'Mrs. Maisel' to 'Hill House': How Production Designers Created 1950s Catskills, a Haunted Mansion and More

9:30 AM 6/17/2019

by Carolyn Giardina

Pros also spill secrets behind the creepy laboratory in 'Maniac' and the lavish estate in 'Sharp Objects': "I pushed the envelope."

The Haunting of Hill House_Production Design - Publicity - H 2019
Steve Dietl/Netflix

  • 'The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel'

    "We're going to the Catskills!" exclaims Midge Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) in season two of Amazon's period comedy, which travels back to a time when New Yorkers spent the summer flocking to the mountains north of the city.

    "We did a lot of research. There are many books written about this time in the Catskills. It was a big part of New York life," says production designer Bill Groom.

    The second season sees Midge and her family travel to the Catskills for their summer vacation. At the resort, their days are packed with activities, trips to the beauty parlor and evening get-togethers. Midge also spends her time navigating her separation from her husband (Michael Zegen) while also getting to know a new love interest, Dr. Benjamin Ettenberg (Zachary Levi).

    Groom and his team visited the Library of Congress to pore over photographs as part of their research. "There were dozens of resorts up there. Most are gone, but we found one, Scott's Family Resort, from the 1860s, that's still there," he says.

    The team ended up renovating the resort, which sits on Oquaga Lake in the quiet foothills of Broome County, including painting the buildings (guided by paint cards from the period) and making some structural changes. The cottage where Midge stays has a glass-enclosed porch and view of the water.

    They found and used a lot of period pieces throughout the resort and reupholstered the furniture. "The recreation room at the resort had a period bowling alley that we wrote into the script," says Groom, who is a four-time Emmy winner for his work on Boardwalk Empire. "We opened up the windows to bring in more light."

    Other rooms were built at Steiner Studios in Brooklyn, including the beauty parlor. Says Groom: "We were lucky enough to find a department store in Connecticut that had been shut down, and it had a beauty parlor. We were able to purchase the parlor equipment."

  • 'Sharp Objects'

    The exterior of the Crellin house was a home in Redding, California, while the interior was a two-story set and a matching first-floor exterior with a wraparound veranda. "Since Adora [Patricia Clarkson], the grand dame of our show and owner of the house, was extremely wealthy, it made sense that she would fly in a world-class interior designer from Charleston or Atlanta, and the house should not feel dated like so many mansions in Southern Gothic-themed shows," explains production designer John Paino, who took inspiration from an image of Marie-Helena de Rothschild in her boudoir that had walls covered with chinoiserie-style de Gournay silk wallpaper.

    "The arsenic-green color and the enveloping branches with insects and birds had a swampy, fecund tone to them that I thought would convey not only the matriarch Adora's relationship with her daughters, but also her personality and status as compared to the town of Wind Gap, which she lords over," he says. And to make sure it wasn't too overbearing, "we included a lot of decorative filigree work in the archways and doorways painted a cold white, an appropriate period detail that added a delicate, almost feminine feel to the interiors." Set decorator Amy Wells provided a mix of period antiques and modern luxe decor.

  • 'Maniac'

    This experiment room in Netflix's sci-fi limited series is used for pharmaceutical tests, with subjects hooked up to a machine that reads and influences their brain waves. "It's meant to be present day, in an alternate reality, so there's a retro tinge to the tech," says production designer Alex DiGerlando. "It's high tech as imagined by someone in 1983, so the look is mid-century with an '80s feel. We looked at a lot of sci-fi movies from the '70s and '80s."

    The chairs were designed with mid-century modern references as well as the idea of a dentist's chair. The headsets had some sci-fi inspiration and, he adds, "We imagined the microprocessor had not been invented yet, so there's a clunkiness to the technology."

    The foam walls were used to convey soundproofing and control of the environment, though they also brought texture to the look. The ceiling piece is the lighting element. "It's a disk and a ring, which was complicated to design," says DiGerlando, a 2014 Emmy nominee for his work on True Detective. "The concept was that it would change color to jar the subjects into different responses."

  • 'The Haunting of Hill House'

    One key character in Netflix's The Haunting of Hill House was the home itself. The story centers on the members of a family who live in a mansion where paranormal experiences end up scarring them for the rest of their lives.

    The title house was an old home that the filmmakers found just outside Atlanta, but the living room was built on a stage at Screen Gems Studios in the city. It has a heavy Gothic influence and reflects the late 1800s, with inspiration coming from films like Alfred Hitchcock's psychological thriller Rebecca (1940) and the work of architect Julia Morgan, known for designing California's Hearst Castle. "It's one detail on top of another. It's madness. I pushed the envelope," says production designer Patricio Farrell. He found period pieces at estate sales in Atlanta and Los Angeles; the room also includes some rented items. The windows were created to match the exterior of the house.

    If you look at the room's centerpiece, the fireplace, you'll see a detailed mantelpiece with a face that resembles Farrell's. Show creator Mike Flanagan had told the production designer, "You have to put your face on there," and so he did. The production designer adds that the fireplace gave the living room its scale.

    This story first appeared in a June stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.