Flaming toasters, flying pancakes, family squabbles: the Dunphy’s kitchen has seen it all — and now the walls are talking.
In EW’s annual Hollywood Design Report (on newsstands now) production designer Claire Bennett and set designer Brian Kasch walk us through Modern Family‘s little slice of suburbia to explain the thinking behind the bold color choices and artfully cluttered workspaces and reveal hidden gems like the family growth chart and baby photos.
Click through the gallery for an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of the set.
Most of the action in the Dunphy kitchen revolves around the island at the center of the room. “Richard Berg, the original designer, created this great kitchen island that allows so much movement and really gives a sense of the family life,” explains Bennett. “There are so many scenes that play around that area, so it’s definitely a great focal point for the set.” Each detail is so well thought-out, the designers have begun to feel a kindred connection to the Dunphys. “I definitely see my family reflected,” says Kasch. “Our kitchen island is the hub of our world, especially in the morning. The kids going off to school, Phil and Claire going off to work — it’s that morning hubbub that to me is the most reminiscent.”
Keeping It Real
The working set is complete with fully stocked fridge, drawers packed with utensils, and an array of “little things like that allow our actors to interact with the space, be involved with the set, and not be restricted by a fake [appliances] or anything like that,” explains Bennett. One thing that’s not real — the faux granite countertops. What would viewers be most surprised to learn about the Dunphy kitchen set? “That it’s on a soundstage,” says Kasch. “Honestly I watched the show for three years before I worked on it and I would have thought they were filming on location.”
Claire’s nook has changed a lot over the years. Lately, a briefcase and paperwork have been sharing space with stay-at-home mom essentials like soccer schedules and report cards; evidence that Claire going back to work and Phil has begun picking up more of the domestic slack. Photos of the actors decorate the workstation and other parts of the Dunphy home. “We’ve got this great photo of Julie [Bowen] a bit younger, just off the kitchen on the side table, and it’s such a perfect glimpse into her life,” says Bennett.
Decorate Like a Dunphy
When it comes time to add new decor items to the Dunphy house, Kasch and Bennett shop at stores like Pottery Barn, Pier 1 Imports, and Bed Bath and Beyond. “They would also go to the flea market on a Sunday morning to look for bold stuff and find a cool piece,” says Kasch. “They have that kind of eclecticism, they haven’t hired a decorator.” Ever noticed the Dunphys’ proclivity for a certain parallel pattern? “Stripes are something that are unique to the Dunphy family. We’ve got it in the upholstery, in some of the living room furniture, the pillows on the interview couch, and the kitchen,” explains Bennett. “It’s these little pops of color that bring the space to life.”
“A lot of comedy takes place in the kitchen,” says Kasch. “We’ve had the toaster light on fire because Luke was trying to re-rig it, or pancakes getting stuck on the ceiling, or Luke falling out of his stool. There is so much action with the family in there, and that’s where the comedy mostly comes from on this show — real-life stories from Chris Lloyd and Steven Levitan.” Making the space look lived-in is a never-ending challenge for the designers. “We’re constantly changing out food items around the counter, or shuffling [things] around…. Episode to episode, there are very subtle changes,” says Bennett. Adds Kasch: “A dish breaks, you bring in new stuff, as in anyone’s house.”