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Inside the fabulous mid-century world of Apple TV’s Palm Royale

New Apple TV+ series Palm Royale is set in an addictively idealized, Slim Aarons-esque world of Palm Beach in the 1960s. The production designer Jon Carlos and set decorator Ellen Reede reveal how they recreated the look and feel of the period.

Palm Beach has long been a playground for the Lilly Pulitzer-clad rich, famous, and often infamous. The combination of beautiful beaches, glamourous lifestyles, and a vibrant social scene where the sun always shines has undoubtedly contributed to the town’s allure on and off the silver screen.

Next up is the Apple TV + 10-part comedy-drama series Palm Royale which follows a former Tennessee beauty pageant-contestant-turned-social climber, Maxine Simmons (Kristin Wiig), in a classic case of the haves and the have-nots, as she reaches for the pinnacle of the Palm Beach stratosphere. Loosely based on Juliet McDaniel’s’ book Mr. and Mrs. American Pie, the show features an all-star cast including legendary comedian Carol Burnett (as the grande dowager Norma Dellacorte) and Allison Janney’s Evelyn Rollins (Norma’s “lady-in-waiting”) who concern themselves with the trials and tribulations of the local elite via the newspaper The Shiny Sheet and who will be crowned “Queen of the Season” at the annual “Beach Ball.” Set in the days of the Vietnam War in 1969, the show also stars father-daughter duo Bruce and Laura Dern, Josh Lucas, and Ricky Martin as a country club bartender. 

Kristen Wiig as Maxine in Apple TV+’s Palm Royale

Executive Producer Abe Sylvia looked to the work of Slim Aarons for the film’s overall aesthetic. The famed social photographer, who snapped jet-setters, aristocracy, and notables for half a century, lived and worked by the creed: “Attractive people doing attractive things in attractive places.” While the book is set in Palm Springs, he changed the location, noting: “I’m obsessed with that photography and not just because the people are beautiful. Those photographs work as high art because there’s no sense of the outside world in them. And then there’s always a little bit of danger and edge behind those beautiful facades. I wanted to tell the story of the women behind it.”

When we are developing and dressing a set, the amount of attention to detail that goes into that is of utmost importance

Palm Royale Production designer Jon Carlos

Production designer Jon Carlos and set decorator Ellen Reede created the show’s designs. “When we are developing and dressing a set, the amount of attention to detail that goes into that is of utmost importance to myself and my team, from the molding selections to the way that an interior drawer is dressed,” details Carlos on the process. “The character may never open that drawer on camera, but every single drawer is filled with their undergarments, their shirts, their shoes, and their hats, so if by chance they open it, they could see what their character might have selected three days ago.”

Kristen Wiig as Maxine and Josh Lucas as Douglas in Palm Royale on Apple TV+

Discovering locations in Los Angeles that resembled Palm Beach proved to be a challenge. The mansions are as distinctive as the women, each interior playing an important role in the narrative, telling us everything we need to know about the characters.  One of the more opulent sets is Norma’s Italian villa-style mansion (bedroom, smoking room, and parlor built on a soundstage and exteriors in South Pasadena), complete with a 14-foot-high self-portrait over the fireplace of Norma dressed in all her glory with a jeweled crown.

For her pink-hued, ivy-covered Wuthering Heights-style mansion with meticulously manicured grounds and landscaping, Reede took her cues from the work of design icon and interior decorator Tony Duquette as someone Norma would have hired as she is a well-traveled woman, and his work is comprised of artifacts sourced from all over the globe. Designing the show proved to be one big treasure hunt in search of mid-century modern and antique relics and scene stealers such as an oversize brass rolodex, a trio of taxidermized peacocks, and an opulent pair of three-tiered crystal and gilt sconces.

Kristen Wiig, Ricky Martin and Laura Dern in Palm Royale on Apple TV+

Queen Bee Evelyn receives a classic Spanish Colonial design treatment, while Dinah Douglas (Leslie Bibb), whose husband serves as a diplomat, has a home more reminiscent of the New York Upper Crust. Perhaps the centerpiece of the show, where much of the action takes place, is the Palm Royale Country Club. A mix of Palm Beach iconic locales ranging from The Breakers, architect Addison Mizner’s Everglades Club, and The Bath and Tennis Club (known to insiders as the B&T Club) influenced the designs. Finding the perfect location with a pool, tennis courts, golf course, and the requisite ballrooms for the club did not exist, so the designers used a variety of locations with the primary set created in LA’s Wiltshire Ebell Theater (built in 1927).

Laura Dern as Linda in Apple TV+’s Palm Royale

Since this is Palm Beach society, the balls of the social season are important sets such as the Cuban-inspired auction gala known as “Havana Knights” where the Biltmore in Los Angeles doubled for famed Breakers in Palm Beach. Sylvia wanted a swimming pool for the set and the designers responded in kind, building a pool in the middle of the Biltmore Hotel ballroom where feather-clad showgirls dance over a bridge. The social season’s finale resulted in the see-and-be-seen gala known as the “Beach Ball” where no detail was spared (even the napkin rings were vintage).  And since it’s all about grandiosity, Reede discovered the perfect focal point for the ball known as “Big Bertha,” a mammoth-sized chandelier located in a Hollywood prop house that in the past, rarely sees the glare of the cameras as no set was ever large enough.Palm Royale is the ultimate escape, grab a green grasshopper cocktail, cue your remote and buckle-up for the ride.

Palm Royale: Get the Look

From robust Spanish Revival furniture to Space Age lights and Hollywood Regency élan, here are some collectible pieces certain to add dashes of Palm Royale glamour to any space.

Read more: Design | Film | Interior design | Production design | Set design | USA