Would you want to spend a night in Woodstone Manor? I mean, before it’s turned into a bed and breakfast! CBS’ crowd-pleaser, Ghosts, has been gaining more traction this season for its strong writing and stellar ensemble work. Something that shouldn’t go unnoticed, however, is the detailed production design by Zoe Sakellaropoulo. Not only has she created a playground for our spirits to play, but her designs are a home for those trapped on the grounds. “”The house is a little bit of all of them, in a sense,” she said towards the end of our conversation.
I wasn’t aware how little time Sakellaropoulo had in order to get the set up and running. It’s so exquisitely detailed and authentic that you would think the set has been sitting on a soundstage for months as she and her team perfected every sconce and fluffed the dusty carpets.
“The schedule was daunting. We had eight weeks to put up the whole house from beginning to end. I had to do some real gymnastics in terms of locations and shooting the interior for the pilot. I had to figure it all out from the exterior to the interior without making it all jarring because the house in the pilot is not the same house that we shot the rest of the season in. Trying to figure out the space and the flow was very key, because it is a character of our show.”
Since time was of the essence, it was a challenge for Sakellaropoulo to make sure the set always seemed full and curated. Think of how large the ensemble is and how the production designer would have to ensure the space was represented when the screen is full of larger than life personalities.
“We scoured antique shows and markets. And then we had to make sense of it all. Each room had to looked tailored to a specific personality. There would be flowers in Hetty’s room. We haven’t done Alberta’s room or Trevor’s room yet. Sometimes the truck would come with stuff, and it would nearly be empty. We had color palettes with every room, and that help with our sorting. We tried to have a different palette for each character, and everyone would have the distinction of that color.”
Kitchens are normally a warm space, and Sakellaropoulo reminded me how much we are used to seeing kitchens as the everyday setting of a sitcom. A lot of comedies are set in an apartment or a small living space, so the kitchen is part of our common visual language when it comes to sitcom production design. The ghosts in this series mainly come to the kitchen when they are in the mood for an olfactory fix. Sakellaropoulo didn’t want to modernize the space since it would stick out too much from the rest of the house.
“There was a debate on whether we should have updated appliances or not. We decided to go vintage and say that the kitchen was never renovated or touched like the rest of the house might be. If you think about it, a lot of other shows have the kitchen as part of the main set, and ours doesn’t do that. The stove was from the 1930s, but we had trouble finding an older fridge. Since the kitchen is rather large, we needed to make sure that the proportions and scale matched. The fridge had to be oversized, and that was a challenge for my crew to find then. It’s a gas stove that we made functional. We didn’t want the kitchen to look like it was redone at any point, but we didn’t want it to be pinned down by one specific period. It’s eclectic like the rest of the house. For the doors, we put the pantry to one side and another one that leads to a mud room, and the swinging door leads to the dining area. It’s enclosed, because a lot of the rooms downstairs are open. It is kind of open since there is so much access to it for the flow for the director’s. A private conversation could happen there, but it could also house a large group.”
An element that accentuates the history of Woodstone is the wallpaper seen throughout the house. In the kitchen, it’s paler, but it could be darker in some of the bedrooms. Finding the wallpaper also posed challenge for the production designer, but sometimes limitations can cause a creative stir.
“I would’ve loved to have used authentic wallpaper, but for the timing we had, we didn’t have that luxury. With COVID, everything was taking too long. I had to scour what was available here, or what I could get shipped to me within ten days. We didn’t have five or six weeks. In a way, it was a little limiting, but that means you have to get more creative with what was available. We had to go with some really interesting patterns, but we manipulating and treated them in a way that it worked for the period and overall look of the house. I ran out of one of the wallpapers, so I had to recreate it.”
We get a glimpse at what the ghosts think the bed and breakfast will look like when they have nightmarish visions of randos stomping the grounds. But what does Sakellaropoulo hope Sam and Jay won’t do?
“I’m hoping it will look like they do it on the cheap a little bit. To gut the kitchen would kill me. I wouldn’t want a modern kitchen in there, but if they decided to paint, it wouldn’t change the house’s style. There are more rooms to find. Even if they change something in the house, there could be more vintage spaces to explore.”
This is just the beginning for Ghosts. With a space as huge as Woodstone Manor, the sky is the limit in terms of the additional spaces (and spirits?) that we will discover as new seasons unfold. Sakellaropoulo’s mind is already tinkering with ideas of expanding.
“I love second seasons, because I can go in there and tweak. Maybe I can fix something that I had to cut corners on the first time. I’m really looking forward to finetuning it for season two. I was doing details way beyond what I might do just because of how many people would be on screen. There is a lot of room to grow since we haven’t seen the entire house yet. Hetty’s nursery might come up later. Woodstone is so big that we have a lot to look forward to.”
Ghosts is streaming now on Paramount+.