Production Designer Joshua Petersen Talks Designing "Everything's Trash"
August 2, 2022

written by Noella Williams, Apartment Therapy

If you’re familiar with Apartment Therapy’s tour of Phoebe Robinson’s Brooklyn apartment you’d understand why her latest show on Freeform, “Everything’s Trash,” has incredible set design. Between the character’s broke and messy personality or niche rug of U2’s Bono, hints of Robinson’s real-life persona are placed throughout the show, which is adapted from her 2018 book of personal essays, “Everything’s Trash, But It’s Okay.”

As if being a New York Times bestseller, three-time author, and former co-host for HBO’s “2 Dope Queens” podcast weren’t enough accolades, Robinson’s show is an ode to an authentic experience as a Black woman in her 30s. In the series, Robinson plays Phoebe Hill, a Brooklyn-based podcaster navigating her adulthood alongside her loving friends and brother, Jayden, who is running for political office in Brooklyn. The comedy is reflective of Robinson’s life, such as her enormous love for her brother, exploring the dating scene in New York, and a messy-yet-entertaining podcast.

Joshua Petersen, who worked on the show as their production designer, cultivated the show’s multiple sets to match Robinson’s vibrant identity, including a close partnership with her publishing company Tiny Reparations Books. Known for his work on Amy Schumer’s “Life as Beth” and HBO’s comedy sketch series “That Damn Michael Che”, Petersen described the show’s friendship dynamics and sibling love as one of the many qualities that brought an “authentic, tangible feel” to the show.

Apartment Therapy had the opportunity to chat with Petersen about his psychology-out method for his designing process, the iconic fictitious dive bar in every episode, and more.

Apartment Therapy: Could you tell me more about the sets you created for the show?

Joshua Petersen: The show’s about a 30-something messy Brooklynite trying to get their life together and being okay with it. She’s kind of at odds with her sibling who is running for public office and having to sort of clean up her life, because she’s potentially interfering with that dynamic. One of the things from a design perspective that’s fun about it is that we’re shooting in New York. Not every New York show is shot in New York and not every show gets as granular as being specifically in Brooklyn. From a design standpoint, this kind of socioeconomic level that we’re exploring, of somebody who’s essentially broke, and living a very aspirational life and still wanting to express their creativity and themselves through everything.

The first main set that we designed was her apartment, so we wanted to make something that somebody watching can look at and be like, “Oh, shit, I want to live there.” Somebody that wants to move to Brooklyn is going to see this and just be excited about the possibilities. So I wanted to capture the classic Brooklyn provenance of how a normal person designs their apartment. It’s like you have things that you buy, things that you thrift, stuff that you find that’s a perfect stoop find, and you carry these things over multiple apartments, so we wanted to have that layered aspect of it while still expressing the aspiration of the character.

AT: Do you have a favorite set?

JP: The other main set that we did was the bar that they hang out in every episode. It’s their “Cheers” bar, essentially, and it’s where they meet up for nightlife. I think it’s the biggest set I’ve ever built, and it’s this huge Brooklyn bar. The script called out spots like Union Hall, where the space is sort of multifunctional throughout the day, and I got to bring a lot of my own inspirations into that for the places that I hang out in. [In these bars], you’re just enveloped in texture and history and the sort of eclecticism of Brooklyn, so being able to create that from scratch and build it in a matter of a month and put all that stuff together was so fun to do.

AT: Did you opt-in for any specific color palettes or material choices?

JP: Where I usually start with color is really figuring out what Phoebe herself likes, since the show is about her — it’s the TV version of her. I collaborated really closely with the director of photography for his lighting plan, and our costume designer for how we present everything, color wise, because the costumes are really bold. Phoebe’s personality, glasses, hair — everything is what has to be at the forefront.

AT: How did you get involved with the project and do you have other projects in the works?

JP: [The producers and supervising directors] approached me and said that they wanted to do something that was authentically Brooklyn that didn’t look like your average TV show. So that was the beginning of our conversation, and that was really how we started out. Immediately talking with [the director] on the phone, we were texting pictures and references back and forth, and we were just fully on the same page about this. I hope people really respond to the show, visually. I hope that it is as authentic as what we put into it. My team is also very well versed in this — we’re a younger team. 

“Everything’s Trash” premiered on Freeform on July 13th, and there’s currently four episodes streaming, so you can still catch up! New episodes are available on Hulu every Wednesday.
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