It's not often that a production designer gets a shout out on network television but Ellen Waggett received on-air compliments from client Jimmy Fallon and his guest, style guru Tim Gunn, after she completely revamped the guest dressing rooms and designed a new guest band room for NBC's “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon.”
Fallon noted that all the dressing rooms he's been in on talk shows “look like a hospital ward” and called Waggett's transformational design “incredible” and “cool.” Gunn echoed Fallon's praise adding a “wonderful” declaration of his own.
When Waggett, who also designed the show's set, began working with Fallon “one of the marching orders was to make the show the best place to be – really comfortable with a family feeling,” she recalls. “Once the show was up and running Jimmy said let's think about what to do with Conan's old dressing rooms. The more we talked the more he said let's do what hotels do to spoil their guests, so I started thinking of the dressing rooms as my own little B&B with each room a jewel box. Once I landed that idea, I was home free.”
The show's three existing dressing rooms could have been called functional, at best. They featured solid-color walls, institutional tile floors, a few nondescript chairs, sink/vanity combos with standard make up mirrors, TVs, clothes hooks and sconces. There was no guest band room – the space was simply a storage room.
Both Waggett and Fallon were interested in using wallpaper in the dressing rooms, and they fell in love with three samples depicting bold, rampant lions, birds, and swimming fish. Once the creature-motif wallpaper suggested themes for the rooms Waggett got busy shopping eBay, flea markets and antiques stores for collections of fun and funky objects to give a “young, irreverent” feel to the spaces.
But before she installed the collections and accessories she dealt with some more basic elements. Waggett chose “elegant and serious” color palettes for the rooms that would be enhanced by the eclectic collections and painted the dropped ceilings. She replaced the tiles with warm and hard-wearing tongue-and-groove flooring. “The wood floors and painted ceilings made an enormous difference right off the top,” she reports.
She ripped out the conventional sinks and vanities and replaced them with distinctive vintage pedestal and china-bowl sinks. While it was important to keep the bright array of vanity lights she opted to set them off against one-of-a-kind mirrors. And she turned off the rooms' fluorescent lighting in favor of table lamps throughout.
To amp up “the hospitality factor” in each dressing room she also added universal charging stations for electronic devices, tiered silver stands filled with snacks, mini-fridges stocked with beverages, and fluffy towels rolled in baskets.
But it's the collections and accessories that give each dressing room a very individual feel. The Bird Room is decorated with a Venetian glass mirror, Tiffany-style stained glass lamps, a blue suede chaise longue with colorful pillows, a patterned carpet, a host of bird paintings and Jimmy Fallon's own collection of vintage Atari game cartridges which were framed and treated like art.
The Lion Room boasts a tufted leather couch, Victorian mirror, an antique trunk serving as a cocktail table, Oriental area rugs, a rampant-lion motif stenciled on the door, a shadowbox of bottlecaps, and a huge framed vintage jacket covered with state patches and matted against a US map.
The Fish Room has a frieze of colorful, vintage cereal boxes built into a plastic cornice, a painting of Venice in an oval bubble-glass frame, additional oval bubble-glass frames enclosing a collection of hand mirrors, and an elegant gilded mirror.
A selection of unique vintage chairs, often creatively reupholstered, are scattered throughout the dressing rooms.
“We took very traditional furniture and wallpaper and mixed them with some crazy things,” says Waggett. “Everybody has had the same reaction to the dressing rooms: They want to curl up and read a book. They've been wildly successful.”
To make the guest band room Waggett sectioned off a portion of a large storage room. She installed a wood-and-glass wall of sliding doors for access to the remaining storage area and added a storage closet for the show's music producer.
The room sports a functional upright piano plus banjo, guitars, bass and percussion and PlayStations for non-musical diversion. The walls are filled with framed Rolling Stone magazine covers, vintage 45 records and a painted velvet Elvis. Sofas from an abandoned office were reupholstered and comfy chairs were covered with oilcloth and chocolate brown mohair. An assortment of area rugs helps deaden sound, a Mission-style desk offers a place to catch up on business, and an arched Mid-Century style floor lamp supplies graceful illumination.
“The impetus behind the dressing rooms and the new band room was the guests,” Waggett emphasizes. “The old dressing rooms didn't reflect the spirit of the show Jimmy is doing. We wanted guests to feel part of the family and the rooms to be part of the aesthetic of the show. It's been one of the most fun projects I've ever done.”
About Vibrant Design
Vibrant Design LLC is an entertainment design firm providing a full range of set and lighting design services to broadcast and cable TV, live productions, corporate events and theater as well as architecture and interior design. For more information, visit www.vibrantdesign.tv.