Production Designer Joshua Petersen Is Behind the Vibrant Look of "Everything’s Trash"
August 10, 2022

written by Lindsay Blake, Dirt

“Everyone is trash. We all have our great qualities, but we also have flaws. Sometimes they’re lovable. Sometimes they’re not. And it’s OK.” So says Hollywood multi-hyphenate Phoebe Robinson of her philosophy on life. The same sentiment is also behind the writer/producer/comedian’s new series, “Everything’s Trash,” in which she plays Phoebe Hill, a fictionalized version of herself who, as she wrote in a recent Elle magazine article, “is inspired by my life as a formerly broke thirtysomething cocoa Khalessi trying to make it in NYC.”

Airing each Wednesday on Freeform (and Thursdays on Hulu), the show, which is largely adapted from Robinson’s 2018 collection of essays titled “Everything’s Trash, But It’s Okay,” shows the Brooklynite podcaster attempting to navigate through her unapologetically “messy” and very public life while her “blerdy” older brother, Jayden (Jordan Carlos), runs for office, a set-up that, of course, provides plenty of comedic fodder.

Robinson described the various storylines to The New York Times as being “a healthy combination of writers’ room and real life.” Yes, Phoebe’s brother is actually in politics. Yes, she was a bit messy in her early thirties, though “TV Phoebe is certainly messier than I ever was.” And yes, she did – and still does – live in Brooklyn. She says, “I’ve been here since I moved out at 17 to go to college, and I really fought for the show to be shot here. Initially, there was some discussion of like, ‘Maybe we could do it in L.A. on soundstages …’ and I was like: ‘No, no, no. New York is in its DNA.’ I’ve lived in Crown Heights, Kensington, Clinton Hill, all those areas. I love all those areas. I want to show actual Brooklyn, not just the parts that have been gentrified.” As such, the Borough of Trees is very finely woven into the fabric of the series.

Production designer Joshua Petersen, who was behind the look of the recent Hulu dramedy “Life & Beth,” was tasked with bringing the Brooklyn scenery authentically to life. To accomplish this, several instantly recognizable local spots were utilized as backdrops, including % Arabica New York Dumbo RoasteryPlymouth Church, Celestine restaurant and Pebble Beach at Brooklyn Bridge Park, a picturesque site overlooking the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, the East River and the gorgeous NYC skyline.

But thanks to Petersen’s skilled hands, the sets are the series’ real stars.

Brooklyn certainly figures heavily in Joshua’s design of the main set, the charming apartment where Phoebe lives with her irreverent roommate, Michael (Moses Storm). In creating the space, a process gloriously chronicled on his website, the production designer embraced area architecture by incorporating such historical detailing as boiserie paneling, broad window and door framing and a lovely mantled fireplace.

As Petersen explained to Dirt, because the show is only partially biographical and “not told on a 1:1 scale,” the set was not built as a direct copy of any of the spaces Robinson actually called home during her late twenties and early thirties, but instead is a representation of “the more chaotic version of herself that she portrays on TV.”

Everything about television Phoebe is bold – from her hair to her personality to her wide-frame glasses – and her apartment was designed to reflect that vibrance. But Joshua was mindful in making the various rooms complementary to those features, rather than a distraction, allowing the fabulous wardrobe, tresses and vocabulary to take center stage.

The production designer also sought to illustrate Phoebe’s “socioeconomic story” in a realistic way with the set. The decision was quite a departure from most New York-based television series, which tend to show characters living in apartments far beyond their means. To accomplish the look, Petersen outfitted the space with scuff marks on the walls and cracks in the ceiling. Explaining that he “loves to get granular” with those types of details, he and his team also went through a painstaking process to age the flooring. Fashioned out of luan tiles that boast the appearance of hardwood, the pieces were stained in different colors, distressed with chemicals and hit with chains to fabricate a weathered look. Petersen was so pleased with the finished product, he “nearly wept.”

Even the wall coloring was crafted to further tell the visual story of Phoebe’s socioeconomic status, with Joshua muting and bleaching out the pigments utilized to be more representative of “how a broke person would paint their house.” The result is a chic bohemian space that truly lights up the screen!

The series’ other central location, a bar named Regis Hall, which serves as the characters’ main hangout, is also bold in its design. Seeking an aesthetic with “layered textures” that felt like it had been “built over time,” Petersen looked to local watering holes Union Hall in Park Slope and Aunt Ginny’s Bar in Ridgewood for inspiration. 

Taking up an entire soundstage, Regis Hall is the most extensive set that Petersen has ever built. To create a dynamic, multifunctional space that won’t get “visually played out” despite being featured in every episode, he sectioned the watering hole into multiple distinct enclaves, each with its own function, texture and color palette. The result is a diverse backdrop boasting a cacophony of nooks and crannies for the action to play out, whether at the rounded bar lined with Tiffany chandeliers, the pool table or the library-like area dotted with bookshelves, stereo equipment and Chesterfield sofas.