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Set Decorator

Expert Sources: Gigi Barbes
Date: August 9, 2019
Reads: 17,401

Career Overview

Set Decorators are in charge of populating sets with character and world-specific items on television series, feature films, commercials or short projects. Their remit is vast and includes light fixtures, furniture, floor coverings, personal items and even dust bunnies.

Alternate Titles

Set Decoration

Avg. Salary

$104,0001

Career Description

Gigi Barbes, Set Decorator on Sorry For Your Loss, FX’s Better Things and NBC’s A.P. Bio explains her typical workflow on a network television show: “What I’m given as a Set Decorator are sets put together by the Production Designer in concert with the Creator, Showrunner and Producers.

“They’ll have agreed on a look, whether it be on location or a set built on a stage. They might have already chosen wallpaper or other smaller touches but I’m given walls and windows to put everything in, as if you moved into a house with nothing. I put in everything from light switches to light fixtures to rugs on the prepped floors. I choose drapery and furniture and dust bunnies in the corners of the room.

“It’s everything; you might be decorating for a new house look, or something super sterile, or it might be a laboratory, or you might be going as far as creating a space for a hoarder. The range is as endless as story.”

Story is key to a Set Decorator and Barbes values it as the very core of her craft: “I’m an integral part of the storytelling experience. For example, let’s say something dramatic, traumatic even, happened to a character and they decided to stop living their life in 1962.

“Perhaps they stopped redecorating entirely and left their house essentially untouched since then, like the apartment in A.P. Bio. These are the kinds of storylines you need to reflect in your work as a Set Decorator.”

Just as storylines are endless, so too are the periods in which a Set Decorator works, and Barbes gives us some insight into those nuances: “It is nice to do contemporary things because, with the tight timeframes in TV, it’s quicker and easier and everything is accessible at the countless prop houses we have in Los Angeles.

“At the same time, it’s fun to search for period things, whether it be something from hundreds of years past right up to even a decade ago. That’s always more interesting and it helps everyone else — Actors, Director, Cinematographer, Armorer, Set Dresser — to understand where we are in the story. It places everyone in a very specific way and they feel they’re in the right place.”

As for the team and hierarchy in the Set Decorating Department, as Set Decorator, Barbes is the department head. She is in charge of set decoration and collaborates with the Production Designer.

She explains further: “It’s the Producer, ultimately, who hires me but half the time it’s the Production Designer who brings me in with the blessing of the Producer. The rest of the time I’m hired by the Producer with the explicit hope that I forge a solid collaboration with the Production Designer.”

Barbes goes on to shed some light on the Set Decorator/Production Designer relationship: “The Production Designer comes up with the whole ‘look’ of the production, in the old sense of the term. In old Hollywood, the Production Designer would keep charge of the ‘look’ of the architecture and the set palette, etc.

“That way, the Costume Designer/Assistant Costume Designer and the Set Decorator could lock into that ‘look’ and be working on the same story. These days, the Set Decorator and the Production Designer tend to work mor