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Book makes itself at home with sitcoms’ interior design

Newsday

What type of interior designer writes a book about television? Someone who once believed those weren’t characters on the tube but real people. Someone like Diana Friedman.

“When I was watching television as a kid, my older sister used to tell me that if I could see them, then they could see me too,” says Friedman, 33, a freelance writer who, as a child in Manhattan, fixated on “The Brady Bunch” kids as well as their four-bedroom, three-bath California split-level house.

Friedman’s love for TV, especially sitcoms, and her passion for interior design meet in the new book “Sitcom Style: Inside America’s Favorite TV Homes.” She serves up 50-plus years of pop culture with a picture-perfect tour through the sets of more than two-dozen shows, from “I Love Lucy” to “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Full of color photos and recollections of set designers for some of TV’s most popular programs, “Sitcom Style” is a blend of obsession, confession and investigation. (It’s probably just what Kramer was thinking when he pushed for that coffee-table book on coffee tables.)

Like lots of Americans, Friedman grew up watching TV -- perhaps a little too much. Like lots of Americans, she found herself, as well as friends and colleagues, saying things like, “I grew up just like ‘The Cosby Show’ ” or “My childhood was very ‘Leave It to Beaver.’ ”

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Unlike lots of Americans, Friedman spent two years hunting nationwide for set photographs and tidbits from the shows’ designers to put into a book. (In case you’re wondering, many pieces from these legendary shows now sit in the offices of those same designers.) She included interior and exterior photos; several of the latter are of New York City buildings from sitcoms such as “Sex and the City,” “Friends,” “The Odd Couple,” “Mad About You” and “Seinfeld.” Building addresses, of course, are in the book.

Friedman emphasizes that sets are much more than a series of exterior TV shots and a collection of random props; they’re carefully structured showpieces, built to unveil moods and to help actors create memorable characters. The sets breathe life into personalities, unwrapping mothers and fathers and siblings and friends so real that a child might actually believe they could look back at her.

How detailed are designers? Mel Cooper, set designer for “Seinfeld,” made sure the cereal boxes on Jerry’s kitchen shelf in his Manhattan apartment were alphabetized each week. “I love that because it identifies his obsessive-compulsive behavior,” Friedman says. Melinda Ritz, the designer for “Will & Grace,” another show set in the city, used a framed Boys Life magazine cover to hint at Will’s sexual orientation. And the cultured and sophisticated appearance of Frasier Crane’s Seattle apartment came at a price -- a half-million bucks -- including Martin Crane’s recliner, set designer Ray Christopher says.

Some decorators shopped at thrift shops and antique stores, others at Sears and JC Penney. Some even rummaged through the garages and attics of relatives. The goal: to provide more realistic looks inside the homes.

The book does have its missing pieces. Because photos and tidbits for older shows were hard to come by, readers won’t get a retro look at classics such as “Father Knows Best,” “Ozzie and Harriet” and “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”

There are pages devoted to “The Munsters,” “The Addams Family,” “The Flintstones” and “The Jetsons.” At the same time, there’s a reason why a sitcom such as “Cheers” is excluded. Though Sam Malone’s bar contained excellent design features, Friedman wanted to stress family and the home.

“It was important to me that the shows took place in the home,” she says. “Cheers” was a classic, but “it didn’t do anything to change our thinking in how we live at home.”


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