Love, deceit, sex, drama, set in the golden age of cinema, tacking modern issues of racism and homophobia, the Netflix show ‘Hollywood’ has it all. Cocreator Ryan Murphy’s drama show is a love letter to the days of the studio system. The show released its first season last year in May and we cannot wait for the next one to come any sooner. 

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The show is based on fictionalised accounts of real-life actresses and writers attempting to make a mark in the 1940s. The power of representation and the result of honest storytelling, in an era ruled by white straight men, tucks our heartstrings. 

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Production designer Matthew Flood Ferguson and Set decorator Melissa Licht, established the golden era of cinema, with opulent architecture and art deco sets. To tell an honest story, the sets and production needed to be authentic and required extensive research and study. Each one of us has an image of the golden era, and to recreate it for the public in a manner that caters to them as well as remain historically accurate while being aesthetically pleasing for the scene is challenging to say the least. 

With the show completing one year, we decided to look back at some of the show’s most iconic sets and understand their creative process!

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In an interview with AD, the legendary production designer and avid devotee of historical Hollywood, Matthew Flood Ferguson tells, “I grew up loving Hollywood and history and walked into this knowing all about Warner Brothers and the RKO Pictures system. I pulled information from books on Paramount and the history of Hollywood to build the looks for the show.” 

The style of the ’40s 

The 1940s was the era of ‘Art Deco’. The art deco style is the most easily identifiable. After the war, the economy was in full swing and the people were filled with hope and joy. They fell in this style which echoed modern, luxury and all things beautiful. It was symbolic of a prosperous future. 

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Characteristic features of the art deco style are modern symmetrical, streamlined designs with angular and geometric patterns on their facades. The use of bold colours with metallic accents is also visible. 

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The Production Design

While the storyline of the show is endearing, it’s the sets that help bring that era of Hollywood to life. From the bungalow apartments of young actors, offices, and villas of the elite to the gas station operating as a prostitution ring, the stage was set for the actors. 

1. The Gas Station

The infamous gas station, Golden Tulip, plays a pivotal role in the series. “The gas pumps were the things I thought about first, wondering where they’d even come from,” Licht recalls. An automotive repair shop in L.A’s Atwater Village became the perfect location. The location had period style casement windows and sleek overhangs of the era. The gas pumps were sourced from an online website selling vintage gas pumps. 

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2. The Beverly Hills Hotel Bungalow

“The bungalow was definitely the set I was most excited about,” says Licht. Reference images were pulled from actual bungalows and shapes and colours were taken as reference. Details like the shape of the centre table or the fringe on the lampshades were well thought out and either sourced or made to order for the scenes. The iconic leaf wallpaper is a Martinique wallpaper original, which brings the room to life. 

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3. The Commissary

Finding multiple pieces of the same furniture can be challenging. The chairs were sourced from the prop houses at Warner Brothers. Licht reveals, “I presented them to Matthew, and he realized they were the actual chairs from the reference image of the Warner Brothers commissary!”

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4. Schwab’s

Schwab’s is an iconic pharmacy in L.A. where it is rumoured that actress Lana Turner was discovered. The makers of the show wanted to stay as historically faithful as possible. Melissa Licht says, “Everything in there—all the furniture—the barstools, the counters, and the glass cabinet—was custom built.” 

A second graphic designer, Trey Shaffer came onboard to recreate and make products to display in the shop. “I scoured Etsy and flea markets for the little perfume bottles and other vintage pieces to make it as full and varied as possible. Again, the ceiling fixtures and sconces are from Rejuvenation.” Says Licht. Attempting to achieve a strong colour palette, pops of primary colours were used which were popular post-war.

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Some of the onset locations were the Musso and Frank Grill on Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles. Opened in 1919, it is one of the oldest restaurants in Hollywood. For the Hollywood sign used to shoot the title sequence and last episode. Only the ‘H’ was needed. A near-replica was made of the original, just a tad shorter in height. 

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The show shows us the power of storytelling and the importance of representation and diversity in them. Architecture and its philosophies can also benefit from diversity and representation. A set frames the scene and the structures we build as architects frame the world we live in. 

References 

  1. House Beautiful. 2021. How Vintage Issues of House Beautiful Inspired the Sets of Netflix’s “Hollywood”. [online] Available at: <https://www.housebeautiful.com/design-inspiration/a32390987/hollywood-netflix-set-design/> [Accessed 7 May 2021].
  2. Whitlock, C., 2021. In “Hollywood,” Ryan Murphy Reimagines the Golden Age of Film. [online] Architectural Digest. Available at: <https://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/hollywood-ryan-murphy-set-design> [Accessed 7 May 2021].
  3. Newsweek. 2021. A guide to the filming locations and inspirations of Netflix’s ‘Hollywood’. [online] Available at: <https://www.newsweek.com/hollywood-filming-locations-netflix-set-show-filmed-golden-tip-gas-station-ace-studios-1503133> [Accessed 7 May 2021].
  4. Variety.com. 2021. How ‘Hollywood’ Production Crew Recreated 1940s Landmarks – Variety. [online] Available at: <https://variety.com/2020/streaming/production/ryan-murphy-hollywood-netflix-production-design-1234593123/> [Accessed 7 May 2021].
  5. Pushing-pixels.org. 2021. Production design of “Hollywood” – interview with Matthew Ferguson · Pushing Pixels. [online] Available at: <https://www.pushing-pixels.org/2020/07/03/production-design-of-hollywood-interview-with-matthew-ferguson.html> [Accessed 7 May 2021].

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