Production designer Michael Hynes began repurposing sets in the 1980s. “Scripts can change up to the last minute in a sitcom, and sometimes you have to come up with a new set quickly,” he says. “When you put walls in a different relationship with each other, it saves money and you get a different look. If I find scenery that already has Victorian molding or stained glass, I can take our budget and build an extra bay window.”
For Disney Channel’s Wizards of Waverly Place, Hynes has repurposed scenery from Benson, Soap and The Golden Girls. He recently created a cave from rock scenery that had served as a penguin habitat on Will & Grace.
Production designer Dan Maltese used the kitchen and two stairways from the main house in According to Jim last year for 10 Things I Hate About You on ABC Family. Hynes originally created the Jim house from four other previous sets, including that of ABC’s Boy Meets World. After eight seasons, Jim’s scenery looked so shabby that people questioned whether it would work. “A new coat of plaster or paint can make a set look new if it’s structurally sound,” Maltese says.
Production designer Glenda Rovello doesn’t usually know a set’s origin; instead, she is focused on its architecture. Becky Casey, director of production services for NBCUniversal, was amazed when Rovello converted a morgue set into a SoHo art gallery for Will & Grace.
“From its gray plastered walls, I could visualize the morgue as an artist’s loft. … I love building new, but if I can get architecture for free, I can save thousands in a budget,” Rovello says. Recently, she repurposed some beautifully detailed sets with great molding from Dirty Sexy Money into scenery for The Great State of Georgia, a new ABC Family series.
Essentially, art directors and production designers are called upon to be Tinseltown’s alchemists, creating something new from something old.
Harman recently created a ship’s hold for The Event from two old sets: a bungalow and a suburban condo. “If you saw it from the outside, you would think it was a mess, because the walls were different heights,” he says. “But once you walked inside the set, you were in the ship’s hold.”