Emmys 2021: Set Design Inspiration from WandaVision, The Queen’s Gambit and The Crown
The Emmy Awards are undoubtedly the biggest event in television, with the award ceremonies taking place over two weekends to honour the past year’s achievements in the industry. While the Primetime Emmys 2021 will only take place on 19 September, the festivities have already kicked off with the Creative Arts Emmys on September 11, which honours the outstanding artistic and technical achievements in television.
The first weekend of television’s buzziest fortnight saw the craftspeople behind some of the greatest hits rightfully lauded for their achievements. Netflix’s breakout series The Queen’s Gambit swept seven awards, including Outstanding Production Design For A Narrative Period Or Fantasy Program (One Hour Or More). Disney+’s acclaimed superhero series, WandaVision, also clinched a set design award for Outstanding Production Design For A Narrative Program (Half-Hour).
Here, we explore the award-winning sets of WandaVision, The Queen’s Gambit, and other Emmys-nominated dramas, including The Crown, which will contend for the other accolades at the upcoming ceremony.
Picking up after the events of Avengers:Endgame, Disney+ miniseries WandaVision follows Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) as they attempt to live a dream suburban life in Westview, New Jersey. Created by American film director Jac Schaeffer, the series pays homage to sitcoms throughout the ages from the 1950s to the 2000s.
The design served as a crucial backdrop for setting the scene, with each episode featuring a new decade. Each era was portrayed through charming vintage homeware and furniture pieces in the couple’s home.
A behind-the-scenes reveal of the actual blue kitchenette (Image: Courtesy of Marvel Studios)
The first few episodes of WandaVision appeared on-screen as black-and-white to emulate sitcoms of the past (Image: Courtesy of Marvel Studios)
Production designer Mark Worthington worked with art director Sharon Davis and set decorator Kathy Orlando to meticulously furnish and design each episode’s set. The ever-evolving set design meant that each episode boast their individual personalities, whether it’s a powder-blue kitchenette that was only seen on-screen in black-and-white to mimic sitcoms in the mid-20th century, or a 1970s set that references The Brady Bunch with its mid-century designs and statement floating staircase.
Mid-century furnishings and retro decor serve as the backdrop of each set (Image: Courtesy of Marvel Studios)
This scene references hit sitcom The Brady Brunch (Image: Courtesy of Marvel Studios)
Worthington, David, and Orlando scoured for furniture in vintage stores across Atlanta (the show’s filming site), as well as Craigslist and 1stDibs for more notable pieces. However, the retro decor of each episode had a running theme to it: no designer furniture could be included as part of the set design, so as to emulate the living spaces of an American middle-class family.
In an interview with Architectural Digest, Worthington notes, “You don’t get any Harry Bertoia furniture here. We were more interested in non-designer-name pieces that felt right for the period but were clearly more anonymous.”
The Queen’s Gambit
Set in the 1960s, Netflix’s hit television series The Queen’s Gambit sees orphan chess prodigy Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy) traveling to elite chess tournaments around the world as she deals with personal issues such as alcohol and drug addiction. Berlin-based production designer Uli Hanisch worked closely with set decorator Sabine Schaaf and art director Kai Karla Koch to recreate the grandeur and maximalist interiors of the ‘60s.
Large statement patterns appears throughout the rooms in The Queen's Gambit, as seen here in Mrs. Wheatley’s bedroom (Image: Courtesy of Netflix)
The Wheatley family's dining room in The Queen's Gambit is designed as a kitschy place with mismatched patterns (Image: Courtesy of Netflix)
Beth’s bedroom, designed by Mrs. Wheatley, is a Barbie pink nightmare for the character (Image: Courtesy of Netflix)
Wallpaper played a key role in the set designs. Busy patterns and exotic motifs are layered onto each other to make a bold and colorful statement in each setting. The splashy wallcoverings—which range from funky geometric patterns to oversized floral blooms—created an exciting backdrop for the antique furniture with silhouettes fashioned after French and Italian furnishings of the past. The Wheatley family home stands out with its kitschy set design that presents Alma Wheatley’s state of mind as she tries to build up a facade of a happy home.
To set the scene for Harmon’s travels, Hanisch also had to recreate the glitzy decor language of upscale hotels around the world. The secret behind the sets? The fictional hotels in Cincinnati, Las Vegas, Mexico City, Paris, and Moscow were all filmed on location in Berlin. Each hotel room had a unique colour palette—Las Vegas was turquoise and gold whilst Mexico was red, for example—to differentiate the sets. From gaudy glided beds to golden-trimmed comforters, Hanisch created various worlds for Harmon as she embarked on her chess journey.
Netflix's The Crown continued its reign as one of the most captivating historical dramas of all time with the return of season four last year. While the series lost the award for outstanding production design to The Queen’s Gambit this year, the set design—which did earn it the outstanding production design award last year—is still remarkable in every sense.
The fourth season, which chronicles the life of Queen Elizabeth II from the late 1970s through 1990, also saw the introduction of Princess Diana and Britains’s first female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. This meant that the set design had to expand beyond Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle to include notably, the Prime Minister’s residence and office at 10 Downing Street as well as Althorp House, the Spencer family estate.
Oscar- and Emmy-winning production designer Martin Childs returns to lead the set design, alongside art director Mark Raggett and set decorators Alison Harvey, Sophie Coombes, and Carolyn Boult. The production team worked across approximately 400 different sets across each episode. Some of the repeating sets, such as Buckingham Palace, helped serve as a visual reminder to the audience that they are still watching the same show, even as the rotating cast switched (Claire Foy, for example, portrayed the Queen in the first two seasons, with Olivia Colman taking over in the third and fourth seasons).
The introduction of Princess Diana’s character saw the team creating her new private quarters in Kensington Palace. To reflect her loneliness in the palace under the cold detachment of the royal family, the production team created an opulent set that was cold and dark to mimic the feeling of isolation. Mindful to keep a balance between factual history and his own creativity, Childs and his team decorated the space with vintage pieces like stunning chandeliers and eclectic chaise lounges. Gold accents and ornate details tacked on the unique display of immense wealth.