During the original Gilded Age, America experienced an unprecedented era of immigration and economic growth. While American wages expanded during the period, the fortunes of the wealthy expanded dramatically largely thanks to maturation of the railroad system. As a result, New York society saw an increase in monied families — or “the new money” — who weren’t shy of demonstrating their immense wealth. They built dozens of European-inspired palatial estates while sparing no expense.
When Julian Fellowes decided to capture the period in his new dramatic series The Gilded Age, Oscar-nominated production designer Bob Shaw (The Irishman) needed to recreate that same visual splendor, echoing the mansions of the Vanderbilts, the Rockerfellers, the Carnegies, and more. Some estates still remain and were used for some interior sequences, but Shaw needed to build many sets from scratch, including the extraordinary main hall in the George and Bertha Russell (Morgan Spector and Carrie Coon) household.
The end result is a visually stunning series filled with awe-inspiring designs that appear so period authentic that it’s nearly impossible to distinguish between built sets and the real thing. Shaw received an Emmy nomination for this exquisite production design on the series along with Art Directors Larry Brown and Laura Ballinger Gardner as well as Set Decorator Regina Graves.
Here, in an interview with Awards Daily, Shaw describes the research process he and his production design team followed to create these fantastic sets. He talks about how the sets were designed to match the style of the interiors repurposed from actual homes. Shaw also shares how the sets, including the kitchens of the Russell’s and the Van Rhijn’s households, reflect the themes of old versus new money.
He also shares how he recreated the Black middle-class home of the Scott family and the tenement housing used in one sequence. Finally, he talks about the relationship between production design and visual effects in The Gilded Age.
The Gilded Age streams exclusively on HBO Max.