Jessica Kender Interview: ‘Little Fires Everywhere’ production designer

The Hulu limited series “Little Fires Everywhere” provided a few interesting challenges for production designer Jessica Kender. With the show being set in the ’90s, she had to convey a particular vibe of being a bit dated in our 2020 world but also attractive through the lens of the upscale Richardson family. As Kender puts it in her exclusive video interview with Gold Derby, it was all about “finding that fine line of hitting the ’90s, which is not attractive to our eye but also hitting the ’90s in a way that still looked good.” Watch the full video interview with Kender above.

For that Richardson house, as carefully decorated by the stylish Elena (Reese Witherspoon), it was important for Kender to represent key thematic elements of the story. “My whole goal in that house was to make it something where you had depth everywhere you looked because the story’s so much about both the presentation that Elena puts on but also that there are all these deep almost secrets that are being covered up,” she explains. “It has both this feeling of wealth, which seeing into every room does, but also this slightly voyeuristic feel ‘cause no matter where you are in the space, you can see into every other room.” With the show centering on Shaker Heights, Ohio, Kender went right to the source, an area she had previously visited once a year to see her grandmother, and came back to Los Angeles brimming with ideas. 

Meanwhile, Mia’s (Kerry Washington) apartment with her daughter Pearl (Lexi Underwood) had to reflect an artist’s workspace. Kender and the set decorator Lisa Clark took some inspiration from their respective first apartments, the period of their lives where they were art students but didn’t have a lot of money but still wanted to express their creativity in a somewhat unique way. The apartment also has French doors to indicate Pearl’s growing detachment from her mom. “We needed very much Pearl to feel a divide between her mom and herself and so we put those French doors because it’s almost like you should be able to see in, but she doesn’t let her,” Kender notes. 

“Little Fires Everywhere” came around at an interesting time for Kender as she was looking for work following “Future Man,” another Hulu series. During what she admits was a mid-life crisis, she turned down work for four months, unable to find another show that satisfied her creatively. That’s when “Little Fires Everywhere” came across her desk and she prepared even more extensively than she typically does before nailing the interview and designing the entire limited series. Kender observes that it was a very different experience working on a show primarily driven by women both in front of and behind the camera. “That alone was different and we were lucky within this group that it was a very supportive group; everybody had a voice,” she recalls. “It was like no other show I’ve been on.”

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UPLOADED May 7, 2020 1:25 pm