“Love & Death” is set in the Dallas suburb of Wylie in the late ’70s, but in order to bring the small town to life for the true crime series, production designer Suzuki Ingerslev found the best locales with old school looks around the Texas capital. “Dallas has gotten so big now that these towns have also grown too, so they’re not these quintessential American towns,” she tells Gold Derby (watch above). “We ended up finding Austin as our home base and we found the best towns out there. It was amazing. Some of the towns were actually stuck in time. It was still a lot of work for us to do, but the bones were there and we could create this kind of world that we wanted to have our characters thriving in.”
That world was a picturesque churchgoing community where everything seems quaint and lovely and “normal” on the surface. That utopia is destroyed when Candy Montgomery (Elizabeth Olsen) is accused of murdering her friend, Betty Gore (Lily Rabe), with an axe following an affair between Candy and Betty’s husband, Allan Gore (Jesse Plemons). Candy and Betty are polar opposites, which Ingerslev wanted to convey with their homes. “The sets are a character in this piece because you want to understand what happened to these two women and how they were living and what drove them to this situation that they ended up in,” she says. “So I was trying to get the viewer to kind of make their own assumptions about who they were.”
While the exteriors of their homes are real houses, Ingerslev and her team built the interiors in a warehouse — she estimates they built more than 100 sets for the whole show — and because there’s not a lot of documentation of the real interiors (other than Betty’s laundry room, where she was murdered) of either house, Ingerslev took liberties with the layouts. “It was more important that we could follow the script and where the neighbors could come through the house systemically and follow them and reveal the murder the way it was written,” she states.
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Candy’s house is brighter, airier, colorful and boasts an open kitchen, where she spends an enormous amount of time cooking — all a reflection of her bubblier and aspirational personality. She wants more out of life, as she says frequently, and is the one who tells Allan point blank she wants to have an affair with him. “Candy was fortunate. Her husband did really well. They had the best in technology at their house. It was a lighter, more open, happy — theoretically — ‘everybody cooks and everybody’s happy’ type of household. Her stuff is more curated and I feel like she has more happy colors to her and more open space,” Ingerslev explains. “I’m so glad that I put so much effort into that kitchen. I feel like we’re in there all the time. It’s so important for me to have depth when you look down a set — you don’t want to just see a wall — so they’re always sitting at that counter or at that little table that we have in the breakfast room. Because then you look down into the hallway, you look into the living room, you see the piano and the kid playing piano. I just feel like that gives you so much.”
On the other end of the spectrum, the Gore home is darker, more traditional and feels claustrophobic. Betty is far less experimental (if at all) than Candy and was also suffering from postpartum depression. “I feel like she came from a smaller farm community. She probably had hand-me-down furniture from different periods. That’s why it’s not all ’70s we had in there,” Ingerslev shares. “We kind of went back. I feel like her parents would’ve given her some of their stuff. I feel like she’s more of the Sears, JCPenney shopper from the catalog. You tried to match everything back in the day and I feel like everybody had that. … So I consider her more of the matchy-matchy, more religious, less sexual one. I feel like Candy’s house was more sexual and Betty’s was more repressed, kind of indicating that through the colors of Betty’s as well — the blues, the darker woods.”
In the back half of the series, viewers get to see a new home, that of Don Crowder (Tom Pelphrey), Candy’s attorney. His office is covered in taxidermy pieces from floor to ceiling. “We had so much fun with Don Crowder because he was kind of a showman. When you read the book [‘Evidence of Love’], he was all about tanning and looking good and being this kind of attorney that was successful in the domain that he was in. And it was Texas, so we had to bring in Texas somewhere,” Ingerslev says. “I felt like a lot of houses I went to had taxidermy and I was like, ‘This is perfect for him.’ I don’t see Candy having taxidermy, I don’t see Betty having taxidermy, but oh, my God! We’re going to give Don Crowder this — so much fun.”
But the pièce de résistance is Don’s desk, which features a terrarium outfitted with lights. Set decorator Gabriella Villarreal found the desk on Facebook Marketplace. “She was like, ‘Is it too much?’ And I was like, ‘Oh, hell no! Oh, hell no! Let’s have some fun with this,'” Ingerslev recalls. “And we built a terrarium inside of it. I think there’s a rattlesnake, an armadillo and another animal in there. And we thought, ‘I don’t know if they’ll ever this, but how amazing is this desk?’ We’re really proud of that one and I know Warner Bros. prop houses ended up taking it afterward, so it went to a good home and it’s going to stay and live somewhere. … I contemplated taking it, but I was like, ‘What do I need with this?'”
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