Interview with Greg Grande

Interview with Greg Grande

 

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Ever wonder who fluffs Monica's pillows or stocks Joey's fridge? Meet Greg Grande! NBC.com went from set to set with Greg as he talked about how each character's space has evolved over the past nine seasons, as well as his own personal design philosophy.

First Greg, tell us about what you do.
I'm the set decorator for Friends. My duties include taking the shell or the walls with color on them and filling in the blanks. Furniture, lighting, coffee tables, rugs, tchotchkies (small little detail items), dishes, food product etc. Making it look like it's been lived in for 15 or 20 years.

What is your background?
I went to University of Arizona and got a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. I actually wanted to be a cameraman. Freshman year I got into the TV program and was a cameraman for a show called "Arizona Illustrated." Then I got involved in news and sports. I basically worked all four years, then when I graduated I moved back to L.A. and everything was union. To get into the union, you have move through the ranks and somebody asked if I wanted to work in the Art Department. I drove the truck, became the set dresser lead man and worked for a few people. Next thing I knew, I was itching to decorate. I kind of came in the back way and am not traditionally trained. I'm trained in the eye, but I never knew I'd end up being a set decorator. I'm not your typical designer. I have a completely different style.

How would you define your personal style?
My favorite style is Italian Renaissance. So for me, it's been interesting to mix styles. I feel like that's always been my forte to mix classic and modern pieces. That's been what happened in Monica's apartment. I feel like, in a lot of ways, we've changed the way television is being decorated.

"Friends" was definitely the first show where I saw a space that I would actually live in.
And then came Dharma & Greg and Will & Grace. Before then it wasn't about color or filling the space. It was completely different. If I'm proud of one thing, it's definitely that.

You've worked on "Friends" since day one. What did you initially know about the characters? Did you have any direction on how to "dress" the apartments or Central Perk?
The first meeting we had was a quick hour about the character Monica. We talked about how she was to live in her grandmother's apartment and that these were young, struggling Generation X-type characters who had to struggle to make a dime. Their furnishings came from swap meets, thrift stores. They didn't have designers decorating...but they had a lot of taste, a lot of style. They were described specifically as Generation X. So, what I did with that was basically create this eclectic feeling where each piece is interesting in its own right, but that doesn't necessarily mean it came from a showroom. It came from the swap meet, the thrift store, Pottery Barn. I mixed everything to create this incredible space. The ironic thing is that when people watch the show, their first response is "How can they afford a space like that?" But if you look at each piece, you truly could've gone and found each one of those pieces at an [affordable] place. That's how Monica's came about.

Joey and Chandler's, way back then, was the typical bachelor pad with a weight set, a beat-up sofa that was ripped and torn and the high-low carpet. Really just basic, monochromatic tones. In truth, I think that set really set the tone for people to really relate to them. It was all about beer and pizza for those guys.

It seems like that apartment has changed the most as well.
It has. It's come the longest way because Joey wound up moving out for a while and decorating with the Italian, lacquer stuff. Then he redecorated this place when he moved back. Then they swapped apartments with the girls. So, it's had the most opportunity for growth; whereas, Monica hasn't progressed in a way that we can justify new furniture. It would be nice to, but there's also some comfort in seeing that place stay the same. Some of the throw pillows have changed, the drapery, pictures, slipcovers. We've had very subtle changes over the years. We've introduced a few different things.

Explain how it works for you and your team each week.
I usually get a script on Friday morning or afternoon and have to prepare for the next week. I shop the sets and I have a lead man who's in charge of the crew, plus two guys that help put it all together. Monday or Tuesday we'll have a meeting and I'll shop Monday and Tuesday. If I'm lucky I'll get out Friday a little bit. That means going to retail stores, prop houses, fabric stores, flooring stores for carpet or linoleum and compiling all the pieces. I'll take the fabric to the drapery department on the [Warner Bros.] lot and get the flooring delivered on Tuesday morning. By end of the day Tuesday or early Wednesday, we've got the entire set pretty much placed as far as big pieces. It's crazy. On Thursday, it's detail stuff: the VCR, the lamps, picture frames, coffee table books, and flowers.

http://www.nbc.com/nbc/Friends/bts/bts.shtml

 

Help differentiate between you and the Prop Department. If it's pivotal in a scene and an actor is holding it, it's a prop. But if it's in the background, or part of the set, it's you?
Right. A good example of a prop is a telephone, but the type of telephone is up to me. The plates are mine, but Props will put food on the plates. A purse is either a prop or wardrobe, depending on how influential it is to a scene.

For example, Rachel's office. You would decide what it looks like as far as furniture and style, and they would add the paperclips and pencils.
Right, and then we'd collaborate on whether she'd have a Coach or Louis Vuitton briefcase.

You must have to be in constant communication with each other.
That's why it's so nice to have such a good Prop team, because we kind of read each other's minds. It's almost like we're all on the same team.

What have been some of your biggest challenges?
The interesting thing was the Bahamas - we built all that last season. It took a week to pull it all together. We took [all the standing sets] down - Central Perk, Monica's Apartment, Joey's Apartment, Ross'.

What about Ross' wedding?
Ross' wedding was great for me. I got to go to London and spend a few weeks there before anyone else got there. That was fun. What was probably the most interesting twist was when the girls and guys swapped apartments. It was fun to see how Monica's space became so intimate in Joey's apartment. Joey rode in on his (white, lacquer) dog - which is now out on the balcony.

Let's start with Joey's apartment. All these little details like cds etc come from you?
The cd rack was introduced a few years ago. We got new speakers this year. We had some really high-end speakers and I got a lot of phone calls asking how Joey could afford them.

He's on Days of our Lives, people!
Exactly, and you know when you're a bachelor you want the best in technology. Obviously, the Barcaloungers were a big deal. Everyone remembers that episode. This year, we've added new side-table lighting. If you look really closely, there are some other new additions: Dishes, glassware, etc. Basically for me, the beauty is to be able to freshen it up. Every week we change the food product in both Joey and Monica's to make it feel like someone's actually living there. Some weeks it doesn't get moved as much as others. Actually, this year it's been interesting because now that Rachel's [living with Joey] there's been a little female infiltration. We drop in floral arrangements here and there. The big Emma pillow and the changing table are new. Baby Emma is a big request from the producers and actually important. I almost feel like in a lot of ways it's not enough. A lot of it is about Emma and Rachel. Obviously, I don't want that to translate to Rachel moving in and taking over because we don't know where the storyline is going.

What about Monica's apartment?
I think the interesting thing about this particular apartment is that it feels like the same place every week, except there will be certain weeks when you tune in and go "hmmm, I never noticed that piece before." Which I think is great.

Are these the original kitchen chairs?
No, they've been replaced due to wear and tear. Also, the kitchen drapes changed a little. They were a little more Hawaiian originally. The plates [above the sink] have changed over the years. Little pieces like the blender have changed. All the food rotates. The coffee maker is new this year. The clock [above the kitchen window] has always been there.

And it's always been 5:10?
Yes, it has.

Whose child is this on the refrigerator?
That's actually the daughter of one my guys. Her name's Jade.

Do you rotate family photos?
Yep. I have my daughter and family in here too.

What else is new in Monica's apartment?
The slipcover on the big chair. If you remember it used to be white pinstripe in seasons one, two and three. Now it's this gold color, which was a big deal to the producers. They felt like it was such a shock of color. I let it sit for a while and then they liked it.

How about these leather, monogrammed pillows on Monica's couch?
Those are new. I do a lot of little things because they won't let me change the big things. I've changed the rugs [in the back of the apartment]. I have a great rug place called Ariana on Melrose Place. Other little tchotchkies are new, like the colored glass [vases]. The picture frames are new this year. I felt like Monica owns a restaurant now so she's got to be making some money.

Are those balcony drapes new as well?
They aren't new, but we originally didn't have any drapes. In season three there was a gag so we added the swag and roman shades. In season five or six, we added the drapes.

Didn't there used to be a ton of pillows on the window seat?
There were. This is the first time I'm trying to simplify Monica's life. It was so cluttered.

Does the cast notice when you swap things out?
Sometimes. There are times when they take some of the throws and use them in their dressing rooms!

Do you ever consult with them on their personal spaces? I know Courteney's got her own design show coming up this Fall on WE.
I did an episode of her show, but generally this is character stuff. She's pretty good about not getting too involved in Monica's stuff.

Do you have favorite places that you like to shop?
There are a few spots in Los Angeles that have been great for the show. One of them is Civilization. A lot of fabric shopping happens at Diamond Fabric and Silk Trading Company. I like to do American Rag for tablecloths and Williams-Sonoma [for Monica's kitchen]. Obviously, Pottery Barn has played a big part on the show at one time. A lot of the detail stuff comes from little places like Freehand, which is a cool store on 3rd Street with a lot of hand-done pottery from artists. I'm big on finding little artists and introducing their pieces.

You also manage the art in Central Perk, right?
Yes. That comes from everywhere from Paris to Pittsburgh, New York to Venice, California. I've met some really cool artists and am thinking about putting together a gallery showing once the show ends.

Speaking of Central Perk...any good stories to tell?
We've had a lot of mishaps in here. The couch had to be remade because the middle of it collapsed. There was a scene where Chandler or Ross fell over the back of it and we had to put an apple box under the middle of it so you couldn't tell it collapsed.

I love Monica's apartment, but this [Central Perk] set to me is so toasty and warm and comfy I could actually come and hang out here. This set has not changed very much at all. I've done very little to change it other than some chairs that had to be replaced. Every two or three weeks I put in new art and the flowers change, but that's it.

At one point, I thought about making the cappuccino maker and stuff real. It does work, but it's too much upkeep. We always add new product [to the display case].

People don't realize how much detail work goes into each set. Things they may never really notice, but that you're always thinking about.
The great thing is that [the Friends sets] for the most part are set. You don't have to do much but maintenance. Every week we really clean it because when they are building on set it gets caked with dust and stuff. For the most part, it's just like walking into a real space. You just make sure it's clean and occasionally you want to change the calendar or a picture or a coffee cup.

Like, the Central Perk chalkboard/menu hasn't changed.
Nope. Actually, one of my lead men came up with that. I sat with an artist and came up with the coffee logos/brands, then he took them and made up the descriptions/lingo. He went in a corner for like an hour and half and came back with some of the most amazing, funny descriptions. It was cool. We introduced a line of coffee!

And you don't have a say over wall color, you just have to work with what you're given?
Yes. John Shaffner, who is our production designer, conceives the layouts. He basically gives me the walls and the color and then we fill it. That's the transformation. When I first got these sets, it was basically this layout and I had to figure out where to put the furniture. For Central Perk, we just tried to find every fun piece imaginable. Like, who would put those torchiere sconces on any set? With the flicker bulbs!

This sofa [in the rear of Central Perk], with its original fabric, I found in the Warner Bros. prop shop. The character in these pieces is unbelievable, but it's real. The same with the chair with the lion's heads.

I had to reupholster the main sofa early on. The network came down here and said it was looking too shabby. If you look at the first few, early episodes, there was a runner along the back edge. It was really old, mohair fabric in this orangish color and the network didn't want to see the rips and tears, so I put a runner back there. During our first hiatus, like after show four or five, I had the sofa redone completely.

Our whole first year we were in a different sound stage and we never had an exterior street [outside Central Perk]. So, when we moved over here, we built the street.

You dress the street as well?
Yeah, we've done the record store, the deli. We've got David's flower shop.

Do you have a specific florist you like to use?
We've been through a lot, but the one I'm using now is called Hollywood Vines.

How about these wild postings in the "alley" - where do those come from?
We get these sent in from New York every couple of weeks. So, actually the bands, dates and venues are real and current.

You have to make sure there's street trash too?
Yeah, the crew helps out a lot with that. [laughs] But the trees come in and out, seasons change. One thing that's never changed is the chalkboard sign in front of Central Perk.

We didn't see Ross's apartment for a long time, then when he got into the new building across from Monica it became a big deal.
It was a big deal, but not much has changed since then. Artwork has changed. Once the baby came, I added the giraffe painting. For the most part, I've got the typical Pottery Barn coffee table. There is a designer chair from In House on Beverly Blvd. [The apartment] has a good blend of culture because of Ross's background. I thought I'd introduce some interesting textures and fabrics.

It's manly without being too masculine, if that makes any sense.
Yeah. I tend to lean towards earth tones. For me, it was nice that we went with dark walls. [Executive Producer] David [Crane] actually had a lot to do with that color. It's like a rich mauve.

What do you think about all these design shows on TV today?
Well, Queer Eye is great. I think they've captured the humor in decorating and style. I think we're way over-killed on all these shows. Truth of the matter is that they aren't realistic anyway. They want you to believe that it happens in a day, but it doesn't. It's been great to raise awareness of style and décor, but it's also been difficult because now everyone has an opinion. I think more people are realizing how important your vibe or being is to your personal space. They appreciate it more.

Now, a few people can actually reach out and admit that they have no clue and can ask for help. I love watching them.

Do you have a favorite designer?
Yeah, his name's Greg Grande. [laughs] Actually, Ettore Sottsass. He's an Italian furniture designer. He's the guy that way back when introduced the Memphis line with all the polka dots. I had the opportunity to meet him early in my career and that was great. But I tend now to lean towards more the mid-century modern, clean lines. More of a Zen feeling. It seems to be where we're heading.

I appreciate minimalist, but at the same time, you've gotta have stuff.
It's hard, especially if you a have kids. If you live by yourself, it's a little easier, but even still you need some clutter to feel comfy.

Do you have any plans yet for life after "Friends"?
Not yet, got a job for me? [laughs] I've designed some stuff and am doing a lot of interior design with my own company, Grande Designs. That's been fun, because it's permanent. But I actually enjoy the camaraderie of crew and creating something you can watch week after week, see it come to life in three or four days. It's an amazing job. It's been an incredible experience to be on a show like this. To not only get a hit show, but to get a show that's become a cultural icon if you will. They can't take that away from me! If I'm serving coffee at Diedrich's next year, I can always tell stories about "Friends."

 

Thanks to http://www.nbc.com/nbc/Friends/bts/bts.shtml

 

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