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Set Design and Décor -- A 10-Step Program

Step 8: Add the Furniture


Furniture placement is part of the plan you handed over to the director and construction crew, but you'll probably find that there are some bare areas you hadn't planned on once the set is built. Small occasional and end tables, fake ficus trees and plants, and smallish furniture pieces like cabinets and bookshelves are useful for filling in bare spots on a traditional set. If your theater has a supply of small pieces like this that get used over and over, and you're worried about putting a piece on your set that's already been used a million times, give it a makeover with paint (be sure to check with the producer or the Board first if you have any doubts about whether you've got permission to do that or not). Make sure, too, that you check with the director before you add anything new to the set that will take up floor space, particularly as you get closer to opening - the actors need room to move, and the director may already be planning to use that empty space for a bit of business if there hasn't been something there all along.

We often borrow exceptionally good-looking furniture from a local furniture store -- as long as we give them a credit in the program and don't damage the goods (we limit ourselves to large sturdy pieces that would be hard to hurt), they're happy to help us out. Goodwill, The Salvation Army, and your and your friends' living rooms are also good places to look for suitable furniture. Our theater often uses a fantastic 1950's-style metal and formica kitchen dinette set in beautiful condition that one of our set designers picked up for 25 bucks at an antique store.

Whatever you end up using, make sure the style fits the time period, and that upholstery colors compliment the colors you've used on the walls and other textiles used on the set. You might even want to give a couch or chair a temporary reupholstering job -- it's not as difficult as you might think. Measure the furniture, choose your fabric, and tack it on with staples and upholstery tacks. You don't even need to worry about upholstering the back side if it can't be seen by the audience.

One important rule of thumb - don't use anything that's fragile or can't sustain a few knocks. If there will be hell to pay if the item is damaged, don't put it on a set.

Be prepared to compromise, especially when the director tells you things like the sofa's too large, the upstage table has to have a drawer in it, or she's reblocked a scene, and now the desk has to be stage right instead of stage left. As often as possible, work it out so the director gets what she needs -- after all, it's her show.

NEXT: Step 9: Dress It
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