The mansion on Ghosts didn't have to look old. It’s easy to imagine a version of the CBS sitcom, about a couple who inherits a house and realizes it’s filled with spirits, where everything has been renovated to look incredibly modern. There could be ghosts using modular Swedish furniture or “livings” trying to explain sleek chrome appliances to people who died in the 1800s.
But for production designer Zoe Sakellaropoulo, that would fundamentally change the series.”The house is disheveled,” she says. “But in the neglect, I tried to find its soul and its poetry. I actually think it’s more beautiful today than it would’ve been in its pristine state. It’s like seeing the lines on someone’s face. The house has a lot to say.”
You can hear the mansion talking in every room of the set that Sakellaropoulo has designed. “It’s basically a jumble of time,” she says, describing the various eras of furniture, art, and light fixtures she’s assembled. “It’s like archaeological work. You can do layers of different periods, and they can all live together in one eclectic room.”
That philosophy is especially apparent in Thorfinn’s room. He’s an ancient viking ghost (played by Devan Chandler Long), but he lives in a space filled with everything from vintage wallpaper to a big-screen TV. (You can see his room about halfway through the clip below.)
Thorfinn’s domain happens to be the first space that Sakellaropoulo was able to physically enter while the sets were being built. “I’m particularly proud of it,” she says. “There’s not a straight lampshade in the room. I love doing that. I love throwing in the crooked things and the broken things. We had to scour the entire province [of Quebec, where the show films]. It was fun to come up with these Victorian lampshades that haven’t seen the light of day since they were used a hundred years ago. It’s rare that you can use pieces like that and embrace their disheveled, torn selves.”
Sometimes the show's rapid-fire shooting schedule means that she has to get creative to create the ideal room. (Each episode is completed in five days.) In one episode, we see flashbacks of how Trevor, the “Wall Street bro” ghost played by Asher Grodman, died in the house in 2000. The mansion needed to look slightly less worn down than it does in the present-day scenes, but both eras were shot in the same day. Sakellaropoulo got a visual effects team to clean up the “year 2000 wallpaper” with CGI.
Still, her work on Ghosts is mostly about real places, and she’s eager to see what she can create next. “I hope we keep adding rooms,” she says. “We built an attic, but we only built a small section. We could expand on the attic. We could expand on the basement. We’ve only really been in the boiler room, so we have more rooms we could build down there. There could be secret panels, secret doors. There could be tons of treasures we haven’t discovered yet. There are endless possibilities.”
Ghosts returns to CBS for Season 2 in the fall. The show's entire first season is available for streaming on Paramount+.
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Mark Blankenship is Primetimer's Reviews Editor. Tweet him at @IAmBlankenship.