As a Set Decorator, I am constantly asked what it’s like to have the unique opportunity to create well-thought-out and detailed sets for some of the most popular tv shows & films - and let me tell you, it’s a wild ride! Every set is different, and therefore, has its own array of inspirations, and how I bring that to life is up to my team and I.
When conceptualizing and designing a set, one of the first, and perhaps most important things that I do, is schedule a trip to a prop house! My two favorite prop houses are Warner Brother’s Prop House and the Universal Prop House, and each serves as a treasure box filled to the brim with endless prop options and inspiration. Taking a trip to a prop house is a full production, and I’d like to walk you through the process of what it looks like to visit one of these prestigious prop houses in hopes to give you an inside scoop regarding my process!
Coffee is Key
As with all things, being properly energized and mentally prepared for the day is a must! Coffee is my go-to and I start my prop house days, and all days really, with a perfect cup to get me going.
No Day is the Same
As a Set Decorator, it’s important to know that no day is the same! Some days I start in the office and some days I start dressing sets and then there are the days that I get to go to the prop houses to pick out furnishings for the sets. It’s a mixed bag, and that’s part of why I love what I do! Days spent going to the prop house are exciting for me, and one of the many things that challenge and inspire me as a set decorator.
Some other days I start out and dress sets, whether it's on stage, at the lot, or on location. This could take most of the day, and depending on the location, sometimes it takes all of the day. Most likely there will be a meeting 2 to 3 times a week that you need to schedule in either coming back to the office or maybe zoom is acceptable, which has made my life a lot easier that I don't need to be in the room. But not being able to have in-person meetings has affected how information flows in production, but that's just my opinion!
During the day I'll usually take a stage walk to look at the progress of sets being constructed, or painted. I also check in with other department heads like the Art Director, Construction, and Paint to see if I am still going to be delivering the set in time for me to dress for them to shoot. During the day I also am in constant contact with the buyers and my Leadman. Speaking with the buyers on sets coming up or sets that are currently being dressed is so important. I keep them up-to-date on any notes that I got in meetings and make sure that last-minute details get purchased or rented. I'm in constant contact with my Leadman talking about pick-ups and prepping sets and wrapping sets and how many swing gangs we think it will take to get the sets complete. Also any overlapping issues with other departments he helps me handle, and we always check in with each other to review the next day or the rest of the week.
Traffic is a Part of the Process
In Los Angeles, there is always traffic, and your commute is one thing that you need to figure out and start to enjoy. Whether you listen to audiobooks or music or have Siri read your emails as you're going to be in your car. Multitasking unfortunately is in the life of a Set Decorator, so on my way to and from the prop house, I am often responding to emails, making calls or seeking inspiration for the projects at hand.
Always Be Prepared
When I am at a prop house I have my measuring tape, tape, and my show tags, (which are informational pieces of paper that tell what show I'm working on, who I am, and when I'm picking up this piece of furniture). I also have water or coffee. You gotta tape those hole tags on very tightly, so you don't lose that piece of furniture that will make this set perfect. You never want to show up to a prop house unprepared!
Wear Your Walking Shoes
Whether you’re working on set or checking out a prop house, you do a lot of walking all day long. You may hit up to four or five prop houses in a day, but what you are looking for are pieces that will express the character and the aesthetic that will bring a set to life. From sofas to lamps to rugs, lighting, even all of the smalls on the desks or in the cabinets, prop houses are where you would rent these pieces and once you find what I want, all bets are off!
The Work is Worth the Reward
Working as a set decorator i's usually a 12-hour day, plus your commute, plus getting home to give kisses to twins! It's a full day in the life of a Set Decorator, but I truly love what I do and that passion drives me every day. If becoming a Set Decorator is something you have your goals set on, I encourage you to listen to my podcasts and contact me directly to learn more about this fantastic career!