Although the sets for "About a Boy" (Tuesdays on NBC) are built on the Universal Studios back lot, production designer Steven Jordan has created a Victorian duplex so authentic you'd think it was filmed in San Francisco's postcard-friendly Alamo Square.
"From the onset we talked about where in San Francisco can we give our characters the most personality?" Jordan said recently. "So I put them in a 'Painted Lady,'" a colorful Victorian house.
"About a Boy," based on the Nick Hornby novel of the same name and set in the City by the Bay, details the friendship between a selfish bachelor, Will, and the 11-year-old boy, Marcus (Benjamin Stockham), who moves in next door.
Using furnishings and accessories, Jordan shows Marcus' mother, Fiona (Minnie Driver), and Will (David Walton) to be polar opposites by designing identical side-by-side units and decorating them in radically different styles.
Will's loft-like unit reflects the bachelor's care-free lifestyle. Jordan said he imagined Will gutting the place with the help of a designer, installing a modern kitchen, editing out period details and adding modern flooring and a concrete fireplace.
Because Will's interiors feature monochromatic gray walls and are somewhat severe, Jordan added hints of color to accentuate the different architectural details and move the eye around — blue lighting underneath the fireplace and red accents. "One of the traps of doing something monochromatic is to give the eye nothing," Jordan said.
Fiona's unit is a contrast to Will's slick interiors, with original plaster molding, a marble Victorian fireplace, colorful embossed wallpaper and a working kitchen.
Set decorator Peggy Casey worked with Jordan to layer Fiona's duplex in ways that convey her bohemian nature and interest in Eastern philosophies. "It's an earthier feel," Jordan said. "We used textiles, Buddhist prayer flags, yoga mats — anything that would ground her in that world."
Jordan said mixing and matching furnishings is the key to creating lively spaces — whether on a TV set or at home. "I don't have any strict ideals about style. I like the casual elegance that comes from an eclectic style." Jordan said the end result comes from trial and error and using dozens of sources. Casey's shopping trips (see the photo gallery for details) span everything from thrift stores and antique malls to Room & Board, West Elm, Craigslist and Bed, Bath & Beyond.
Jordan recommends creating a mood board before starting a decorating project. "Compile a ton of references from newspapers and magazines. Tear out pictures and put them together. I do the same thing with color. I'll post a range of colors and then whittle them down, and then I'll have my accent colors." Such mood boards allow you to think thoughtfully about a space before purchasing big items such as furniture and textiles.
In the end, however, interiors are about comfort and what is pleasing to the eye, even from the viewer's side of a fictionalized TV show.
"You never want the audience to be uncomfortable," Jordan said.
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