Classic Jackie O–inspired couture, chic high-style interiors with a nod to Dorothy Draper, and jokes with a zing are just a few of the delights that await in the new season of Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
Season four finds our heroine “Midge” (Rachel Brosnahan), an Upper West Side housewife turned comedian, fired from crooner Shy Baldwin’s European tour and in financial straits after her manager Susie (Alex Borstein) gambled away her money. Forced to perform at a dingy Manhattan burlesque club, she returns to her posh apartment with her parents Abe and Rose Weissman (Tony Shalhoub and Marin Hinkle) as roommates.
Emmy-Award-winning production designer Bill Groom (Boardwalk Empire) and set decorator Ellen Christiansen (Mildred Pierce) once again create the Emmy-worthy (and thrice-nominated) interiors. Set in the early 1960s, the diverse sets are a love letter to period Manhattan, running the gamut from a game show studio at NBC, Washington Square Park, and Coney Island to a Chinatown nightclub and The Village Voice office via actual locations and soundstages at Brooklyn’s Steiner Studios.
To begin the process, Groom details, “Like every project, whether it’s contemporary or well known, a designer starts with research. The designs are always specific to the script, and we start looking for things either past or present. With every step, we have folders and binders of things that include old brochures, programs, and magazines, and we get a lot of stuff from the Library of Congress.”
Midge’s apartment (an audience favorite) receives a bit of an update as it’s been a fixture for the past four seasons. The Regency-meets-’50- and-’60s interiors include a pair of faux-painted shell consoles, sleek upholstery with floral pillows, a white breakfront cabinet from Ellen Scarborough on lstDibs and a piano for Abe. Christiansen found dining room chairs from Newel Antiques; the pink rosettes on the back, she notes, are “so spectacular and so Midge.” Inspired by a Doris Day film, the red-and-cream colored kitchen is of particular interest with its apple-green telephone mounted on the wall, peach-toned appliances, and a wall display of pastel bowls. “The Weissmans are very European, and with Rose’s Parisian training, the style is a little more staid and less fussy, but bolder with the colors and patterns,” Christiansen adds. Design is in the details as the couple dines on a pair of TV trays (invented in 1954) as they watch a game show. And those of a particular age might recognize the period Philco television set shaped like an oversize toaster, tracked down by Christiansen from a source in Texas.
Color plays a huge role in the Maisel franchise, as the set decorator notes. “In all the sets, we use a lot of color, and it’s always in line with the tone and the mood of the show.” As the show enters the ’60s, the colors become brighter, especially in Midge’s in-laws’ (Moise and Shirley Maisel, played by Kevin Pollak and Caroline Aaron) kitchen. Filmed on location in a 1920s-style home in Forest Hills, Queens, the Maisel home features a black-and-white tile entrance hall floor and a bold yellow kitchen. And since the wardrobe vies for screen time with the sets, Groom coordinates closely with costume designer Donna Zakowska. “Donna and I work from the same period palette,” he says. “Much of what we do is instinctive as we are responding to the feel of the show.”
Another set sure to catch the attention of Emmy voters includes the burlesque set. “It’s reminiscent of a small Broadway theater turned into vaudeville turned into a movie house and now burlesque,” explains Christensen. “You know how these old theaters have a past!” The set was dressed with vintage theater seats, a bar, a dressing room, lots of mirrors with sparkly lights and, of course, massive theatrical curtains with custom tassels and trim. And no set would be complete without a piece of Hollywood history: The decorator used a chandelier nicknamed “Big Bertha” that was featured in 1964’s My Fair Lady.
The designers also plied their magic at Coney Island, adding touches to replicate the period. “The colors are a little brighter than they are now, we added phone booths, and we had to make replicas of the beach umbrellas and sling chairs in green-and-white stripe to match our research,” explains Christiansen. Luckily, not everything needed help to return it to its heyday: “The carousel horses and Wonder Wheel are still fantastic!”
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video and filming its fifth and final season.