Few design teams are under pressure to transform spaces as quickly and with as much pizazz as the Strictly Come Dancing crew. Head set designer Patrick Doherty, art director Josh Grace and costume designer Vicky Gill turn the show’s beloved ballroom into a sparkling spectacular every weekend.
For each show the team introduce new styles and colour schemes that cook up visual feasts for viewers. So who better to advise on how to seek practical, budget-friendly interiors with an undeniable wow factor?
On Saturday, this super-talented bunch gave me a glimpse behind Strictly’s silver doors at BBC Television Centre in White City. As I walk in, Olympian Louis Smith is practising his moves, Fern Britton is having her make-up done and dress-makers are putting the finishing touches to the glitziest frocks I have ever laid eyes on.
There are costume rails, sewing machines and boxes full of sequins. Makeshift curtains are made from red fabric and glitter, colour charts are pinned on walls. This is where the magic happens.
Head set designer: Patrick Doherty
“We let our imaginations run wild,” says Doherty, who also revamped the BBC’s studio for the Royal Wedding and Diamond Jubilee coverage. “What we make is not real. It is a fantasy space. It is our interpretation of this wonderful, lavish, sparkling environment where everything exciting happens.”
Art deco punch
The backdrop for the designs is a Thirties-style set which draws on the art deco period. Surrounded by padded velour silver chairs, the stage is “a juggernaut” that rides into town annually, takes a few weeks to build and is altered according to the show’s theme.
“It is a strong, dynamic, bright environment that oozes warmth,” says Doherty, a graduate of the London College of Furniture. “I have always had a passion for Thirties style. I used to visit London’s antique markets to find pieces that resembled it. I adore Clarice Cliff’s ceramics and anything that sparkles with fantastic colours.”
There is a nod to the capital’s decadent venues in his creations. When Doherty first started working on Strictly nine years ago, he visited the Rivoli Ballroom in Brockley Road in south-east London (therivoli.co.uk) and Café de Paris in Piccadilly (cafedeparis.com) to examine the staircases and entrances.
The set’s arches, stairs and seats are TV-friendly takes on the looks. He also visits galleries such as the Tate Modern (tate.org.uk) to build on ideas from contemporary art. And London’s vibrant theatre is “a fabulous source of inspiration”.
But his greatest influence is the work of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, best known for the Guggenheim Museum in New York. “His buildings are very geometric but beautiful. For Strictly we are creating a physical structure, so it is all about getting the right weight, line and sensibilities, and architecture does a similar thing. We are on a much smaller scale and budget but the shapes are very reminiscent of architectural works.”
Art director: Josh Grace
Like Doherty, Grace is an avid gallery-goer. He can often be spotted at Tate Britain but he would encourage every Londoner to stroll around the Geffrye Museum in Hackney (geffrye-museum.org.uk).
“It is a series of period rooms throughout a house that really captures the Victorian and Edwardian look and is such a good place for picking up style tips for the home.”
Columbia Road Market is a must on Sunday mornings (columbiaroad.info). “There are some great little antique shops there and it is worth going to big antique fairs for unusual items.” We might also spot the odd prop from a Brick Lane stall on set. However, larger items, such as glitterballs and jukeboxes, are hired from prop houses including Theme Traders (theme traders.com).
The fabrics and materials for costumes come from Dance Sport International (dsi-london.com), which creates all of flamboyant Gill’s designs. “However, Joel and Son (joelandsonfabrics.com) in Berwick Street and Shepherd’s Bush market all have their part to play,” Gill reveals.
“We use a good bit of organza fabric too,” adds Grace. “It is a sort of semi-sheer voile that is slightly transparent, but when you throw light on it, it is iridescent.”
Bring LED home
Lighting is one of the main tricks for rapidly revamping a room, according to these designers. When the Strictly set was restyled in 2010, LED screens were built into its fabric, providing a backdrop that could be modified to reflect the performances.
The change in content and colour of the screens cleverly allows for a completely different look at the switch of a button.
Professional dancer Robin Windsor is so enchanted by the dancefloor, which merges LED with graphics to project different images on to it, that he is planning on installing a similar effect on the walls of his Kennington flat.
Doherty says: “LED lighting is coming to the forefront of home design. Particularly in modern interiors, where you float walls off the ground and run colours underneath. Shops such as Ikea are starting to stock it. It offers a low-cost way of giving rooms quick makeovers and mood changes.”
Grace suggests merging LED lamps with mirrored, glass and crystal surfaces that take light very well.
Costume designer: Vicky Gill
Gill’s tips for temporarily transforming a room include painting a wall in a daring colour or covering a wall with your favourite framed family pictures. Handy with a staple gun, she turns old clothes into cushions; using prints, pockets and zips to add interesting details.
Grace is also a firm believer in the power of upcycling. Last-minute emergency tweaks on Strictly (“No matter how organised we try to be”) have made him a dab hand at breathing new life into items. “Sticking little fake crystals or glitter on to pieces can provide a dramatic touch.”
But keep your focus on one statement piece, he says. Introducing physical, practical elements such as a lamppost, chaise longue or a bench can evoke a period or place.
“For example, if the dance is a paso doble, the setting might be 1950s Havana, so we might bring in a classic Cuban chair or chest. We used a dressing table and chair for Johnny Ball’s dance with Iveta Lukosiute and it beautifully complemented the cha-cha.” It’s amazing what you can pick up in local charity shops, he says.
The nature of working on one of television’s more extravagant shows means he has to contend with unusual requests. “People are always asking for a Twenties table on which they can dance. But during that period tables weren’t made for dancing. We have to try to get them especially made or reinforced, so it is possible for people to jump up and down on top of them.”
And he can regularly be found hunting down Edwardian mirrors or gothic wrought-iron items after a dress rehearsal. When the cameras stop rolling, the brains behind Strictly’s image retire to three very different environments.
Doherty, who lived in Hackney for 25 years, has just moved into a part-Georgian, part-Jacobean house in Hungerford, Berkshire, which he is in the process of restoring. “Although it is an old building the interiors are very contemporary and a piece resembling the Strictly set may pop up every now and again,” he says.
Grace’s home is not “Strictlyfied”. He needs his recently renovated Victorian flat in Shoreditch to be “the opposite of glitter”. Instead, he has kitted it out with Edwardian tiles and an abundance of wood to give it an industrial vibe. Gill lives in Godstone, Surrey. “My home is a mix of period features with a modern glass extension,” she says. “It is colourful with opulent light fittings and just a hint of Strictly sparkle.”
But when they join forces it’s a case of lights, camera, sequins. Merging items from different eras with bold colours and opulent fabrics can liven up any space. The biggest secret to capturing the Strictly look is to have fun with it. We all benefit from a little razzle-dazzle every once in a while.
10 ITEMS FOR A STRICTLY LOOK AT HOME
* Dar Lighting glitterball table lamp with black shade (£140; wayfair.co.uk)
* Klor LED pendant lamp (£85; ikea.com)
* Panama chaise in hot pink (£389; made.com)
* Capri bedside table (£179; dwell.co.uk)
* Swarovski Drina violet flower crystal (£133; swarovski.com)
* Black/fuchsia Shantung wallpaper (£30; debenhams.com)
* Art Deco mirror (£143.20; marksandspencer.com)
* John Lewis multicolour sequins (£2; johnlewis.com)
* Martha Stewart Essentials Glitter Set (£26.54; overstock.com)
* Varese velvet fabric (£62 per metre; fabricsandpapers.com)