Designed by: Richard Berg
Hollywood + kitchen design—can you see the stars in our eyes? We recently got the chance to chat with production designer Richard Berg, the creative force behind the sets you see on ABC's Modern Family. His work has been featured on dozens of other shows and movies (he's currently in the Lone Star State working on the set of Dallas), and he's racked up multiple Emmy nominations and Art Director's Guild awards. A trained architect who decided he'd rather practice "in a more progressive place," Richard left his native Toronto in the early '90s to work for a firm in California.
After a year or so of hanging out with his film director best friend, he got the itch to work in the industry, too. "I'm really happy I made the switch," he says. "In one year, I design more in the TV business than I would in an entire career [with an architecture firm]. In 15 years, I've probably designed 500 to 750 environments." Whether it's Jay and Gloria's fiery red contemporary kitchen on Modern Family or Phil and Claire's more traditional space, Richard knows a thing or two about what works, and he shared a few of his favorite design tips with us.
Photo: ©ABC/Peter "Hopper" Stone
CULTIVATE: What things do you consider when designing sets, especially kitchens?
RICHARD BERG: I think everyone has their own approach. I went to architecture school, so for me it's pragmatic. The flow is the first thing I think about. I work out spatial sizes, visualize three-dimensionally what a room will look like and plan geometrically. It's important that there are good angles for shooting, and that the actors can move around without getting landlocked. There's a lot of back-and-forth with the art director, whom I refer to as my co-conspirator. With kitchens, I gravitate toward a center island for good movement all the way around (that's the case with Modern Family) so the actors can be doing work and facing out to the camera. The island becomes the focal point of the space, and from there we'll add the color and texture.
Photo: ©ABC/Colleen Hayes
CULTIVATE: What's the most challenging kitchen set you've designed?
RICHARD: The White House interior for 1600 Penn, a new comedy that premieres on NBC this January. It was tricky because we had to consider the historical element and what people know of the interiors. We tried to make the kitchen authentic while figuring out what a modern space looks like in a house like this—and of course, it had to be much bigger than the actual kitchen. It was kind of fun, reinventing the wheel.
CULTIVATE: So what does your kitchen look like?
RICHARD: My wife and I gutted an old 1959 cottage in Laurel Canyon. It has a modern interior and kitchen—ours is a C shape, sort of a wide galley with a peninsula that I use as a serving and eating counter. I used to use Corian countertops, which I still love, because they can be repaired. But we went with Caesarstone this time, which can handle hot plates nicely, doesn't stain with red wine, and can be sanded and re-polished. And then a Wolf dual four-burner range and oven, and a Sub-Zero fridge.
CULTIVATE: Any favorite flooring materials?
RICHARD: I like a comfortable floor that has give to it. I've even gone with cork before, which is unusual, but if it's laid properly, it will wear very well. I'm generally a hardwood person—I love it in a living room that flows into the kitchen. Oh, and polymer resin—it should be poured. It takes on stonelike qualities, but it's a little bit softer, cleans up nicely and doesn't crack.
CULTIVATE: With the holiday season in full swing, do you have any entertaining tips?
RICHARD: I just really love the idea of some sort of counter where guests can be on one side as I'm preparing food on the other. They can enjoy appetizers or even take testers of, say, shrimp I'm cooking. Entertaining while cooking—there's no better party for me.
Photo: ©ABC/Peter "Hopper" Stone
CULTIVATE: If you could live in any kitchen you've designed, which one would it be?
RICHARD: I think Jay and Gloria's on Modern Family [above and top]. It's the closest to my own, certainly in the way it's laid out, with that triangle between the fridge, cooktop and sink. Those three together—I rely on those elements being in proximity so I'm not not tripping over myself.
CULTIVATE: What kitchen gadgets are on your holiday wish list?
RICHARD: The only appliance on our countertop is an espresso maker—my wife uses it twice a day, every day. I've been thinking about putting an Elektra Classic (an Italian espresso maker) in its place—one of the most amazing ones you can buy. It's this gorgeous polished stainless steel sculpture with an eagle on top. It looks like an old Russian rocket!
Richard Berg at work
Photo: Courtesy of Richard Berg