The Real Deal pix
Reality TV is true genius, thanks to sets by Kelly Van Patter
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 9/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
The production designer in her backyard.
Flea-market pieces in the SoHo living room of The Cut, Tommy Hilfiger's reality show.
William Switzer chairs for participants and employees on the original Apprentice, plus a custom chair in cordovan leather for Trump himself.
Armchairs from Gus Design Group and a knockoff Poul Henningsen lamp on the Chelsea set of The Apprentice: Martha Stewart.
A custom painted-plywood bed on Donald Trump's The Apprentice.
Silk-covered acrylic pendant fixtures from Zia-Priven Design illuminating Martha Stewart Signature paint chips for the Sherwin-Williams Company on The Apprentice: Martha Stewart.
The living area for Trump's show, featuring Mitchell Gold sofas, Flos floor lamps, Couristan rugs, Emissary urns, and a Newell Furniture console.
Kelly Van Patter has a thing for the stage. Growing up in Little Rock, Arkansas, she danced her way to a scholarship from American Ballet Theatre in New York. But after a year as a professional with the Atlanta Ballet, she retired her toe shoes. It wasn't until 1998, when she became a production assistant for the children's TV program The Dr. Fad Show, that she discovered her second passion.
Now an Emmy-nominated production designer, Van Patter has made her mark on reality shows. She masterminded the sets for the first five seasons of Survivor, testing her acumen in the wilds of Borneo, Australia, Kenya, the Marquesas Islands, and Thailand. Back in the concrete jungle of New York, she created Donald Trump's boardroom for The Apprentice as well as the young participants' living quarters. Her latest efforts are Tommy Hilfiger's The Cut, the CBS contest of wannabe fashion designers, and NBC's September debut of The Apprentice: Martha Stewart, in which 16 contestants try to land a job at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia.
Are the New York productions shot on a set or on location?
The Apprentice takes over the fourth floor of Trump Tower, which has 6,500 square feet of living space and a 1,520-square-foot boardroom-lobby. Martha's show is shot in an 8,500-square-foot portion of a floor in the Starrett-Lehigh Building, where part of her media company is. For The Cut, we put 16 people on three floors of a SoHo loft building, 4,500 square feet in all.
Where do you get furnishings?
I go after manufacturers. Almost everything is product placement.
How do you find your sources?
I'm constantly perusing magazines. I look for the new but not the faddish.
Considering the donations, what are your production budgets?
It was $70,000 for Martha, not including construction. We tore everything out, leaving us eight weeks to build and two weeks to get through code approval—everything has to be built to code. The total for The Cut was $200,000, as we had to redo the floors and the kitchen, build walls for the cutting room, and add a runway to the "style forum."
What will we see on this season's Apprentice?
I call it Trump Tao, an Asian theme with some contemporary touches such as Flos lamps. I found a lot of the oriental furniture on the Internet, but I designed the 18-foot-long board- room table myself. It has a pecan-colored plastic-laminate starburst pattern on the top.
And on Martha's show?
A lot comes from Martha Stewart Signature Furniture With Bernhardt. I also designed a steel-topped conference table—based on one that Martha has at her estate in Bedford, New York—and made cold-rolled steel countertops and stainless-steel rolling cabinets. Viking donated the refrigerator, freezer, stove, and hood. Miele supplied the dishwasher.
How closely are the celebrities involved?
Martha saw everything I was doing—I met with her in Bedford on her third day out of prison. I also toured her TV studio in Westport, Connecticut, and her media company's offices at Starrett-Lehigh and on 42nd Street. Then she invited me to her daughter's loft to see a different aesthetic, contemporary and minimal. Trump was less involved, Tommy not at all.
Design-wise, how does a reality show differ from a sitcom?
In sitcoms, there are three walls—the camera is the fourth. Whereas, with reality, we have to design for 360 degrees. On Martha's set, for instance, I used mirrors to hide camera ports.
What were some of your own challenges in designing for Survivor?
I spent four and a half months in each location, and the build time was six to seven weeks. In Borneo, we had one telephone line, and the only transportation was by boat. Since there was no coast guard, we needed guys with machine guns to protect us. In Australia, the site was on a precipice, so we had to put in two freight elevators. For the Marquesas Islands, we had to think way ahead, because we were so remote. Supplies came from Tahiti, three hours away by plane—when there was room on that plane. When there wasn't, we had to rely on a ship that came every three weeks.
What do you like to do when you get back to New York?
I check out the Conran shop, the D&D Building, and the 26th Street flea market. Or roam NoLIta and SoHo. Or just sit in a Borders or the Rizzoli bookstore, reading and people-watching.
What inspires you most?
Kelly Wearstler's recent California projects, shown in her book Modern Glamour. Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter's way of incorporating Native American dwelling styles into the houses and hotels she built 100 years ago in the Southwest. Or actual Native American rugs, baskets, and jewelry. Old taxidermy. Thrift-shop and contemporary art. Even my own dreams.
Do you ever think about designing an interior that's more permanent?
I'd like to design a boutique hotel, one that's unique and fitting for where it is. A complete escape.