On this week’s episode of Working, June Thomas spoke with set decorator Beth Kushnick about her work on TV shows like The Good Wife, The Good Fight, and Bridge and Tunnel. They discussed her process for designing sets from scratch, the challenges of sourcing objects and materials during a pandemic, and the artistic and technical factors that go into creating different characters’ spaces. This partial transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.
June Thomas: Your newest show, which is on the Epix network, is called Bridge and Tunnel, and it tells the story of six new college graduates who find themselves back home in Long Island right after graduating from college. It’s a period piece set in the ’80s. What special challenges do period pieces present?
Even though Bridge and Tunnel takes place in 1980, it actually takes place even back into the ’60s. Early on in my career, I remember learning this from a very smart production designer who taught me how you look down the street and everybody has cars: new cars, old cars, borrowed cars, rented cars. So when you’re doing a really successful period piece, you have to have a breadth and depth of items that speak to all the different characters in all their different periods. This was probably one of the most challenging jobs for me, because it was my first job back during COVID. So not only was I searching for items from the ’60s, and ’70s, and 1980, getting those items during the pandemic was a challenge.
When you can’t just go into a warehouse or into a store and just wander around.
We source so much from thrift shops, and so many things were unavailable to us, but I think we pulled it off.
Bridge and Tunnel is set in a particular neighborhood in Long Island. A lot of what you’re signaling is class, which is a very touchy subject, especially in America. You want to avoid stereotypes, because these homes are actually really nice properties, but the young people are aware that they are seen as slightly “less than” by Manhattanites—that they are “B & T.” How do you address all of that with furniture and accessories?
I go back to the script. We were so lucky; we ended up on literally one or two streets shooting the houses all together. Some of them have been owned by the owners for 50 years. Two of them had basements, which were filled with the motherlode. We did a lot of begging and borrowing. To me, subtle ways to express the characters, and the class level, really happened a lot and was informed in the graphics and the music posters and in the way we made the rooms feel smaller, but not too claustrophobic.
Jimmy, one of the main characters, is a tall, strapping young man, and in the first episode he’s seen in his little single teenager bed.
I was surprised at how much I felt I really knew the period, having lived it. So I was extremely definitive on what was period-appropriate and what wasn’t. Every once in a while someone would say, “What about this?” And I’m like, “Nope, doesn’t fit the period.”
You mentioned the stuff on the wall, and I agree that is really striking. They are adults in kids’ rooms. They’re at that point in their life where they’re making that change, and their rooms—because they’ve not lived in them for four years—haven’t changed.