the visual weight it needed. I took the depth and rhythm of his Halpern Centre, turned it upside down and changed the textures to be more suitably Dothraki. It was then important to embed it into the landscape as though it was part of the desert and part of the culture of the people."

  • Underground

    WGN America

    Courtesy of CW3PR

    This period drama about the Underground Railroad, by which as many as 100,000 slaves escaped to free states, is set in Macon, Ga., in 1857. The design of this parlor for the lady of the plantation house was based on her character. "She's very cultured; music is very big in her family. She traveled around the world, so there's some French influence," says production designer Meghan Rogers. "She was creating her own Versailles of the South. We brought in a lot of the gilded furniture and brass. The wallpaper has saturated jewel tones, and it matches the color of the house slaves' uniforms. We really wanted to contrast the interior of the plantation owners' homes with the slave quarters, in both texture and saturation. The slave quarters are more weathered, worn and faded."