When it comes to displaying the warmth and California style of the characters on Netflix’s Grace and Frankie, Devorah Herbert continually finds inspiration around her, whether she’s driving around LA, or at a friend’s home.
“That authenticity in the sets is a huge part in my mind of the success of a show,” says the two-time Emmy nominated production designer, “You want people to feel that it’s really real, so that they can relate to it.”
Starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin in the title roles, the Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston co-starring comedy from Skydance has been an international success for Netflix since its debut in 2015. With Herbert back for her sixth season on the show, the penultimate season of Grace and Frankie launched on the streamer on Jan. 15, 2020. Work on the final and seventh season of the Marta Kauffman and Howard Morris-created series was paused this spring like all productions in Hollywood due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Take a listen to my conversation with the insightful production designer here:
After designing such fashionable sets as Grace and Frankie’s beach house (inspired by Kauffman’s own Malibu abode), Sol and Robert’s plush Latin-themed home, among many other interiors and exteriors, Herbert set about creating the penthouse of Grace’s new hubby, Nick (Peter Gallagher) for season 6.
In creating a modern, clean-lined pad filled with slatted walls, a “feminine” chandelier, and a long, low-level couch that Grace can’t get up from, Herbert says her inspiration came from Grace feeling “profoundly uncomfortable in this penthouse, and yet it embodies Nick’s character.”
“He’s a very likable, sexy, warm, masculine guy. How do we do that? How do we create a sophisticated appealing environment that Grace is incredibly uncomfortable in all the time? That was the challenge on Nick’s apartment,” explains Herbert.
Herbert’s philosophy when it comes to building a set is to find and use real materials, as opposed to inauthentic ones, i.e. the Nicaraguan tile in Robert and Sol’s house, or the 20 foot marble wall in Nick’s penthouse. Herbert found a marble veneer that had never been used on a film or TV set before, which was really thin and heavy to install. Nonetheless, the wall exudes a glamorous vibe in Nick’s world.
“Nick is an authentic guy,” says Herbert who cut her teeth as the apprentice to Oscar-nominated and Emmy winning designer and filmmaker Julie Taymor, “I felt strongly about having the real thing on camera. When you’re dealing with something that big, it felt it needed to be the real material.”
Another wowing design that Herbert and her team created this season was The Rise-Up Toilet which Grace and Frankie create and pitch to the judges on ABC’s Shark Tank. The design was so impressive, it literally knocked the socks off the actual judges on the day of filming. Grace and Frankie come to creating it after the former can’t lift herself off the toilet at Nick’s, and must phone Frankie up for help.
“What we knew, we wanted it to be something that doesn’t exist in the world today,” says Herbert.
Most hydraulic lift toilets in hospitals were ugly, but the Rise-up would be sleek, and the trick for Herbert was placing the hydraulic mechanism inside the toilet.
“The mandate was to make something beautiful,” says Herbert, “that toilet — someone is gong to manufacture it.”