Off set with…Beth Kushnick

Beth Kushnick is a set decorator based in NYC. 

A born and bred Manhattanite, Beth has been decorating sets for award-winning television shows and movies for years, bringing the delicate details to each space and providing a layered approach to set decoration.

Beth has worked on a plethora of sets, including the acclaimed television series, The Good Wife, as well as successful spin-off, The Good Fight, taking commercial office design and elevating it to levels of luxury now synonymous with the Chicago based TV series. Her work also includes feature film credits on Reversal of Fortune, Mortal Thoughts, Frequency, Down to Earth and Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (New York unit). 

More recently, with COVID-19 impacting the film and television industry in a myriad of ways, Beth has taken her craft, her knowledge and her passion for the subject and launched a podcast, connecting set decoration with discerning homeowners looking to reflect similar styles within their own homes. 

Hosted by Pod Clubhouse Productions, LLC, a podcast network founded in 2020 by Caroline Daley, Paul Daley, and Michael Caputo, Beth’s voice can now be heard on Decorating the Set: From Hollywood to Your Home with Beth Kushnick’ offering a slice of style from film and television and serving it up in a thoughtful and insightful way, for those looking to improve their home, their environment, and ultimately what is now their sanctuary.

It is the recent lockdown that gave Beth time to consider what the home now means to her listeners. It has certainly changed and will continue to morph while we adapt and navigate the new normal of working from, schooling from, and entertaining from home. 

Cautious not to offer up a mere distraction from the reality we are faced with, Beth has sought to create a podcast that taps into that mindset of those homeowners who seek to improve in the smallest ways, their interior spaces, to better their minds and souls and create a positive physical space during lockdown. Beyond that, it also feeds into our imagination of how to vitalise home interiors using the silver screen as that enduring inspiration. Beth and her co-host, Caroline Daley, go behind the scenes of Hollywood’s magic, and give approachable, yet  sophisticated tips to creating homes that best express who we are.

Beth Kushnick, Set Decorator and Interior Designer

Thank you for talking to us at Not The Director’s Chair, Beth, and congratulations on the success of your Podcast ‘Decorating the Set: From Hollywood to Your Home with Beth Kushnick.’
Thank you. You know, I didn’t think that I wanted to get into this kind of thing (the podcast) but actually, I’m really having a great time creating these episodes. Pod Clubhouse has brought me into a completely different field and I couldn’t be happier. It is a continuation of my path, of my profession, but is completely outside the box for me. 

So what has the reception been like so far?…
It has really expanded on the fan interaction side of things for me, which is great. I’ve been out of work since mid-March (due to COVID) and it really felt like the right time, with enough space, to deliver this seriously. Pod Clubhouse had actually approached me before, but with such a hectic schedule of work, it never worked out, so it  has been really great to do it now.

Why now, did you decide to start this podcast and who did you have in mind when thinking about your audience?
I see so many people creating content at the moment, a result of COVID and the shift in how we are living and accessing ideas. This really speaks to me in so many ways and reflects in my own concepts of design. It is affecting everything, relationships and living, life shifts and with that, I have shifted my focus too.
People now are re-assessing their environments and their lives, with their children and work all melded into one. It’s a whole new way of living, so for me, this podcast aims, not to just address the physical design, but the lifestyle of it all, laying out my sense of the visual and sharing with others how to do that in their own homes.
When I’m working with private clients, I participate in video calls and can see them thinking the process through as we talk. The podcast offers something else, a chance to consider your own space at your own pace. It is very much about my thought process, the tips, tricks and tools of my trade and it has surprised even me, how they can be realised in new ways.

How has your work as a set decorator informed you in your work in the private realm?
I’ve always been the sort of set decorator that is a go-to person on set. I can and will design the sets, the dressing rooms, the production offices, all kinds of spaces. I have been contacted in the past by studios who realise that I know how to produce quickly. I don’t operate the same way as an interior decorator, my concept isn’t based on what people spend. I know and appreciate budgets and I know where to put the money in or not. This is key to set decoration because of the pace at which we create, and I think this attitude is being applied more now to our homes than ever before. The simplest alteration or change can bring such wonderful results; the switch up of linens, bringing nature into the home or simply including seasonal pieces in a space for a short-term refresh.

I’ve always been the sort of set decorator that is a go-to person on set.

Beth Kushnick

To me, it has become a universal idea. It is not about decorating, it is a shift in sensibilities. Part of my mission with this podcast is to be able to share with people how simple it is to create newness when people think it is unattainable. Being able to bring forward my work, which has previously felt very ‘behind the scenes’ is great.

You’re a native New Yorker, how does your home life and your city influence your design decisions?
I’ve lived in Manhattan all my life. I recently saw an interview with a late night talk show host and a writer, who said of the city that the best apartments here aren’t designed for long-term living. That’s such an interesting ideal and I really started thinking about that as a concept. What I’m trying to do here is to pair-down the interiors for an ease of living. A stress-free lifestyle that creates a more long-term living environment. Even in NYC.
It really is a sign of the times the way we are designing for living now. As an example, I am currently finishing a private home and acquiring specific products (during COVID, it’s not an easy task), a simple hook for a door, has been a nightmare! Sourcing, despite all our technology and accessibility has become very tricky now and there are millions of companies all over the world who have never had to work like this before, so it’s going to be an interesting turning point for everyone, when we come out of this Pandemic. I think, being equipped with the knowledge to help tackle these kinds of obstacles and bumps in the road is key now. The positive in all this is, in favour of design, people will continue to create and to design, perhaps even more so than before, but our expectations have to alter, in set decorating and in home and hospitality design. 

How do you anticipate that set design and decoration will change in the wake of COVID?
For movies and television, what I normally would be able to deliver, I might not now, and I will have to consider safety above all else. This will force us to inevitably be more creative, to seek out the alternatives. Perhaps on set we look at two wall sets – we shoot, change and reset. We may have to use VFX more, who knows… this will be new, visually thought-out content. Priorities will be different.
Part of what we need to change is our DNA of how we are used to doing these things. Previously, when the director yells cut, we would all fly onto the set, but now we have to rethink this strategy. We can no longer operate like that. For film crews, who work very physically close, we’re going to see challenges ahead. I like to use the analogy of a pot of soup. We cook with so many ingredients to create what we need and desire. Now we have a different set of ingredients and need to be more considerate with how we throw things into the mix. 

I will be returning to work with new practices and a new outlook. Creating a new industry standard that reflects our new world will be part of that.

Beth Kushnick

Sometimes I compare my job to that of an air traffic controller – there are so many moving parts! We now need an organised sensibility; How does quarantining affect us? How much time will it now take to dress a set? Where I used to be able to pull the proverbial ‘rabbit out of the hat’ in the past, now I may find myself having to think outside the box and dig a little deeper for resources. 

I think what we are witnessing now is a lot of content being watched and used up. On the flipside of watching this content is that we will need more of it, so there is always a new project and new discoveries to be made. The work we do is so expansive and exciting. Set decoration is everything you see but also, all the things you don’t necessarily think of. I actually worked on the first ever HBO series, around 33 years ago. For Vietnam War Story we were literally planting rice fields! That’s why it’s such a pleasure to now be able to bring my years in the industry to a new, intrigued audience via our podcast. Although I absolutely feel like I’m aging myself by revealing how long ago I worked on many of the projects we flashback to!

It is an amazing craft of visuals, paired with intense organisation. I hope that our listeners feel that they are gaining insight and valuable tips and tools for how to work with design on every level. We want to be practical and encouraging with our advice, to deliver something that offers information based on how we design, whether it is on set or at home. For instance, if you’re thinking of buying that sofa that you love, grab some tape and measure it out in tape on the floor first. It’s simple but so crucial to good design. 

What is your ultimate goal with the podcast?
As a designer I’m always learning and discovering new ways of working and I want our audience to understand that they can break the rules a little in their own designs. I appreciate that setting up a Podcast for what is essentially a very visual medium is quite unusual, but there is so much that can be discussed to distill down how we feel about design on a subconscious level. I want to open people’s eyes to see their homes and spaces in a different way. I hear from people, letting me know they have downloaded the podcast to listen on the move, while they’re driving. I like to think that they get home from listening, pull onto the driveway and walk into their sanctuary and see it in a different light.
The advice I will always give is to not feel pressured into change, but to allow the little adjustments to naturally evolve your space. Start with your bed linen, your desk arrangements and other elements that really speak to who you are. These small changes can make a big impact and that’s what I want people to take away from these podcast episodes.

What’s next in the pipeline?
Set decoration and interior design has been my world for 30 years plus. I’m a tactile designer by nature, I like to get my script, break it down, read it again and make notes in the margins. I like to see and touch things and this is still the essence of me. I never thought I would have the opportunity to talk about my work in this way and it reignites my own passion as well as sharing it with others. It’s a wonderful bridge into another part of the industry. Designing people’s homes is very personal and unique, just as set decoration can tell a character’s backstory in moments. 
I’m continuing with podcasting for sure; our topics will evolve as the film work returns and I am scheduled to start a new show. After launching just over two months ago, Decorating The Set: From Hollywood to you Home with Beth Kushnick, regularly appears on Apple Podcast Top Ranking Charts in the category of TV & Film at home and abroad, having reached peak positions of 68 in France and 35 in Japan. 
I will be returning to work with new practices and a new outlook. Creating a new industry standard that reflects our new world will be part of that. 
I hope, most of all, that we can continue to apply this podcast content to the times we live in.

You can listen to Beth’s Podcast now and you can follow her on Instagram @bakhomedecor


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