There are many things that help influence how an audience perceives a television character. Dialogue, costumes, family, and occupation, but perhaps none more telling than the sets, and in particular, their homes. A glimpse inside where a character lives defines a lot, from income level to slovenliness to their taste in pop culture.
Seinfeld’s Superman statue. Draper’s prominent bar cart. Monica’s peephole surrounded by a picture frame. These tiny details share depths about the character that pages of dialog simply can’t.
And your own home is no different. I don’t know about you, but when someone comes to my home for the first time, it feels revealing. Who am I? How much care do I put into maintaining my place? How much energy have I put into making an empty box feel like a home?
This is especially true with Jimmy’s Eastside home in FXX’s You’re the Worst. Jimmy – a writer with a big hit behind him, desperate to repeat success – lives in a beautiful LA home overlooking Silver Lake. Outfitted in a masterfully minimalist style spanning multiple interior design aesthetics, the home serves as a reminder of winning the literary lottery, and stands in contrast to the party drug using, selfish main characters we love to hate. Silver Lake is the cliché ground zero for Hipster-dom – and while Jimmy and his girlfriend Gretchen live to loathe brunch and secret-door cocktail spots, somehow their anti-hipster hatred makes them even more concentrated hipsters.
The show began as a romantic comedy, but the series has done something most can’t: It’s evolved. Building on a foundation of lighthearted, fast-quipping Angelenos who are self-absorbed beyond parody, even by Eastside standards, over four seasons the show has repeatedly taken the audience to surprisingly serious places. Most notably, an earnest episode tackling roommate Edgar’s PTSD, and bringing to light the inefficiencies and mis-directed care our veterans can receive from the VA. The result is a dark comedy with depth.
I had the pleasure of interviewing the series’ Set Decorator, Cherie Day Ledwith, and getting her take on how guys can begin to approach their own homes.
A set, especially a character’s home, is as integral to defining the character as his clothing and dialogue. It establishes income level and whether the person is artistic or functional. When you’re given a new project, what is your process for finding and creating these sets?
Everything I do as a Set Decorator along with every other creative department (and they are all creative) on a television series begins with the script. It’s basically the bible for the show.
The writers have created some type of fantastic, wonderful, crazy world with interesting eccentric characters; it is our job to put this “world” into reality.
And do you have any guidance for guys looking to design or revamp their own places?
For a guy to design or revamp his own place, I’d say color. I once went to a party at a designer’s place, nothing grand, he just had one wall with a color accent in each room.
A deep purple, olive green, red hot chili pepper red…it was memorable.
Check out Primer's dead-simple guide to painting an accent wall and completely changing your room:
When a guy is moving into his first real place, it can be incredibly daunting with such a blank canvas. How do you begin outlining a set like a home or apartment?
Obviously, for a guy it begins with the couch. Find the couch you can, like Jimmy, sit and play video games, fall asleep on and do “whatever” – you know our show!
Jimmy’s beautiful Eastside LA home says a lot about his character and his past success as a writer. When the production moved from the real life Rudolph Schindler-designed home to a set recreation, what kinds of budget constraints were you given, and what techniques did you use to create expensive design on a budget?
This is honestly a question for our great Designer, David DiGiacomo, who did an amazing job recreating this set from the original Rudolph Schindler House. I know it involved getting the original plans from that Schindler home from the LA Archives (these plans aren’t just taken out own loan/archived). Needless to say, this was a real effort from the Schindler Estate and the homeowners, the LA City archives, and our production company to create this amazing set.
Decorating an empty apartment on the budget of a guy in his 20s can feel impossible. Where do you recommend guys look to buy affordable items with great design?
Our show takes place in the Silver Lake & Echo Park area of LA. In those areas, you can find great vintage stores with refurbished pieces.
I’d always say a second-hand store can give you the one piece to state your style.
If a guy wanted to decorate his place similarly, how much would that cost him?
The look of our set is obviously mid-century modern, California style home. I’m up against the cost issue all the time in my department. There are beautiful, authentic mid-century modern pieces being sold in and around LA. We go for all the knock-offs and that’s what you do on a budget. You can find the great pieces that represent the “real” thing!
Once a guy has some money and he’s ready to start replacing his post-college purchases, what should he invest in first?
I’d say sofa, he’ll say couch…same thing! The bottom line is, this piece sets the style.
Jimmy’s living room is elegantly minimalist, there aren’t a lot of extra flourishes or knickknacks, how do you strike the balance of intentional minimalism and a room feeling bare?
I would say in real life it’s easier to have a minimal design. As for the set, on camera you do need to fill the frame.
So Jimmy’s minimal house design must have chairs, objects and/ or people to flow into camera into that clean, minimalist set he lives in.
When you’re working on a space and it’s just…you know, missing something, what’s your go-to solution?
I think we’d all like to find what we like online and just push the button and buy it. But I’m a tactile person and I believe most people are when it comes down to the space they are living in.
You could be out some night and find a one sheet poster on a wall at a construction site and that becomes your central piece of interest in your place. I’ve been known to do that in NYC and now it works perfectly in downtown LA.