'Friends' set decorator shares secrets of the show
Ever wonder why Monica had that “Jouets” poster above her television? Or how she afforded to furnish her huge apartment so thoroughly and artistically? We did too.
So, with the show’s 25th anniversary on the horizon (September 22), we asked Friends set decorator Greg Grande to take us inside the most beloved locations on the sitcom — and also some of the more random spots: the crammed clutter closet in Monica’s apartment, the ruined London church where Ross messed up his “I dos”. Consider this “The One Where The Set Secrets Were Spilled.”
From scouring swap meets of Southern California to indulging in free-for-alls at Pottery Barn, Grande is responsible for some of the most iconic pieces dotted around the gang’s apartments and in the coffee shop — many of which you can purchase today. Let’s take a little tour of “Greenwich Village” A.K.A. a bunch of sound stages on the WB lot, shall we?
Ah, the coffee shop. Over the course of 10 seasons, Grande and his team updated the decor of the ultimate hangout spot, changing up the flowers, wall art, and posters every three to four episodes, as well as reupholstering chairs and barstools and updating the chalkboard. One big change, though, came at the end of the show’s first season. “In season 1, there was a partially frosted window that did not look onto a street outside,” says Grande. “That developed in season 2. We moved from Stage 5 to Stage 24 so we had room to film the street behind that window in Central Perk. In some episodes further down the road, you notice there were quick beats out on the street. Obviously, it was quite small, but we were able to capture a few minutes out there.” Additionally in season 2, Grande and his gang started to create logos for fake coffee brands that could be seen on packaging in the background. Plus, Grande was integral in designing the Central Perk logo. “I’m really proud of the logo,” he says. “It’s something that I had a hand in and that’s everywhere now.”
Despite slight decor changes every few episodes, the overarching vibe always remained in place. “The idea was to have it feel like it was kind of a living room, hang out space,” explains the set decorator. “You know, not your typical generic coffee shop with the computers. What did they used to call them back then? Internet cafes? So the vibe that Marta [Kauffman] and Kevin [Bright] and David Crane wanted was, let’s make this feel like it’s truly a comfortable, casual living room. I had mentioned to them that there was a place in West Hollywood, — I still think it’s around — it was one of the first interesting coffee shops in L.A. called The Insomniac Café and that was kind of, in my world, the inspiration for eclectic, old, classic pieces of furniture. Nothing really matched, but there was collectible artwork on the wall, so I took that and kind of drove that point in. I made what I like to refer to as the seventh character on the show.”
Monica’s (and everyone else’s at some point) Apartment
Ah, the purple walls! The Jouets poster! The balcony! The complete fantasy that anyone on their salaries could afford this beautiful and enormous apartment in one of the trendiest neighborhoods in NYC! “I felt like Monica’s apartment was pretty iconic,” Grande says. “The guys have some fun transformation over the years; there was things that changed in there from season to season that kind of made it fun and creative for me, but Monica’s was definitely the standout.”
To find items that matched Monica’s “eclectic style,” Grande would rummage in thrift stores, the Rose Bowl and Long Beach swap meets, and the WB prop house. “Monica really couldn’t afford a matched set of dining table chairs, but it was meant to be that the character had a really good eye and was really meticulous and creative, so her Sundays were spent in New York in these parking lot swap meets and she did a lot of mixing and matching,” says Grande. “That prop house had some exceptional old pieces of furniture that had been around forever and ever and ever that were kind of tucked away and hidden in the basement and the third floor; pieces that no one really would ever have used unless you reinvented them.” Of all the items he curated for the women’s place, one stands out to the set designer as a favorite, and no, it’s not the famed poster, but we’ll get to that. “There’s one wood carving that’s kind of tucked down her hallway,” he says. “It’s kind of an old piece of wood that a guy’s carved into with his finger pointing up in the air. That was a really classic find.”
Okay, we’re getting to it. Available to purchase everywhere on the internet and probably hanging in some of your own friends’ living rooms…drum roll please… let’s talk about the old French circus poster hanging over Monica’s television (with a porthole behind that for a camera). Funnily enough, it wasn’t the original artwork Grande selected for that space. “The story on that poster is that in the pilot, the studio and network and everyone does the walkthrough to approve your set,” he explains. “I had a tapestry that I got out of the Warner Brothers drapery department; it was a super old tapestry that could’ve been from the 1900s, maybe even earlier, but it was kind of religious. It hung on that purple wall and they kind of were concerned that it was too religious. So I had to scramble a little bit and that’s how I ended up starting to flip through my research books of circus and French posters from the early 1990s. I found that image, took it, and reproduced it for a poster. It’s funny that the way it happened was so natural and kind of not thought-out too much and now it’s an iconic poster.” But its popularity doesn’t mean he’s reaping the benefits today. “It is crazy,” says Grande. “It is really crazy and it’s awesome to think that I put such a fingerprint on that show — and it’s really sad that I can’t get any piece of the action! Somebody owes me, for God’s sakes! It’s funny because I did pitch them a whole furniture line after the show but they didn’t want it.”
He did, however, take a special moment away from the series that he can cherish forever. “The best part for me, was in the last episode of the show,” Grande explains. “I’m one of the moving guys, moving the dog [ugly statue thing] out of the apartment. That rings true, that I’m moving the last piece of furniture out of the apartment. I got a little sentimental.”
The Guys’ Apartment
So Monica’s place might be “iconic” and the main hangout spot for the gang other than Central Perk, but Chandler and Joey’s place had its, um, perks too. You could drop spaghetti on the carpet. Build a fort in the living room. Prove to a stranger you could fit inside the entertainment unit and get robbed in the process. It was clearly a fun place to be. Perhaps the most memorable item from the guys’ place was the ultimate (and ugly) man piece of furniture: the Barcalounger. “That was a story point that the writers came up with, that they got matching Barcaloungers,” says Grande. “In one of the meetings they started talking about, ‘Oh, wouldn’t it be funny if there was an arm that lifted up and they had cold storage for the beer?’ So I got two Barcaloungers from the company and I found leather and reupholstered both of them to match.”
Another unmissable item in the guys’ place is the Etch A Sketch on the back of their front door. Often decorated with funny cartoon drawings or urgent notes to one another (Joey, call Estelle!) the little mechanical drawing toy became a fun item for fans to spot in every episode, imagining they were gaining more insight into the lives of these fictional characters as they read it. And that was the intention, though the notes and drawings in real-life were actually inside jokes between the cast and crew. “I was looking for something that could work and that felt like the right piece,” says Grande. “The best part about it was we had one of the crew members on the show who was actually really good at doing that Etch A Sketch, so every week he’d create a new drawing and an in-house story that pertained to that week for some reason or another. It wasn’t necessarily for any story point, but maybe something that had happened in rehearsal. Every week that changed too.”
Looking back at the time spent between the two adjacent apartments, Grande remembers the episode where the girls and guys switched apartments — after an ill-fated, if amazing, trivia game — as one of the most exhilarating. “That was an exciting episode because that change-over happened live in front of an audience,” he says. “We had to do a dress rehearsal for two days prior to that, just moving furniture back and forth and knowing exactly where everything was going to hang, what pieces we were going to move over, etc. On show night on the Friday, we had to do that live in front of the audience during a wardrobe change in about 30 minutes.”
Monica’s Messy Closet
On the outside, everything in Monica’s apartment was immaculate in every way, but for all her OCD tendencies, when it came to the aesthetic of her home, she was actually harboring a dark secret: She was a covert slob. We all remember the episode where Chandler and Joey discover a closet in Monica’s apartment crammed full of clutter. Fictional characters, they’re just like us! For Grande, that was an opportunity to prank the cast. “That episode was really fun because in the rehearsal process, the closet certainly was not that full,” he says. “The whole joke was that we kept filling and filling and filling it [between takes].” The looks of shock on Matt LeBlanc and Matthew Perry‘s faces were, in fact, genuine as they opened the door to see the contents had multiplied. “It worked out well,” laughs Grande.
The Apothecary Table
No one can forget the episode when Pottery Barn infiltrates the gang’s lives. Okay, it’s not quite that dramatic, but there is quite a lot of product placement going on. Heck, the “yesteryear” items Rachel pretends to Phoebe she picked up at a Colonial flea market are so memorable that just this year, Pottery Barn announced a new Friends-inspired collection. That good ol’ apothecary table was, in fact, a real item available in Pottery Barns at the time, though. “They actually sold them, so we went to them and asked if we could use it,” says Grande. “In the process, they gave me the opportunity to shop anything I wanted out of there. A fair amount of the small pieces in Phoebe’s apartment, including the birdcage and screen, were really from Pottery Barn too.”
The Crumbling London Church
Ross’ second wedding sticks in our minds for many reasons: It was in London, baby; Ross said Rachel’s name instead of Emily’s; annnnd the church they’d chosen to get married in was being torn down when Emily and Ross showed up to see it. “They sent me over to London like a month earlier and we scouted for that dilapidated church,” says Grande. “Then we built the inside of the church on a stage and I decorated it like it was kind of rotting and falling apart and made special candles to decorate.” And in doing so, it’s fair to say Grande likely inspired the aesthetic of many weddings to come over the years — minus, you know, the piles of bricks and dust.
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