‘Magic City’: One of TV’s best-designed shows?


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Reviews for the new Starz series “Magic City” have been mixed, but the critics seem to agree on one thing: The show looks stunning. Set in 1959 Miami Beach in the luxury Miramar Playa Hotel, ‘Magic City’ looks like it was shot entirely on location in a period-perfect resort, but in fact its living rooms, bars and suites were built on a stage over nearly four months. The look is a mix of gold, glitz and glamour that betray the deals that go down after dark.

Production designer Carlos Barbosa and set decorator Scott Jacobson said they worked hard to stay true to the period in all aspects: the Midcentury Modern furniture, the television consoles that would have been appropriate for a new luxury hotel, even the typography on the matchbooks and signs.


“It was such a fascinating time both socially and politically, especially in Miami,” Barbosa said. “There was the Jewish Mafia. Sinatra. Castro took over that year. Later the Kennedys would visit.” And there was one architect in particular who captured the glamour at that time: Morris Lapidus.

The production designer said he took inspiration from the Miami Modernist architecture -- or MiMo -- of Lapidus, who designed several Miami Beach hotels including the Foutainebleau, Deauville and Eden Roc.

Like Lapidus, the production team mixed styles -- including Modernist, classical and baroque -- to create the Miramar Playa’s distinctive interiors. To save money, the production made much of the furniture rather than tracked down period pieces. “In order to achieve that look today, in that scale, many things were not available,” Jacobson said. “And even if they were, it would be too cost prohibitive. It’s easier to design what you want and select the textiles that are right.”

Nothing was leased from a prop house. Jacobson, who is based in Miami, said he scoured Florida antique shops, EBay and the Brimfield antique market in Massachusetts. ‘Estate sales were a gold mine for me,’ he said. ‘There were several where I walked in in the morning, took a look and told them, ‘I’ll buy everything.’ ‘ Keep reading for a closer look at some of the residential environments, as well as the back story to the bar pictured at top ...

The crystal chandelier in the hotel lobby was fabricated in Cuba for Lapidus’ Eden Roc hotel. Set decorator Scott Jacobson found the chandelier in a box in a Florida architectural salvage store. Executive producer and writer Mitch Glazer’s dad was the electrical engineer for the Eden Roc, Barbosa said. ‘He was the man responsible for having it installed,’ he said. ‘It was so serendipitous, and the most magical story. It was our first purchase of furniture or props. When Scott came back with that, I knew the show was going to be great.’
The penthouse of the hotel, home to Ike and Vera Evans, is supposed to be the crown jewel. ‘They are on top of the world with their own private elevator,’ Barbosa said. ‘The setting had to be spectacular.’ All of the rooms branch off of a curved marble hallway that leads to a terrace with ocean views.

Glazer wanted the master bedroom of the penthouse to be sophisticated, opulent and masculine. The vintage bed came from a Miami antique store. It’s matched with Italian lamps, Dorothy Draper-like side tables, a cigar box and a Crosley radio. The set decorator added Natori sheets from the period and an Eames reproduction bench from Herman Miller. Jacobson found many of the items at the Brimfield Antique Show.

The vintage 9-foot-long glass and Lucite pillar dining table is paired with reupholstered Mastercraft chairs. ‘Every piece in the show is reupholstered,’ Jacobson said. Smoked mirrored tiles were installed overhead. A pair of bronze Tommi Parzinger lamps rest on the white and gold buffet in the background. ‘What I tried to do is bring the most opulent, iconic pieces to the mix,’ Jacobson said. The red wall is another Lapidus touch. ‘He used that accent color and technique in a lot of his spaces,’ Jacobson said.

A sectional sofa found at the Brimfield market is composed of three textiles. ‘It is just a home run between the texture, the shape and the colors,’ Jacobson said. The period chairs were reupholstered and paired with a three-piece mirror-and-glass coffee table. All of the lamp shades had be custom made to suit the period.

All of the television sets had to be refinished. The headboard was found on EBay in Western Florida. To help create the right amount of light and add to the period look, Jacobson said he used ‘mile and miles’ of sheer drapes.

Ike’s desk is a reproduction of one that Jacobson saw in an ad from 1958. He had it built to scale. He added renderings of the fictional hotel on the wall. All of the terra cotta-colored Eames chairs are from Herman Miller.

Four classic Barcelona chairs and a matching table create a sophisticated lounge area outside Ike’s office. The pendant lamp is from Rejuvenation.

Barbosa said the Atlantis lounge, with its wall of glass portholes and custom furnishings, took the longest to create. ‘Mitch wanted it to reflect the darkness of the deals,’ the production designer said. To give it a smoky, somber feel, the design team went with dark copper and brown, over-scaled furniture, a wood inlay mural and Chiparus reproduction statues from an antique dealer in Dania, Fla. ‘It was not supposed to be a happy place,’ Barbosa said.


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-- Lisa Boone

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Magic City © 2012 Starz Entertainment, LLC. All rights reserved.