'Black-ish' Serves Up Soft Neutrals with a Dose of Hard Plots

'Black-ish' Serves Up Soft Neutrals with a Dose of Hard Plots

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Kendra Beltran
Oct 18, 2018
(Image credit: Courtesy of ABC)

Spoilers ahead for season four and the season five premiere of "Black-ish."

With the Fall 2018 season underway, we are returning to some our favorite TV abodes, and getting invited inside a few new ones. Join us this month as we explore the best homes on the small screen.

Show: "Black-ish"—ABC Tuesdays at 9:00 p.m.
Style: Set in the suburbs of Los Angeles, the Johnson home serves a heavy dose of contemporary finesse while playing it California cool.
Why we love it: "Black-ish" has proven time and time again to be a conversation starter while delivering both laughs and heart.

It is hard to imagine a world before the Johnsons came into our homes, but "Black-ish" is just entering its fifth season this week. Already it has won countless NAACP Image Awards, a Peabody, and their fearless matriarch Tracee Ellis Ross took home a Golden Globe in 2017.

All of the above are more than deserved. "Black-ish" has given the world of television not only a family comedy worthy of our undying attention, but also a healthy dose of topical conversations. Police brutality, biracial identity, puberty—it's all been on the table since the show premiered in 2014. Whether fishing for laughs or tackling tough topics, the family does so from their beautiful California-cool home.

We talked with production designer Maxine Shepard about their stylish surroundings and what changes the fifth season brings.

(Image credit: Courtesy of ABC)

Apartment Therapy: Family comedies that start with a married couple usually never even dip their toe into separation or divorce. Last season, "Black-ish" fans were hit hard in the feels with Bow and Dre cannonballing into that area and it all sort of revolved around a kitchen remodel. Will we get any other room changes with their marriage starting a new chapter this season?

Maxine Shepard: Our "Black-ish" kitchen is part of a larger family room area. Once we changed the kitchen, the rest of the family room required an update too. The new sleeker, modern kitchen created a design domino effect. It was less about a story point and more about basic aesthetics and flow. We updated the casual dining area with a live edge table and boldly colored chairs. The family room sofa and chairs were replaced with streamlined, upholstered pieces in neutral tones.

(Image credit: Courtesy of ABC)

AT: Not only the marriage but the kids are also evolving. Zoey is out of the house, Junior is on his way, and Jack and Diane are at that age where a shared room isn't ideal for fraternal twins. Will the Johnson house start to convey a home where the kids are ultimately growing up? Will Zoey's room be transformed into something for her parents?

MS: The kids' rooms have gone through the biggest transformations. Our twins, Jack and Diane, have almost reached their teens and decided on separate rooms. When Junior left for college, Diane seized the opportunity to move into his room and claim it for herself.

We gave Diane's new space a fun tween look with purple ombre walls, yellow furniture, dark pink bedding, and crystal light fixtures. Our goal was to find the balance between the young girl she's leaving behind and the more mature teen she's becoming.

(Image credit: Courtesy of ABC)

In a humorous twist, Junior decides college can wait for a year and returns home to find his room has been taken over. Jack lets Junior bunk with him and they go about creating their version of the ultimate bachelor pad. This jumble of street signs, camo netting, and a funky, leather couch is currently being updated for Jack. Like Diane, he's getting a more age-appropriate look. Darker blue walls and a video game lounge are replacing robot wallpaper and stuffed toys.

At her father's insistence, Zoey's room is currently intact (and houses her off-season wardrobe!). We've heard that the Johnson's might be getting a houseguest soon and Zoey's chic space might be the next area to be remodeled.

AT: Often times the set of a show becomes as iconic as the characters and storylines. How do you feel "Black-ish" goes about creating a space that is as recognizable as the Johnsons themselves?

MS: Since the pilot, I've tried to stay true to our color palette. The main part of the house is in warm, soft neutrals tones: beige, gray, and silver with light blue, dusty violet and orange accents. The kids' rooms are a riot of color: pink, acid green, bright blue, red, and orange! I think the consistency of the palette helps distinguish the environment and creates a lasting impression.

(Image credit: Courtesy of ABC)

AT: What are some of your favorite pieces on the set that have been there since day one and what are some of your new favorites coming up this season?

MS: My absolute favorite new items on the set this season are the blue chairs around the casual dining table. They have a clean, quirky silhouette in the most beautiful shade of blue. I suppose I love these chairs so much because I miss the blue tile backsplash in our original kitchen. The blue tile in the old kitchen always felt inviting and comfortable. Not that I don't like our new kitchen, I just miss the blue tile. It was one of the first items I chose for the set when I was designing the pilot episode.

AT: Have any of the actors voiced that they'll be taking certain pieces home with them when the show ultimately wraps (years from now of course!)?

MS: No one has asked for any specific set pieces. Usually, I get asked about where to shop for furniture, holiday decorations or how to find the best deal on appliances. Advise on paint colors is another common request.

(Image credit: Courtesy of ABC)

AT: "Black-ish" has joined a long line of comedies featuring a Black cast that bring forth everything from laughter to actual conversations about race, class, and identity. If you could have one set-piece from another show like that on your set, what would it be and why?

MS: Honestly, there isn't any one particular set piece from another show that comes to mind. As a designer, I absorb and incorporate all of the design, color, and textures I see around me. It all gets mixed up, filtered and somehow comes out as a cohesive whole on my design projects. Each show is unique in its needs and requirements. I hope I honor the past while creating the now. Design is a fluid entity. I try to let it flow.

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