Soap Opera Digest: What was the genesis of this mansion refresh?
Jennifer Elliott: This was Frank’s [Valentini, executive producer] idea: “Let’s just put some money and some time and some effort into this family. Their house is not in good shape and needs a little refresh.” We also had some space issues on our stage, and shooting issues with the last configuration of the mansion, because it had an upstage entry and it was really hard logistically to shoot characters arriving at the door. It’s just sort of a design flaw from many, many years ago. So my partner and I went back to the original drawings of the Quartermaine mansion and foyer, which were a million years old, and we lucked upon these old slides that had pictures of what it used to look like. We found the old blueprints and actually found that the original incarnation had a side entrance on one of the walls, which would make it much easier for shooting. We said, “This is what we need to do. We need to preserve the architectural integrity of the original idea, just make it a little bit smaller,” because we’re always trying to get more sets onstage. The staircase is sort of like another character, so we kept the original staircase and we just sort of modified a new layout around it and went back to the original design, which is a side entrance and then the living room on the left side of the foyer.
Digest: When did the renovation process
Elliott: Probably a year ago, we started talking in earnest about, “When our budgets allow, we need to think about reformatting that set.” And then it’s a long process because we need to talk to directors about what’s best for them for shooting, and talk to [Story Editor] Elizabeth Korte, our on-hand representative from the writing department, about how to really be true to this family and how to preserve their image in terms of what the fans expect, and also what to get ready for in future stories.
Digest: Where did you draw design inspiration from?
Elliott: I originally thought that Frank would want to do something traditional, because that’s what we had before. I thought, “I’m gonna do the normal soap opera thing.” But he was like, “No, I want to do modern. I want Monica to have a place that is representative of what’s fashionable nowadays, what’s stylish.” He was like, “I don’t want her to appear like an old lady, I want her to be a modern girl.” And that just kind of rocked my world as a decorator‚ and inspired me tremendously. We left about 70 percent of the original walls and just reconfigured them, but that meant we were kind of married to the molding and the fireplace and other things like that. And then we built kind of 30 percent new elements. But with the 70 percent of the old stuff, it’s traditional. It’s thick moldings and everything like that, so the real design challenge was how to make this space have modern furniture with traditional elements. It sounds easy, but it’s really hard when you’re out there shopping!
Digest: That seems like a challenge a real-world decorator would be faced with!
Elliott: Yeah, because your client would say, “No, this is the furniture I want.” Frank’s my client. He helped me pick out a couple of key things. I always say you start with a couch, because that sort of really defines a lot of what you’re going to do color-wise and style-wise. A lot of the pieces that we used, including the couch, were from Restoration Hardware. They have a modern vibe and their furniture is really durable. It can withstand the rigors that we put it through — we load it in, load it out, package it up, send it to our warehouse.
Digest: What are some of the new things that you built?
Elliott: There’s two new bookcase walls in the living room that are new. And in between the two French doors, we built kind of a 4-foot wall that has recessed lighting and we can display artwork in there. And then for the foyer, we built a few new walls.
Digest: The bookcases are styled pretty sparsely.
Elliott: With this whole new modern look that we’re trying to give them, sparse shelves are really more the way to go. We used a material called Lexan, which is like Plexiglas, to do kind of glass-looking shelves, so that the light can kind of radiate through them. They’re really sparse now, but we’ll probably end up with a few more tchotchkes up there, like a real home. We’ll have a Pickle-Lila jar up there or something [laughs]. We put a couple of little props from the original living room, too, in the bookcase.
Digest: How did you update the staircase?
Elliott: We left the structure alone, but I wanted to take the wood down to a darker value, so we did the staircase in a kind of a richer, darker mahogany. I love to try to jazz up something with unexpected twists, so I put in a very soft, cheetah print carpet runner. I was hoping no one would hate it because I’m not taking that thing off! It’s sort of unexpected, like, you wouldn’t think Monica would have a cheetah print anywhere in her house. But I thought, “Well, her decorator might have talked her into that.” And then for the first time ever, we had this kind of circular niche that we utilized and put a round table up against. We have some blue and white Chinese pottery on it now. That table [decoration] can change with the seasons.
Digest: How did you choose the artwork?
Elliott: I wanted to have at least one thing in each room that’s original to the Quartermaine mansion. In the foyer, there are four little pictures on the upstage wall by the staircase, just simple things in frames, but they’ve always been somewhere in either the foyer or living room. Those are my little “something borrowed”. In the living room, we had our guys in our scenic shop do paintings that are sort of riffs on classical pieces that are in the colors that I picked out.
Digest: How did you choose the new paint color?
Elliott: I’m obsessed with this Benjamin Moore color called Iced Marble. I painted my own bathroom this color. It’s just so pretty in different lighting situations. We don’t use Benjamin Moore paints on the show. Our scenic artist will match colors, not mechanically, but to their eye. So I took that [color] idea to our scenic department and they came up with a schematic of different shades. Some were too green and some were too gray. It was about a week-long process.
Digest: Tell me about the flooring.
Elliott: I don’t know if you remember the old mansion, but it was a lot of wood, and different woods were kind of competing with themselves. So, to go cool and to kind of give it this icy green/gray color, the best thing to do was do the molding and everything in marble, or faux marble. So, we came up with a plan for the marble. They’ve hand-painted every single surface that looks like marble. It’s a really elaborate process. I chose some flooring that sort of looks like hexagonal marble for the foyer. And then for the interior of the living room we chose kind of a taupey beige travertine, just to kind of make it look a little bit different.
Digest: What happens to all of the stuff you took out of the old set?
Elliott: It’s in our warehouse. We really save everything. We’ll probably use elements of it in something else although it’s hard to imagine because that stuff is pretty recognizable. But you’d be surprised. I used a buffet piece that we had in an old set recently in Charlotte’s Wyndemere bedroom! But everything is standing by and we’ll reuse it.
Digest: When Leo gets his first apartment, he can have the old coffee table.
Elliott: Exactly! You know, it’s funny; when you see a set that’s been just a workhorse, like, the Quartermaines have been such an iconic workhorse over the years, when we finally bring that set into the shop and we strip it of all its furniture and all its pictures on the walls, it just looks so shabby. It’s so nice to just strip it all away and fix things that you’ve been meaning to fix and rip the molding out. It’s just like you do to your house when you do a renovation and you get to fix all the things that have been nagging at you for so many years. It’s so satisfying.
Digest: I remember when Liz got her new house, Rebecca Herbst told me, “My old house needed to go. It was literally falling apart.”
Elliott: Yes, and the thing I love about Frank is that he gets that. Not a lot of producers care about putting money into the look of the scenery and he really does. He really gets it. We’ve been systematically changing a lot of people’s residences over his tenure and that’s going to continue.