The fifth season of "American Horror Story" takes place in an opulent Art Deco lodging in a murky, jewel-toned Los Angeles.
Production designer Mark Worthington and set decorator Ellen Brill — who have earned three Emmy nominations for their work on the show — had just seven weeks to create the sprawling, labyrinthine Hotel Cortez. "We started with a massive amount of research," says Brill, whose credits include "Aquarius" and "Nip/Tuck." "There's all different types of Deco — French, Austrian, American, like the Chrysler and Empire State Building. Mark and I both tend to Google a lot, then go through a ton of books. I also found Pinterest really helpful."
Although the show is shot in a city full of prop houses, finding Art Deco furnishings turned out to be a major challenge. "Of the few pieces that were there, most had been tagged for Woody Allen's new movie," recalls Brill, who turned to EBay, Craigslist and other online resources like 1stdibs. "I had to reupholster almost every single piece of furniture, and since that era was all about sumptuous fabrics, I used a lot of mohair and velvet. Details like that are important: It reads better on camera and helps the actors feel like they're in a different era."
Finding lighting fixtures also proved problematic, especially with cost restrictions. While looking for showstoppers to illuminate the hotel's luxe lobby, Brill fell for three vintage chandeliers priced at a budget-busting $45,000 each. The compromise was "inspired by" chandeliers created by the Warner Bros. design department — at the bargain price of $15,000 per. Several era-appropriate hallway lighting fixtures were also sourced from Rejuvenation.
While the Hotel Cortez's color palette is mostly confined to deep jewel tones of burgundy, red and green, the penthouse occupied by the Countess (portrayed by Lady Gaga) glimmers with hints of silvery sheen. "I found the sofa and chairs on EBay — they were in burgundy and falling apart, so I had them rebuilt and re-covered," says Brill. "And the gorgeous round bed was custom-made by Allan Songer at Omega Cinema Props — it took something like five coats of automotive paint to make it that platinum color."
The lobby's large-scale carpet was custom fabricated by Lester Carpets, while the David Hicks-style hexagonal carpet in the hallway — a conscious ode to "The Shining" — was printed onto about 300 yards of white fabric by Asktek Inc.
FOR THE RECORD
Oct. 9, 12:32 p.m.: This article states that a carpet seen in the fifth season of "American Horror Story" was printed onto white fabric by Asktek Inc. The company's name is Astek Inc.
Less than two months after starting out, a six-story set came together on Fox's L.A. lot. The Hotel Cortez now features a double-height lobby, a mezzanine bar, a glass-front elevator that actually moves and an ornate staircase. "All of sudden there it was, and it was massive!" Brill says. "And at first, everyone kept getting lost — you'd go down one hallway expecting to end up in a particular room, but you'd be somewhere else. It was crazy and kind of strange."
Where to go to shop like a set decorator:
Rejuvenation Lighting, 8780 Venice Blvd., Culver City, (310) 400-1872; www.rejuvenation.com
Omega Cinema Props, 7545 N. San Fernando Road, Burbank, (323) 466-8201; www.omegacinemaprops.com
Lester Carpets, 7815 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 934-7282; www.lestercarpets.com
Asktek Inc., 15924 W. Arminta St., Van Nuys, (818) 901-9876; www.astekwallcovering.com
Jack Smith Art Deco Collection, 440 S. Fair Oaks Ave. and 2546 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 796 7989; www.freshcreativedesign.com
Diamond Foam and Fabric, 611 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 931-8148; www.diamondfoamandfabric.com
S. Harris/Fabricut/Vervain, 8687 Melrose Ave., Suite B470, Los Angeles, (310) 358-0404; www.fabricut.com