Sci-fi comedy ‘Space Station 76' launches a sendup of ‘70s design
Set on an intergalactic ship, the sci-fi comedy “Space Station 76" mixes elements of “The Jetsons” (chore-performing robots, meals that appear at the push of a button) with “Logan’s Run” (molded, white plastic living spaces, windows with planetary views) and tosses in a bit of “The Brady Bunch” (wood-paneled walls, shag carpeting, the color brown) for good measure.
“We wanted our space station to be as much inspired by suburban homes of the ‘70s as it was by sci-fi movies and TV from the ‘70s,” says director Jack Plotnick, who found his own childhood echoed in the sets.
“There’s a microwave in the wall of one of the kitchens, just like my family had, and there are couch pillows with the same design as our couch had. And the jewelry box on one of the character’s dressers turned out to be the spitting image of the one my mom had — that gave me chills!”
“It’s like ‘Peyton Place’ in outer space,” offers production designer Seth Reed, who only had four weeks to prep the low-budget film and found inspiration in everything from midcentury architects like Pierre Koenig to the 1971 “The Practical Encyclopedia of Good Decorating and Home Improvement” (a few sets are still available on Amazon).
“The thought was that the characters were given anonymous, empty white living capsules when they arrived on the ship, and then they were allowed to choose color schemes and furniture to suit their taste,” Reed says. “The unhappy couple [Matt Bomer and Marisa Coughlan] have customized theirs with fake wood paneling and furniture in rusty reds and browns. There are ferns, a flokati rug and a fake electric fireplace.”
Their lonely daughter’s bedroom, while modular as well, looks like a lot of girls’ bedrooms in the mid-'70s: flowered wallpaper and multiple framed pictures of horses all over the walls. “We were trying to embrace that particular ‘70s style, even amplifying it,” Reed says. “We went for irony a lot!”
While the swirling super-graphic featured on the wall in the ship’s recreation room and the patterned “tiles” in the captain’s (Patrick Wilson) bathroom were painted by the production team, set decorator Kat Wilson sourced most of the movie’s groovy furniture — smoked acrylic chairs, chrome lighting fixtures, white plastic everything — from industry rental houses. “I don’t think most of the pieces were originals, merely inspired by designer pieces,” she says.
As for what design element from the era most deserves a comeback, Plotnick doesn’t hesitate. “Shag carpeting!” he declares. “What’s more comforting than walking on shag carpeting? I think we got rid of it because it collects dust, but now that we really live in the future and have Roombas that can spend all day cleaning, please, can we bring them back?”