The Oscar-Winning Set Decorator From “The Shape of Water” Shares 6 Decorating Tips They’ve Used at Home

published Apr 23, 2021
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Credit: FOX Searchlight

When working on a film, set decorator Shane Vieau — who won an Academy Award for Best Production Design for “embodies calming energy and makes him feel joyful.

While it’s taken a good amount of trial and error, over the years, Vieau has figured out what that looks like for him: a black and white color palette with neutrals baked in, a mish-mash of prop items from various sets he’s worked on, and lots of tchotchkes depicting his favorite animals (Vieau said he would pick a ceramic bunny over an expensive piece of art any day — more on that later).

Much of his home style, which he described to Apartment Therapy as “sharp, bright, and full of passion,” is based on personal interests and preferences, but there’s also intention behind those decorative choices; he’s aiming to achieve the perfect combination of style and function that we all yearn for.

Credit: Shane Vieau

So, we virtually sat down with Vieau to gather tips on how he strikes this balance that you can apply into your own home. And, of course, we made sure to include some “The Shape of Water” design moments, too (wait until you hear what he plans to do with Elisa’s 75 shoes).

Here are Vieau’s six decorating tips that he applies to his own home that you can use next time you want to change things up:

Keep your color palette neutral to allow for change. 

On set, Vieau is surrounded by an ever-changing amount of product, but when it comes to home, he makes sure one thing stays the same: his black and white color palette. “For me, because I’m a decorator, I’m stimulated 24/7,” Vieau told Apartment Therapy. “But the one thing that doesn’t change for me is the white and black contrast of a clean palette, so I can blend things in.”

The love for these contrasting hues stemmed from Vieau’s time living in Mexico City, where he developed a strong admiration for the color white. “White is a very powerful color [in Mexico], so for me, I started to appreciate it more and starting experimenting more and more with it in my house,” Vieau said. “What I like about white is that it’s calming, it’s clean, and that’s what you kind of want when you come home to your space. For me, I’m full of stuff all day, product, product, product. So I come home I need to have my mind settle down a little bit, so that’s the best way for me to do that.”

Credit: Shane Vieau

Don’t be afraid to move things around. 

While keeping something the same is important, Vieau stressed that there’s nothing wrong with changing up your decorations, which he does quite often. “I keep a garage full of extra [tchotchkes] and lighting, and I rotate that stuff all the time, and it always depends on how I feel at the time,” Vieau explained. “You know, when I come home, I’m constantly thinking, ‘oh I should do this a little differently, oh I should do that a little differently,’ things like that.”

Vieau said that while a certain look might work for you for a while, it’s okay if there comes a time when you want to switch things up. But Vieau warns that the “switching up” part can be more difficult when you’ve invested in expensive pieces that come with an emotional attachment.

“I don’t buy expensive art, I would definitely buy a ceramic bunny or ceramic chicken [more] than I would buy [something for] five or six thousand dollars,” Vieau said. “It’s not that I don’t appreciate it, it’s just that those things really make me smile. I don’t feel bad when I want to change things around, and for me that’s what it’s all about.” If you’re already a fan of thrifting, this is music to your ears.

Use meaningful items to bring in pops of color. 

While Vieau stays true to sticking with a black and white palette with neutrals mixed in, he loves to add a pop of color through items that are meant to stick out. “It depends on what anchors the room, I’ll make sure I highlight that with a pop of color,” Vieau mentioned. “If there’s a chair or a sofa that I feel has the ability to brighten up, then I’ll upholster it into a color that I think really, really works.” And if you have a meaningful item that already has that pop of color, like a souvenir or a family heirloom, put it on display in an all-neutral room to let it shine.

A perk of being a set decorator is that you can buy prop items after filming wraps, so once Veanu finished with “The Shape of Water,” he took home 75 pairs of the main character Elisa’s shoes that were hand-dyed to look like colors of the water. “I’m going to do a feature wall at some point where I can get them all up,” Vieau explained.

Put thought into your bathroom. 

Vieau’s favorite room that he’s designed at home is his place of zen: the bathroom. In order to achieve such serenity, Vieau made it Scandinavian-inspired by design, filled with simplistic function that created a minimalist, clean feel that mimicked the feeling of going to a spa. “I want it to be all about comfort and function,” Vieau said. “For me, it was a steam shower and clean black and white tile, very big bathroom, with not a lot in it.”

Use light colors to brighten up a dark room. 

Another reason Vieau likes using the color white — it naturally brightens up a room, regardless of how much natural light you get. Vieau explains that in general, using light colors in an otherwise darker space allows you to maximize whatever light already exists there. “The only way to maximize a space is to make it as bright as possible, and to me, it’s [using] really bright colors that you can live with because they reflect a lot of light and they’ll maximize the light in that place very easily,” Vieau said.

Be patient in finding what design works for you. 

Even though Vieau decorates for a living, he emphasized that establishing a well-designed space that works for him didn’t happen overnight — it takes time to figure it all out. “It wasn’t until I got over the age of 50 that I really started to be able to recognize what really works for me,” Vieau mentioned. “I work 24-7, so for me, the last thing I always try to consider is myself.” But he recently decided to change that by buying what he’s calling an “early retirement house” to prioritize his mind and spirit, starting over and creating the perfect home for him from scratch.

So, Vieau’s overarching takeaways: spend time figuring out what’s best for you, and learn about yourself through the trial and error process. Play around with colors and decorations, and remember that nothing is permanent. Create a bathroom that you can escape to. Oh, and add a ceramic animal into the equation every once in a while. Life is short!