On Set With CBS's 'Mom'
Set decorator Ann Shea takes us inside the comfy homes and charming Napa Valley restaurants featured in this new CBS sitcom, starring Anna Faris and Allison Janney.
One challenge that TV set designers frequently face: How do I design a set that looks realistic for an average family yet still attractive enough to appear on screen each week? HGTV went behind the scenes with set decorator Ann Shea of the CBS hit comedy series, Mom, to talk about the nuances of making a TV home look good, plus her personal design tastes.
What are the biggest challenges in creating a "home" on set?
Christy's (Anna Faris) home was a particularly big challenge because we wanted it to be attractive and not depressing. However, Christy is a single mom supporting two kids on a waitress’ wage. Therefore, it couldn't look like she really spent any money on decorating. So we created her home’s look with things that seemed like they came from a flea market, thrift store or were found on the street.
We kept those items from looking too unattractive by using a lot of color. Then, the challenge was to bring all of the stuff that it takes to make it look like people really live there. When you're a single mom with two kids, your home can become very messy, and it’s hard to find time to keep it picked up. Things that aren't dealt with tend to pile up: Dishes don't get washed all the time; old food wrappers don't necessarily get picked up; clothes and toys are often left lying around; bills don't get paid and end up on the fridge as a reminder. So we add all of those things in addition to the furniture to help tell the story about what life is like for this family.
When Bonnie (Christy's mother, played by Allison Janney) moved in, she would pick up the house and do the dishes, so we showed the difference it was making to have her there by tidying up the place and putting some of the dishes away.
Mom takes place in Napa. How much does that location impact the set decor?
Before starting Mom, I toured the Napa Valley extensively and found that on the whole, everything is more idyllic and more charming and has more character in that region. Also, even the most glamorous places seem to have a little rustic flair to them. I always bear this in mind when doing any set on the show. For example, when decorating the Burgundy Bistro, I strived to achieve all of the above.
Where do you like to shop for items for the show?
First and foremost, I only shop at places where I can get things fast. We only have three days from the first day of a new episode to when it must be completely finished. I rent things from prop houses whenever possible. You can find things fast and with character that you just can't find elsewhere. It’s also very environmentally responsible, as you aren't consuming new products but reusing existing products. Also, at the prop houses you just rent, so you’re only paying a percentage of what something is worth. This saves the company a lot of money as well.
When appropriate for the character and story, some of my favorite places to shop for set items are: HD Buttercup in L.A., Z Gallerie, Pottery Barn, Crate and Barrel, CB2, West Elm, Restoration Hardware, The Sofa Company and Blueprint Furniture. I like those places because you can buy a lot of their stuff right off the floor. I don't often have the time to order things online, but when I do, I have had good experiences with Wayfair, Overstock.com, Lighting Universe and Lamps Plus because it’s possible to get things in a few days.
Do Anna Faris and Allison Janney give you suggestions for the home?
I have found that the actors are more focused on the great performances they give each week. We strive very hard to give them believable environments in which to work. The only comments they’ve had were to say that they thought we were doing a great job, which is incredibly flattering.
What’s your favorite room on set?
My favorite is Violet’s (Sadie Calvano) room, because it’s more fun and whimsical and colorful than the rest of the house.
What about in your own home?
My favorite room at home is the "great room." I’m pretty sure that I heard the term "great room" on HGTV on one of the shows where people are looking at houses to buy! It seems like the new term to describe the family room being open to the kitchen, which is very desirable now and helped sell me on my new house. Our great room is part kitchen and part family room. I love that my boyfriend and our animals can hang out with me while I cook.
In an earlier episode, there was a problem with the couch not being comfy. Is the one you have at home better to sleep on?
Yes, my sofas are very nice! All of my furniture has to be both elegant and comfortable. According to the dogs, the sofas are great for napping on! We have Sherlock, who is an Egyptian Pharaoh Hound; Maisie, who is an adopted lab mix; and Conrad, who is an adopted Bassett Hound mix. We also have two cats, Lily and Silver, who also enjoy lounging around on the furniture.
Tell me more about your home.
I am, bit by bit, trying to make my house look like a set decorator/interior designer actually lives there. For the longest time, I had very little furniture or accessories because I just couldn’t make time to find things that I liked. Finally, it is shaping up nicely. I still need more furniture for the great room. Aside from the main furniture, if I have extra decorating dollars, I buy art. I’m also about to landscape my backyard. It’s important to me for that to be beautiful as well, because I like to spend a lot of time out there – it’s like another room in the house.
After a busy day on set, what do you do at home to relax?
My favorite way to relax at home is to play with my dogs and cats. All of the troubles of the day are forgotten when I step through the door and am greeted with their adorable little faces. We play in the backyard and sometimes the great room. I keep their toys in a big basket in the living room. Our dog, Sherlock, will often dump out the whole thing just to find the perfect toy that he wanted at that moment.
What do you like to do at home in your downtime?
My career is very busy at the moment so there is very little downtime! We just moved, so when I have the time, I love to organize things and shop online for furniture and decor we need. I don't have much time to shop for myself at actual stores! On Sunday evenings, I love watching some of my favorite shows and catching up on the sitcoms that I work on if I missed the episodes during the week. I also decorate Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory.
But when you do have the time, where do you like to shop for home decor?
I also try not to buy "new" for environmental reasons. There is a place called Hotel Surplus in Los Angeles, where you can find some beautiful furniture at amazing prices. It’s hit or miss though, so you have to keep going back as the inventory constantly changes. They liquidate hotels that are closing down. The stuff looks brand new! My dining table and chairs and guest room furniture are from there.
If I am buying "new," my favorite vendors for my house are: Global Views, Bungalow 5, Arteriors and Made Goods. For chairs and sofas, I love using The Sofa Company because they provide great quality at a great price and are made in Los Angeles. They also have faux down, which I love, because the production of real down involves a lot of cruelty to the animals. And they have soy foam, which is very environmental friendly. People don't realize that their furniture is often filled with stuff that has many toxic chemicals that are bad for them and for the planet.
Mom airs Thursdays at 9:30 p.m. ET.