The ‘crazy and kind of strange’ hotel built for ‘American Horror Story’
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.”
Production designer Mark Worthington and set decorator Ellen Brill had just seven weeks to create the sprawling, labyrinthine Hotel Cortez.(Ellen J. Brill / FX)
Lady Gaga stars as the Countess in the fifth season of “American Horror Story.”(Suzanne Tenner / FX)
This is where the hotel’s owner, the Countess, a.k.a. Lady Gaga, rests her head. The circular bed was custom made and is lacquered with several layers of platinum-hued automotive paint.(FX)
This room, part of the Countess’ penthouse, is called the Nursery; the white cabinet in back is a candy dispenser.(FX)
The hotel’s mezzanine bar, the Blue Parrot Lounge, where the character Liz Taylor (played by Denis O’Hare in drag) works. The chairs, which came from a prop house, were redesigned by set decorator Ellen Brill and then reupholstered in garnet velvet.(Ellen J. Brill / FX)
This is the room of the sinister Mr. March (played by Evan Peters, who’s been in every season of “AHS”), who built the Hotel Cortez in the 1930s. Like many of the furnishings, the sofa was recovered in an era-appropriate mohair, much of which was sourced at Fabricut and Diamond Foam & Fabric.(Ellen J. Brill / FX)
Although the show is shot in a city full of prop houses, finding Art Deco furnishings turned out to be a major challenge.(Ellen J. Brill / FX)
Finding lighting fixtures also proved problematic, especially with cost restrictions.(Ellen J. Brill / FX)
A room at the Hotel Cortez in “American Horror Story.”(Ellen J. Brill / FX)
Based on pieces by Austrian Deco designer Paul Frankl, set decorator Ellen Brill had this set of mohair-covered seating made by Omega Cinema Props. The coffee table is from the Jack Smith Art Deco Collection in Pasadena’s East Colorado Corridor.(Ellen J. Brill / FX)
In the Countess’ sitting area, the sofa and club chair were found on eBay; the channel-back chairs found on Craigslist were in bad condition before undergoing a stylish transformation.(Ellen J. Brill / FX)
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.
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