‘Only Murders in the Building’ set decorator Rich Murray breaks down the trio’s apartments

Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez are the stars of “Only Murders in the Building,” but the Arconia is definitely their fourth co-star. The fictional New York City apartment building is where their characters live and serves as the primary setting of the comedy murder-mystery, placing arguably a greater focus on the production design.

“We started with vintage ‘Architectural Digest’ and a lot of period magazines and books, and so we knew we had to be very specific about what we were doing — both from an architectural standpoint to make sure it felt like the building here in New York but also from the set dec side,” set decorator Rich Murray tells Gold Derby at our Meet the Experts: Production Design panel (watch above). “Each character had to be so distinct and so well defined, so we were very focused on color palette and texture and style. … It was a big challenge to make sure it felt like New York and it felt real and everything was built.”

The trio’s apartments told you so much about who each of them were even if you were to walk in in the middle of an episode while someone else was watching. For Charles (Martin), the star of the ’90s procedural “Brazzos,” his apartment carried a clean aesthetic that jibes with his weary and wary personality. He lines peppers in the refrigerator in a way that would make Monica Geller (Courteney Cox) proud and everything in the apartment looks “carefully sculpted and curated and assembled,” as Murray puts it. Martin, an avid art collector, also weighed in on the artwork in the space. “The Alex Katz painting in his living room where it’s the back of a woman’s head — obviously it’s about the women that leave him and his loneliness and his sort of isolation in his world,” Murray notes.

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A struggling theater director, Oliver (Short) lives in an apartment that screams theatricality. There’s an elevated stage in his living room and his ostentatious, wallpapered dining room is a nod to a backstory that the production design team gave to him: His father was in the opera world and Oliver has spent his career trying to match his success but never really got there. “His space was all about his past,” Murray says. “You see the wallpaper in the dining room. There are chairs and architectural artifacts from the old Metropolitan Opera House here in New York scattered throughout his apartment. As a theater kid myself, I had boxes and boxes of scripts and theater books and theater history that we just brought in from our storage and brought it into the show.”

On the other hand, Mabel (Gomez) lives in her aunt’s old apartment that she’s renovating, so it’s a work in progress, much like her. “We don’t know a lot about Mabel, but we know her aunt was of wealth. In the city, it felt like that late ’70s, early ’80s kind of house, a lotta bright color and a lotta funk to it,” Murray explains. “So we left that up in the chandeliers and the curtains in the living rooms and the bedrooms, but then all of it was stripped back. It really gives us a chance to see where she’s going, I hope, in Season 2.”

Mabel’s childhood bedroom, which we see in the sixth episode, however, was filled to the brim with her own artwork and a cardboard cutout of one of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit’s” finest, Detective Elliott Stabler (Christopher Meloni). “I think we actually made [the cutout]. We made it in house, but we really took a leap with that room because we’re struggling with ‘Who’s the 15-year-old Mabel? Who’s the 13-year-old Mabel? And how do we see that growth in her?’” Murray shares. “And we only saw probably three-quarters of the room, but it was full of art and life and craft and just joy and exuberance that you sort of see in kids’ rooms, but from her, it was a specific layer of intricate detail.”

That intricate level of detail has not gone unnoticed by the show’s fans, who micro-analyze every frame of the series not just to try to solve Tim Kono’s murder but to look for Easter eggs, which Murray says the team definitely sneaks into the sets. “It’s kind of funny — recently, we’ve gotten into the online world of the fanbase and the people following it. It’s mind-blowing to me that there are fans that are just as focused on who lives above whom and which line of the building. They’re out there!” he gushes. “It’s kind of terrifying knowing that every detail that we do [is being pored over] and of course the biggest part of what we did on the set dec side was sort of all the inside jokes and Easter eggs, and the fun and the joy of it being a comedy as well was sort of paramount in my approach and in the producers’ approach and the writers’ approach.”

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