For Only Murders in the Building, production designer Curt Beech was inspired by his background in theater to create the apartments of the main characters. As a former theater teacher, Beech knew he could make use of his skills to tell each character’s story through the visual design of their apartments.
The series takes place mostly inside a large apartment building named The Arconia. “What attracted me to it initially was that it was kind of a contained environment, it was something that was manageable in terms of the work and in terms of the world we were trying to create,” says Beech. “Once I read the scripts, it was off to the races. The scripts were so well written and the characters so richly drawn that it really gave us a lot to chew on visually.”
Created by Steve Martin and John Hoffman, this mystery-comedy revolves around a trio of strangers who decide to investigate a suspicious death in their apartment building and start a true-crime podcast. When the police rule the death a suicide, it falls on retired actor Charles-Haden Savage (Steve Martin), struggling Broadway director Oliver Putnam (Martin Short), and childhood friend of the victim Mabel Mora (Selena Gomez) to discover what actually happened.
“Talking about the main sets, its these three unique characters,” says Beech, “and you have to learn everything you can about them from the text and anything that isn’t there you get to make up and add yourself, and that’s the fun of it, is trying to tell stories through visuals… So we just made up all of these stories as we went in order to give the apartments a richness and a depth.”
For each apartment, it was important to stay true to the characters. “The inspirations for the characters apartments was very specific,” says Beech, “and each one had a key word or phrase as a test for everything that went into it. For Charles, it was ‘playful sophistication’, and all the choices that we made were based on one very playful sophisticated fabric that we found, so the sofa is really the key piece of decor.”
“We imagined that Oliver’s apartment was basically furnished with stolen items from all of his broadway shows,” says Beech, “everything in there had a history to it… The stage was one of the first design elements that we built into the apartment. We imagined late nights, there’d be a lot of booze and a lot of singing around the piano, and eventually someone would get up on that stage and sing and dance.”
“Mabel’s [apartment] is not really hers, which is another part of the story,” says Beech. “It’s her aunt’s place and it’s under renovation and this is a pretty simple visual metaphor for Mabel. She is, and the apartment is, a ‘work in progress’, and that was the story we were trying to tell with her place. We don’t know what it’s gonna be when it’s done and that follows her character all through season one.”
Only Murders in the Building returns to Hulu for its second season on June 28th.
Click the video above to watch the full interview.
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