‘Elementary’ set design: Some clues to Sherlock’s steampunk look
The “Friends” gang might have painted the walls a cheery yellow and brought in lots of candy-colored furniture. The “Gossip Girl” brats would have made fun of anyone poor enough to live there, and Carrie probably would have been too horrified to allow her “Sex and the City” Manolos to touch the scratched floors.
But the unrenovated Brooklyn brownstone where TV’s modern-day Sherlock Holmes rests his head and solves some of the Big Apple’s twistiest crimes hits some amusing -- and timely -- decorating notes. Holmes’ dilapidated digs on the hit “Elementary,” Thursdays on CBS, are filled with murky lighting and a sparse array of mismatched furniture that you could call a stripped-down version of the steampunk style that’s everywhere in decorating.
“Sherlock is all about function over form, so the unrenovated house suits him,” production designer Andrew Bernard said of the set that he created on a sound stage in Long Island City. “He’s the sort of guy who, if he’s working on a case and sitting in a particular chair while he’s doing that, he’ll just do everything from that chair: Work his iPhone, look things up on his computer, even eat and sleep in that spot. He doesn’t really think about his surroundings; he just wants to keep his brain happy.”
In this latest incarnation of the ultimate crime-solver, Sherlock (Jonny Lee Miller) is a recovering drug addict from across the pond whose Watson (Lucy Liu) is his sober companion. The shabby brownstone where they live is owned by his father, a real-estate mogul who inexplicably didn’t gut the place and turn it into condos. The contents of the building, however, belong to neither father nor son.
“The furniture, the rugs, the faux ‘70s style Tiffany lamp in the kitchen -- it all came with the house. It’s just stuff people who lived there before left behind,” said Bernard, who found items at antique and secondhand shops as well as retailers selling classic designer furniture and vintage-inspired pieces (see photo gallery).
“The show is very graphic and minimal,” he said. “There’s nothing saturated or bright. Shades of red and orange are the accent color, like the deco mohair couch, the wing back chair or the Saarinen chair.”
That the house was built in Victorian times is a nod to the original Holmes’ era, as is the area called “the Lock Room” on set: simple metal grids of hanging locks that the detective used to practice his combination-cracking skills.
“Our Sherlock has a macro-lens attached to his phone and computer, but he’s not as focused on gadgets as the original was,” Bernard said. “His vast knowledge of history, language and science -- that’s what he pulls from Victorian times.”
And if pristine walls bore you and you want to go full Sherlock in your own home, Bernard explains how to achieve that perfectly distressed look: “Start with plywood, then put on a base of plaster for that lumpy, bumpy texture. Choose a base color and take the lightest and darkest shades of it and blend them to create a mottled, varied color scheme; on top of that, you can draw in some light cracks and peeling. Finally, put on a tinted glaze to make it shine.”