How Production Design of ‘Only Murders in the Building’ Told Stories About the Show’s Characters

Hulu’s comedic caper Only Murders in the Building follows a trio of amateur sleuths residing in the fictional Arconia, a classic New York apartment building, where they are surrounded by suspects. Each unit provides the opportunity to reveal backstories and crucial character details.

Charles-Haden Savage (Steve Martin), a semi-retired actor, bought his 14th-floor unit in the ’90s while on a successful crime series. Production designer Curt Beech notes this set was given “a newer kitchen and some renovated spaces. It made him look much smarter with his money. We gave him art that shows he’s a shrewd collector [with] a good eye.”

Charles’ kitchen includes “an amazing orange wallpaper that became a pop of color in his place,” says production designer Curt Beech. “Next to it are four album covers from a series called Persuasive Percussion from the ’60s, designed by Josef Albers

Courtesy of Craig Blankenhorn/Hulu

Martin Short’s Oliver Putnam, a down-on-his-luck Broadway director, resides in a unit that’s all about theatricality; young artist Mabel Mora, portrayed by Selena Gomez, is a “work in progress,” as she is renovating her aunt’s unit while living there.

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“All of his worst dramatic traits are on display in his apartment,” says Beech of Oliver’s apartment. “We started [with] the stage.”

Craig Blankenhorn/Hulu

The sets also provide character development for their suspects. The residence of Howard (Michael Cyril Creighton) “is meant to look like it has been taken over by [his] cat and is only about [his] cat,” says Beech, citing a huge feline portrait in the living room. “What we were going for in his apartment is that it was his mother’s place. He’s added a few things here and there — for the cat primarily.” Sting, playing himself, lives in a penthouse whose rock-star details include boxes for a road tour and vintage guitar cases. “We have the XOXO neon [sign] in red, which is a nod to [The Police’s] “Roxanne”: ‘You don’t have to put on the red light,’ ” says Beech.

For the home of Tim Kono, who dies in the pilot, Beech says, “it had to have a bit of mystery to it. We purposely did not give him as much character in his apartment.” The important Hardy Boys books on the shelves, though, had to be visible.

“The visual metaphor is that [Mabel’s] a work in progress,” says Beech of her apartment. “By the end of the first season, she’s drawn this beautiful mural of all the characters who we’ve come into contact with over the course of the season.”

Courtesy of Barbara Nitke/Hulu

The Belnord on the Upper West Side, designed in 1908 with an archway and interior courtyard, provides the exterior locations for the Arconia.

Courtesy of Craig Blankenhorn/Hulu

The similar layouts in the fictional Arconia (computer rendering below) allowed the apartments to stand out with their own style — each matching the idiosyncrasies of its residents.

Courtesy of Hulu

Beech says the show posters became a “game” between set decorator Rich Murray and [creators] John Hoffman and Steve Martin. “They would send really silly names of plays back and forth to each other. I think my favorite is Newark! Newark!”

Courtesy of Hulu

This story first appeared in a July stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

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