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Set Decorator Kimberly Wannop Reflects On Her 2017 Emmy-Nominated Work On “Veep”

Kimberly Wannop used muted colors and custom-made furniture for Selena Meyer’s new home in season six of “Veep.” Photo courtesy HBO.

By: Marjorie Galas

Waiting on the word of the sixth season “Veep” world filled set decorator Kimberly Wannop with a giddy anxiety.  The then two-time Emmy nominee (2009 for “Bones”, 2016 for “Veep”) was heading into her second season with the show as the characters left the White House and moved on to new careers.  Establishing their re-entry into the “new world” resulted in her second consecutive nom for the show (and third nomination.)

“The break from the political offices was a breath of fresh air,” said Wannop as she reflected on the season.  “To receive the Emmy nomination left me completely overwhelmed. To even be considered, and have my peers recognize me, made me burst into tears.”

Wannop recalls lobbying production designer Jim Gloster to get the job when a position became available in the fifth season.  She hadn’t worked with Gloster prior to season five, and recalls being persistent (“basically stalking” said Wannop) the vet designer who’d been with the show since its first season.  Getting to know the characters while they were still in political office enhanced the ability to explore their personalities in the wealth of sets that would be needed as they ventured into new territory.

Season six involved the use of location shoots as well as sound stages.  Wannop recalls times the team was on location for four out of six sets, working on 15 swing sets per an episode.  Locations always prove challenging for a set decorator due to the restrictions each locale possesses, such as inability to paint, alter or hang material.  Wannop and her team focus on what “they can get and do in the time frame” that’s available to them on these practical locations.  She credits the location department for securing spots with the best possible looks.  This season found them on locations in Simi Valley subbing for Iraq, mansions in Beverly Hill and a yacht, to name just a few.

Wannop works closely with the other department heads as she preps for each location to ensure story, character and visually intent remain at the forefront of each set.  Main character Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is meant to always pop off the screen, an allusion crafted in part by the costume design and color crafted by costume designer Kathleen Felix-Hager and a muted palette surrounding her that Wannop establishes in the set decoration.  For Meyer’s Bronx-based brownstone, Wannop maintained some brownstone art deco features while making the overall look more modern, which added to the reality of the neutral palette encouraged the one-of-a kind look that had been discussed in production meetings for each episode.  Much of the furniture in Meyer’s space is custom made, and larger pieces such as the sofa are reupholstered.  Although her mother’s piano has been incorporated into the set, the negative relationship she has with her mother is demonstrated in the lack of photos and personal items that hang on the wall.  Instead, Wannop has found paintings by artists that hung in the White House sets to emphasize her professional connection.

“The new house let us be able to push the limits on how she is,” said Wannop.  “Everything is heightened.”

Wannop particularly enjoyed working with the CBS studio location.  Not overly familiar with the structure of the morning news sets, she spent a great deal of time researching all the details, down to the types of desks used and the height of the chairs supplied for guests.  Additionally, this past season involved some “dirty sets” with burn damage.  In addition to ensuring she had many doubles for the takes, her team had to add layers of charcoal and filth to depict the reality of the situation.

Wallop gives major credit to her team for ensuring their tight timeline is always met.  She’s prepping the next episode as the crews are working on the numerous swing sets; and she says they handle these high pressure situations without allowing for errors.  She notes her two buyers scavenge and scrounge for furniture and any other items that are needed.

“I’m amazed at how much and how quickly they are able to get, because what we need is not always found at our first choice (rental house,)” said Wannop.

Up next for Wannop: returning to the second season of “The Good Place” and the seventh season of “Veep.”