Hulu's hit series The Handmaid's Tale is full of symbolism, from its parallels to today's political climate right down to the colors of clothing that each caste of women in the Republic of Gilead is forced to wear. It should be no surprise, then, that as much attention to detail went into the sets on the show as, well, everything else that's depicted.
In a new interview with Architectural Digest, Julie Berghoff, production designer on the series, along with stars Elisabeth Moss and Samira Wiley, revealed a few aspects of Offred's surroundings that you might have missed at first glance.
First, Offred's room, where our protagonist arguably spends most of her time, was arranged to highlight the life that the handmaid was forced to leave behind. Berghoff specifically notes, "We put a desk there, but she can't write. So it's almost like a remnant, a remembrance of 'Oh, I was a writer, an editor. I can't even sit and write anymore.'" Next time, the spotlight is on Offred's living space: Look out for details like the outline of a now-removed mirror (remember, vanity is a sin in Gilead) and rich textures to play to the character's sense of touch when she's trapped in the room for long stretches of time. Even the floorboards creak on purpose, says Berghoff. "It's exactly what I dreamed it would be from the book, with the windowsills and the bed, and it's very spare," Moss said of the room. "Even the floors are treated to look very old."
But it's not just Offred's attic accommodations that hold hidden meaning. Look closely, and you'll notice that the Waterfords' home contains one particular item of decor that should seem surprising to interior design buffs: actual Monet paintings. If it doesn't seem like art would be a priority in this particular regime, you're not wrong. According to Berghoff, art is so undervalued that the Commander and his wife Serena Joy were given free rein to loot their favorite pieces from a museum. "We pretended like they went into the Boston Museum of Modern Art and stole all their favorite paintings," she said. "Serena Joy is a watercolorist, and she loves nature, so she picked Monets."
Even the grocery store set took extremely careful planning. Since Gilead prohibits women from reading and writing, all of the labels on food and signs in the store had to be replaced with images. Berghoff said her graphics team painstakingly designed hundreds of labels and to stick all over items at the store, and Wiley, who plays Offred's friend and fellow handmaid Moira, notes that their effort has had a particularly haunting effect.
"When they go shopping, it's not in some old-timey-looking place," Wiley said. "It's in a shopping center that looks like now. And I think those details make it a little scarier; it's really in the world we are living in right now."
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